Ginger Ale Tasting; History, Cocktails and Make-Your-Own

HISTORY

In the book “Ginger East to West”, Bruce Cost* argues that early brewers would often have used spice, such as ginger, to purify the ferments (beers) as the yeast at the time was unreliable. He also points to a reference to ginger and ale in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
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The first accounts of ginger ale as we know it are from Northern Ireland (around 1850) and bottled ginger ale has been available in the USA from 1861. The ginger ale at this time was rather different to that which we’re used to today; now known as Belfast-style ginger ale, it was heavier, darker, sweeter and more syrupy, with a stronger flavour of ginger.
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This was the prevailing variety of ginger ale until the early 20th Century, when, whilst returning from a trip to France, the founder of Canada Dry decided that he wanted to make the Champagne of Ginger Ale; up until then, he had only made the sweeter, spicier Belfast style. Through his innovation, Dry Ginger Ale was born.
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By the middle of the 20th Century, Dry Ginger Ale gained in popularity, aided by the rise of the cocktail hour and its mixability with spirits. It has to be said that this came at the expense of the Belfast style.
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From David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:
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“Ginger Ales should also be really dry and pale. The old-time heavy, brown, syrupy ginger ale has no place in drink mixing. The sugar content should be medium and there should be a fairly sharp acid taste.”
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Embury laments the availability of good-quality ginger ale, although he does recommend both Canada Dry’s Ginger Ale and their Soda Water.
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He goes on to urge the readers to not fall for the “calorie-free hooey” when mixing tall drinks and that they shouldn’t “ruin a good drink for the sake of a silly fetish”.
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Ginger Ale vs. Ginger Beer
This chapter focuses on only Ginger Ale, but how does it differ to Ginger Beer?In the modern day, it is a matter of flavour profile:
Ale = lighter flavours, less ginger and dryer/less sweet
Beer = sweeter, heavier and more ginger fire
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I’ve prattled on for long enough; let’s get onto the tasting.

TASTING

The five varieties were tasted blind on their own.

#1 Canada Dry
The original Dry Ginger Ale, this is now owned by Schweppes (much to my grandfather’s chargrin, as he preferred Schweppes’s previous own-brand ginger ale.)**

High fizz sweet with ginger and creamy notes then some citrus. Quite palatable, easy to drink, would mix well. Would be nice with a wedge of lemon.

Canada Dry Ginger Ale is available from most supermarkets for around £1.10 for 1 Litre.

#2 Fevertree
A relatively recent entry to the Ginger Ale Market from the Boutique Mixer Maker Fevertree.

A light musky ginger, with a medium fizz. although initially quite subtle flavour the spicy fire grows and leaves some real warmth. Quite enjoyable.

Fevertree Ginger Ale is available from Waitrose at £1.49 for 500ml.

#3 Thomas Henry
From the German-based firm named after Thomas Henry an historical pioneer in soft drinks.

High fizz, quite clean, slightly sweet with a growing warmth. This would work well as a mixer although it’s hearty flavour makes it quite good on it’s own. It also makes a superb Horse’s Neck.

Thomas Henry is not yet available in the UK – if you are interested in distributing it please Contact Them.

#4 Q Ginger***
A new offering from the folks behind the high-end Q Tonic water. Q Ginger really ginger root and is sweetened with organic agave. Coriander, Cardamon, Rose Oil and Orange Peel are also in the mix.

This had the most intense nose of the selection. It had a medium-high fizz with some ginger and dry at the end. Although initially the warmth is subtle it builds as you continue to drink, after a few sips there is a decent fire. Some citrus lemony elements too.

Q Ginger and Q Tonic are not currenlty available in the UK – if you are interested in distributing it please Contact Them.

#5 Crabbies
Released this year in addition to an array of spin-of products from the success of the company’s Ginger Wine and Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

Very different but also quite sweet, a low fizz and a rich syrupyness like Old Jamaica Ginger Cake, when I found out this was the Crabbie’s version I thought that it was rather like ginger wine. Despite being quite a different flavour it was still quite nice.

I was genuinely surprised, but really pleased at how good all of the ginger ales were with very little to tell between them. My favourite, by a whisker, was:

Thomas Henry

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But what if you fancy the home-made variety?

MAKE YOUR OWN

I decided on two recipes:

#1 Belfast style Ginger Ale
500ml Water
100g Dark Brown Sugar
50g White Sugar
1½ Cups Chopped Ginger Root
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp chilli powder
3 Cloves
Juice and Zest of one Lemon

Add ingredients to a pan and simmer for 20-30 mins, allow to cool, strain, bottle. Keep refrigerated.
To drink mix 1 part syrup to 2-3 parts soda water, or to taste.

Ginger Ale of The Home Made Variety - L:R Dry and Belfast Style

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#2 Dry Ginger Ale
500ml Water
120g White Sugar
1 Cups Chopped Ginger Root
½ tsp citric acid
Juice and Zest of one Lemon plus a tsp of pith.

Add ingredients to a pan and simmer for 30-40 mins, allow to cool, strain, bottle. Keep refrigerated.
To drink mix 1 part syrup to 2-3 parts soda water, or to taste.

Once you discovered and/or made your favourite Ginger Ale, it will make a fine drink on it’s own, but what if you fancied a mixed drink?

COCKTAILS

#1 Gin Buck
[50ml Gin, 100-150ml Ginger Ale, 10ml Lemon Juice or A generous squeeze from a lemon wedge. ]
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#2 Horses Neck
[50ml Brandy, 100-150ml Ginger Ale, Thin twist of lemon peel. ]
Add ingredients with ice to a tumbler.
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#3 Prohibition Cooler
[25ml Apple Juice, 25ml Lemon Juice, 100ml Ginger Ale, Add to a Highball glass with ice]

POSTSCRIPT

I was not sure where to put these other tidbits so they’ll go here.

  •  Ginger Ale is often seen as a cure for upset stomachs, motion and seasickness. I’ve found little scientific evidence but a lot of anecdotal notes. Maybe it’s the power of the placebo but, if it works….
  • In James Bond films Ginger Ale is used to substitute Champagne whilst filming, the resemblance is uncanny. Apple juice is used for Whisky and Bond’s Martinis are nothing but water.

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* Bruce Cost is also the man behind REAL Ginger Ale for our further thoughts click here.

**The Schweppes variety may still be separately available in the USA; I do remember having Blackcurrant flavoured Schweppes Ginger Ale (not Canada Dry) when I was in New York.
*** This was kindly forwarded to be by Aaron of The Gin is In

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About DTS

partial to a martini? to a smoke-hazed gin joint & a perfect tipple poured with the style, swank & skill of a true aficionado? …then pull up your stool to the bar, prepare to stock up your cocktail cabinet & get ready to drink it all in as we introduce you to a stitch in times’ resident barman… David T. Smith is a drinks enthusiast currently residing in the U.K. a long-time fan of tasting & exploring various types of alcohol, he has a fascination for vintage spirits and cocktails, in particular their heritage & origins; this was strengthened last year when he presented a talk and accompanying monograph on the Martini. it was as a result of his research of this topic that he was introduced to drinks paraphernalia, & he is now the happy owner of a colourful collection of bottles, books, and gadgets from a wide range of eras… an avid believer in the validity and variety of personal opinion, particularly in the subjective area of tasting, he enjoys hosting tasting sessions for friends, constantly challenging them to find their own favourite tipple. in addition to all of this, he is also interested in economics, three-piece suits, board games & keeping alive the art of engaging in enjoyable conversation with a good glass of port whilst surrounded by pipe smoke… www.summerfruitcup.com Thanks to Analiebe for writing this rather flattering blurb for me.

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