Ale-8 was first created by G.L. Wainscott of Winchester, Kentucky, in 1926. According to text on the back of some Ale-8 bottles, "Wainscott was an eccentric old man; however, there was nothing odd about his creation." Wainscott was a local bottler who had been creating and selling fruit-flavored sodas since 1902. In the early years, his flagship product was Roxa-Kola, a cola introduced in 1906.
Around that time, Wainscott began experimenting with a new recipe that, according to local legend, he had obtained while traveling in Northern Europe. In 1926 he began bottling and selling the new ginger-flavored product, believing he had successfully adapted the recipe for a local consumer base.
In a contest to name the drink, "A Late One" was chosen as the winning entry. Wainscott conceived of the "Ale-8-One" logo (designed to resemble a mail clerk's scrawl) as a pun suggesting that his product was "the latest thing" in soft drinks.
In 1968 the company discontinued all of its other products, including Roxa-Kola, to focus solely on Ale-8.
For much of its history, Ale-8 was only available in Kentucky, though it was briefly available in parts of the Southeast, including Florida, in the early-1980s. In April 2002, however, the Ale-8-One Bottling Company expanded its distribution to areas of southern Ohio and Indiana through an agreement with Coca-Cola Enterprises. Today, the company also ships cases of its product directly to consumers worldwide through its website.
In 2003 the company announced limited distribution of Diet Ale-8, its first new product since the introduction of the original Ale-8 in 1926. It has since also released a grape soda by the name of NuGrape.
Despite persistent local rumors of a buy-out by beverage giant Coca-Cola, Ale-8-One continues to be a small, family-owned enterprise. The current president is Wainscott's great-nephew, Frank A. Rogers, III.
The company reports that it presently sells about 1.5 million cases per year.
The recipe for Ale-8 is a closely guarded family secret. Reportedly, only two executives—Rogers and Fielding Rogers, Executive Vice-President and heir-apparent to the company—know the exact composition.
According to the product label, Ale-8's ingredients include "carbonated water, sugar and/or corn sweetener, glycerine, natural and artificial flavorings, citric acid, sodium benzoate (preservative), caramel coloring, phosphoric acid, [and] caffeine." Each 12-fluid ounce (355-ml) serving contains 37 mg of caffeine and 30 g of sugars. (For comparison, the same serving of Coca Cola classic in the U.S. has 34 mg of caffeine and 39 g of sugars.) Diet Ale 8 contains 44 mg of caffeine (compared to 45 mg for Diet Coke) and no sugars. The diet variety is sweetened with sucralose, more commonly known as Splenda.
The company readily admits that natural ginger is included among Ale-8's flavorings. A trace of citrus can also be discerned.
Ale-8 is available in bottles or cans. It is widely preferred that the beverage be drunk from a glass bottle, rather than cans or plastic bottles.
Ale-8 traditionalists are even known to refuse to drink Ale-8 from the newer glass bottles. Instead, they prefer the older "returnable" glass bottles (so-named because they can be returned to certain stores for approximately 30 cents each). The "returnable" bottles are often referred to as long-necks, while the more modern design as short-necks.
Ale-8 is also often mixed with vodka, with the resulting concoction known as a Tender Lovin'.
Seagram's Seven and Ale-8 are mixed to produce Kentucky Beer.
Ale-8 enjoyed brief national exposure through a "cameo" in the major motion picture release, Elizabethtown, starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst. Bloom's character not only drank the beverage, but, in one scene, also sported an Ale-8 T-shirt. Director Cameron Crowe dedicated the film to the memory of his father, James A. Crowe, who introduced his son to the beverage.