Experimenting with Whisky & Ginger

Phew! It’s warm today. During the previous week-of-Summer that we experienced back in June, I frequently found myself drawn to a whisky & ginger ale, mixed in a lovely, tall glass filled with ice. Deliciously cooling and refreshing, often with a lively kick of ginger, they’re perfect for a particularly warm day. But which ginger ale to use?

Canada Dry, Fevertree and Fentiman's Ginger Ales

Slightly bewildered at the choice available in the fridge, I decided to, in the style of DTS, explore a few different variations of the Whisky & Ginger in a blind tasting. Given the dramatic extent to which whiskies can differ from one another, I thought it best to try three different whiskies alongside each of my three ginger ales.

Each drink was mixed in a 2:1 (Ginger:Whisky) ratio. My notes can be found in the table below, in which – due to limitations of space – ‘N’ stands for “Nose” and ‘T’ stands for “Taste”.

Vat 69
A blend of over 40 malt and grain whiskies. Smooth, but full of flavour (40% ABV).
Grant’s Ale Cask
Grant’s whisky finished in barrels that had previously held Edinburgh Ale for 30 days. Malty and creamy (40% ABV).
Islay Mist
A wonderfully peaty blend of Laphroaig and Speyside malts (40% ABV).
Fevertree N: Generally sweet, with warm ginger and a hint of sea air at the end.
T: Not overly fizzy. Slight hint of peat, followed by a light, syrupy sweetness that – fortunately – never gets too sugary. Slightly dry towards the end. Soft, but flavourful.
[][][][][][][][] 8
N: Sweet, ginger like gingerbread, with a treacle-like sweetness. Hints of the sweeter notes of the whisky, with vanilla and sweet spice.
T: A good balance, with an interesting battle between the some sweeter and dryer notes; the taste switch between the two. There’s a pleasant warmth on the finish, but it’s quite short.
[][][][][][][ 6.5
N: A dry nose with lots of ginger and lovely notes of peat. The two notes go together very well; it alternates between moderate ginger and moderate peat.
T: Vigorous ginger, especially on the finish. Like the nose, there are strong notes of both the whisky and the ginger that go together remarkably well. The finish is warm and felt in the stomach, and there are interesting hints of pistachio and toasted almonds. Delicious and vibrant – my favourite!
[][][][][][][][][] 9
Canada Dry N: Peat and sea air, with more raw ginger root or powder than sweet ginger.
T: Far more fizzy, with a much more dominant flavour of the ginger ale. The whisky, which was stronger on the nose, comes through less on the tongue, which is covered with a creaminess from the ginger ale and an unpleasant artificial sweetness.
[][][][][] 5
N: Straw, wood, vanilla and sweet ginger.
T: Very fizzy, followed by wood notes from the whisky and sweetness. Then the palate clears and there’s an ever so slightly sour, bitter edge to the finish, which isn’t very pleasant.
[][][][][] 5
N: Mainly Islay peat, with a hint of spicy ginger at the end. Whisky is notably more dominant than in the other drinks.
T: Mainly whisky notes, with lots of peat and an almost “seaside” flavour: a salty, savoury hint that is strong on the edge of the tongue. After a moment, this fades into a woody sweetness, before faint ginger appears on the finish.
[][][][][][][] 7
Fentimans N: Very little on the nose, almost like the two ingredients cancel one another out. Faint wisps of whisky.
T: Quite fierce bubbles, but less than with the Canada Dry. The ginger notes fade into a lovely finish on the tongue and there’s substantial warmth in the stomach. Less sweet and a good balance of spirit and ginger, but some of the whisky notes are lost.
[][][][][][] 6
N: Dryer, with more warm, spicy ginger on the nose. Not much whisky.
T: Very spicy, indeed, with reasonably aggressive bubbles. An immediate burst of spicy ginger on the tongue is nicely supported by the warmth of the whisky. Although any deeper whisky flavours don’t manage to fight their way through the ginger ale, this still makes for a spicy and enjoyable drink, with a “just right” level of sweetness.
[][][][][][][] 7
N: Dryer nose, with fainter peat and no strong ginger notes, but rather a lighter, more citrusy “ginger ale” note.
T: Fresher and more fruity, followed by quite vigorous, hot ginger*. The peat of the whisky battles a little with the ginger, but there’s less harmony between the two flavours than in the previous two drinks; the ginger is just too strong.
[][][][][] 5

In Conclusion

This was a wonderful experiment that I’d definitely recommend to others now that the sunshine is back! I’d like to try a few more ginger ales in further tastings, but conclude that my favourite ginger ale of those that I tried was the Fevertree: I liked how it seemed to get the balance just right between adding some fiery ginger and still letting the whisky shine through – I shall have to try it with some other whiskies over the coming weeks.

– Mrs. B

* Although I do appreciate that this was my nineth Whisky & Ginger by this point, so, despite breaks between rounds, the ginger notes from previous drinks may have built up on my palate.

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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