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

Alcoholic Ginger Beer Update #5 – Crabbies Orange Spice Alcoholic Ginger Beer

I like to have a mooch around different supermarkets every now and then in the hope of finding something new. During a recent trip to Morrisions, I came across Crabbies Spiced Orange Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Readers of the site may recall that the original version did quite well in our Alcoholic Ginger Beer Tasting.

So whats new?
Crabbies have taken their original formula and added natural orange extract and a hint of spice. Ginger and orange is certainly not a new combination for Crabbies, as they already make a non-alcoholic ginger beer “twisted” with orange.

The Taste

This had a medium fizz; it seems slightly less fizzy than normal Crabbies.
Initially, there are flavours of ginger and vanilla, which are followed by slightly spicy, bittersweet orange; in some ways, this reminds me of chocolate orange. This is then followed by the familiar Crabbies ginger fire.
I consider this to be a modest modification on the original, but the new flavours are certainly noticeable and quite welcome. It’s seasonality will keep it special.

All in all, I quite like it and, for less than £1.50 for half a litre, I think it’s certainly worth a punt.

Crabbies Spiced Orange is available for £1.49 for 500ml from Morrisons

Ginger Wine Tasting

What is Ginger Wine?
Simply it is a fermentation of currants or raisins (hence the wine) a mixture of other spices are then added for flavour. The most important of these is the ginger but cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves usually form part of the mix too.
The creation of ginger wine was no doubt inspired by the plethora of ginger brews that people had already been enjoying for centuries. One of the first producers of such a product was The Finsbury Distilling Company (the same Finsbury who produce the Yellow & Platinum Gins) in 1740; this variety went on to become Stone’s Ginger Wine.
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The other major player in Ginger Wine is Crabbie’s, recently made famous for their Alcoholic Ginger Beer and the resultant market that it has inspired, which was created by John Crabbie in 1901 in Leith, Scotland. It was originally known as Old Scottish Green Ginger Wine.
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Like many other drinks and foods, Ginger Wine is apparently an aphrodisiac (I think it’s the ginger) and was also seen as a cure for cholera, making it particularly popular during the cholera outbreaks of the 19th century.
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There are a few non-alcoholic variations out there too so, in the sake of completeness, we have included them in our tasting. Both types were tasted on their own at room temperature and with whisky (known as a Whisky Mac).
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The Whisky MacDonald (the drink’s full name) was created during the time of the British Raj by the Scottish Army Officer Colonel MacDonald and consisted of equal measures of Crabbie’s and Scotch Whisky. After a look online and in a variety of old cocktail books, I haven’t been able to find out any more than this. In fact, the sole MacDonald reference came from the Crabbie’s website.
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However my research did uncover a similar drink, the McKossack, which was mentioned in Kingsley Amis’ On Drink, see below.
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Alcoholic Ginger Wine.

1) Stone’s Ginger Wine
Own: Rather smooth, with a little sweetness followed by a good, but restrained, ginger flavour. The ginger gradually grows in intensity, making this very nice to drink on its own.
Whisky Mac: There was a good pang of ginger to start, and it was fiery and warming, with the flavours of whisky coming through strongly; a good standard for a Whisky Mac.

2) Stone’s Reserve Ginger Wine
Own: Slightly darker in colour and much richer in flavour than the regular Stone’s. There’s a smooth start followed by a very strong fiery burst. The resultant tingle on the tongue remains for a while afterwards. This really has a “Pow!” factor, but I really like it.
Whisky Mac: The flavours of the whisky can be appreciated and there was a great, strong fiery kick to it, but the flavours don’t seem to blend well, making this a bit disappointing.

3) Mackie’s
This is made for Tesco; it’s their own brand.
Own: Seemed rather wine-like, and pretty cheap wine at that. There was some ginger notes there, but it was also rather bitter. There was a fiery warmth at the end that wasn’t bad, but the initial flavour of grapes was hard to shake. Overall, this was an OK and just about drinkable product.
Whisky Mac: Poor; the flavours were all very weak, with the exception of the general taste of cheap wine. Not recommended.

It does, however, make a good low-cost fruit cup: https://summerfruitcup.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/home-made-fruit-cup-a-low-cost-alternative/

4) Dales
Own: This had a dark orange, Irn-Bru-like colour. It had a savoury ginger flavour with a pinch of winter spice and a lasting warm tingle. Its flavours were strong, a little creamy and quite spicy.
Whisky Mac:Sweet and a little on the syrupy side, but actually quite nice. This was easy to drink and took the edge off of the whisky, leaving a slightly bitter finish.
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5) Crabbie’s
Invented in 1801 by John Crabbie, this uses an array of fresh ingredients from around the world, including ginger, lemon and orange zest, wild cowslips from Eastern Europe, fragrant Oriental cinnamon and cloves.Own: A light yellow-green, similar to Green Chartreuse. Very herbal and slightly musky with a little ginger at the end. A bit odd, but quite different to something like Stone’s. It just doesn’t do it for me, but Mrs. B loves it.
Whisky Mac:Mrs. B’s favourite Whisky Mac of the day; there was a more balanced warmth, with an equilibrium reached between the ginger and whisky, but nonetheless full of feisty flavours.
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Non-Alcoholic Ginger Wine

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6) Great Uncle Cornelius
Own: Quite syrupy, with a substantial shot of sweet vanilla. Sadly, a bit lacking in a strong ginger flavour, but it did grow on the finish. This seemed to be more of a cordial and mixed well with soda water.
Whisky Mac:Nice, with a pleasant Christmas spiciness and a nose reminiscent of scented candles, this was well-liked by the panel.
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7) Rochester Ginger
Made by the Original Drinks Company, this is a Dickensian-inspired recipe with 12% ginger and additional flavours from raisin, cowslip and elderflower. It is billed as having the kick of two very angry mules.
Own: Ginger beer on the nose. This initially seems to be a bit lacking in flavour, but then some citrus and elderberry fade in, followed by a quickly-building fiery kick. The general flavour doesn’t hang around for long, but the fiery kick really does.
Whisky Mac: Quite pleasant and soft, in terms of texture, but it has that really nice fiery kick. There is a slight cap in the flavour profile in the middle, but this can be rectified with a light squeeze or twist of lemon.

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8 ) Rochester Dark Ginger

Based on an Old Jamaican Recipe containing 9% ginger and lemon juice.
Own: A little thin and quite sweet, this reminded me of crushed up boiled sweets. There was some ginger, but not as much as in #7. Not great; probably better if mixed.
Whisky Mac: Very, very dull. This needed a lot more ginger, but still managed to mask the flavour of the whisky; no amount of lemon juice could salvage this.

Interestingly, a mix of #7 and #8 makes for a much more palatable product.

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Ginger Wine Variations

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9) Stone’s Fruit Cup
This is Stone’s version of Pimm’s and is marketed as lighter version of their ginger wine. Stone’s suggest mixing their drink one part of cup to four parts of lemonade. This has a different character to many other Fruit Cups, with more emphasis on spice and ginger. It creates an incredibly refreshing and very drinkable long drink and I consider it to be an excellent option, particularly if you are looking for an option that isn’t as strong as Pimm’s.
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10) Crabbie’s Mac
A pre-mixed version of the famous ginger wine cocktail. This is full of flavour but, to me, seems a bit heavy on the ginger wine. Quite smooth. That said, Mrs. B (the Scotch fan amongst us) thought it was very good.
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11) Crabbie’s Mulled Wine
With a very limited release last year, this is blend of Crabbie’s Ginger Wine, Ruby, Spice and Citrus. It is bottled at 12%ABV.
This had a full and rich nose of port wine, ginger and cloves – altogether rather Christmas-y.
To taste, there were some ginger wine aspects, but there’s still a lot of winter spice. It wasn’t too sweet, but was quite heavy on the cloves. This was nice neat, but I imagine that it would be even better in some hot cocktails.

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Bonus Ginger Wine Cocktail.

From p.29 of Kingsley Amis’ On Drink:

The MacCossack
“Equal parts of vodka and green ginger wine poured over ice. Very good if you like ginger wine (and vodka). I do.”

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In Conclusion

My favourite Ginger Wine to drink on its own was Stone’s Reserve and, for a Whisky Mac, Stone’s Original; Mrs. B. disagreed and thought that Crabbie’s was best on both counts. Be were both suitably impressed by the standard of the variations, especially Crabbie’s Mulled and Stone’s Fruit Cup. We were less keen on the non-alcoholic versions, but, of these, Uncle Cornelius was the clear winner.
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Alcoholic Ginger (Beer?) Update – Ginger Cider

Alcoholic Ginger Beer Update

Brother’s Ginger Cider

Last month, we held a tasting of seven alcoholic ginger beers of one form or another. Two of those that we tried were less than 6 months old at the time of tasting, but it looks like another company have entered the alcoholic ginger fray since then: Brother’s Cider.

Brother’s Cider hail from Shepton Mallet in Somerset and are well-known for their unusual cider flavours; their current range includes:

  • Original Apple
  • Pear
  • Festival Pear
  • Strawberry
  • Toffee Apple
  • Bitter-sweet Apple
  • Lemon
  • Tutti Fruitti

I picked up their Ginger Cider from Tesco’s, where 500ml will set you back £1.99.

The Taste

Funnily enough, this tastes like ginger cider (who’d have thought it?); however, it also has similarities to the sweeter alcoholic ginger beers, such as Crabbies. Brother’s Ginger is not too fizzy and not too sweet and is really quite refreshing; however, one downside is that after one bottle, it is a bit sickly. I don’t think that I’d bother with ice for this drink; just serve it straight from the fridge. Whilst this is not technically a ginger beer, it is worth trying if you enjoy the likes of Crabbies, Stones and Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer – if you like cider, too, so much the better!

Alcoholic Ginger Beer Tasting – June 2012 Edition


Update November 2012 – Ginger Grouse Added,

Update July 2012Since the market has expanded so much we undertook a second tasting incorporating the new products, the new results are below.

Following the success of our non-alcoholic ginger beer tasting, natural progression seemed to recommend a tasting of their alcoholic counterparts, although it should be noted that only Fentiman’s and Crabbie’s currently make both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ginger beer.

The ginger beers were tried blind, thanks to the help of our server, Mrs. B, and we tasted them both on their own and with ice. The tasting was conducted by myself and my grandfather, David Smith Snr (a long-time ginger beer fan).

During our tasting we noticed that the ginger beers fell broadly (there was some cross-over) into two categories:
1) Traditional: these follow a similar flavour profile to non-alcoholic ginger beers; and
2) Ale-led: these have a more “ale-like” flavour profile and are typically made by beer breweries.

Traditional-Style Ginger Beer

From left to right: Hollow’s, Stone’s, Crabbie’s

#1 Stone’s Ginger Joe (4.0%ABV)

Made by the company that makes Stone’s Ginger Wine and my favourite fruit cup (sadly discontinued), this isn’t out on the market yet and so we were very lucky to get a sneak preview.
The product uses their famous ginger wine as a base and is named after Joseph Stone, a grocer with a fine moustache and founder of the Stone’s Company.

Ginger Joe doesn’t taste too alcoholic (this was a favourite of my Grandma, who doesn’t usually drink alcohol) and was sweet, but had a nice amount of ginger behind it. There was slight syrupyness (reminiscent of ginger wine), but this didn’t spoil the drink. Stone’s did improve with ice, where the flavours became more pronounced. All in all, the drink was tasty and refreshing; I’ll look forward to its release.

Stone’s Ginger Joe is available from Ocado for £1.60 for 330ml and will be available in Tesco for £1.95 for 330ml,

#2 Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

Made by the same firm that has been producing Ginger Wine and Whisky Mac for decades, Crabbie’s was the first of a new wave of alcoholic ginger beers to be released on the market and have recently expanded their portfolio (see here for more details); their most recent release is a non-alcoholic ginger beer: John Crabbie’s.

The Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer has tangy ginger on the nose and an initial taste that is reminiscent of ginger nut biscuits or ginger snaps. It had quite a long finish, with a warming tingle afterwards. This was quite fizzy and was slightly more beery than the Stone’s.
It was quite nice on ice, but we both felt that it lost some of its character and, therefore, would prefer to drink it chilled without ice.

Crabbie’s is available in Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s for around £1.50 for 500ml

Crabbie’s is also available at J.D. Wetherspoons.

#3 Hollow’s Superior Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is made by that bastion of the soft drinks world, Fentiman’s. Both their tonic water and non-alcoholic ginger beer have done very well in previous tastings on Summer Fruit Cup.

Hollows was launched in September 2010, is botanically brewed and contains pear juice. It is named after John Hollow’s the son-in-law of Thomas Fentiman. It appeared lighter and more cloudy than the others and there were interesting floral notes in the nose. The floral aspects continue in the flavour of the drink, with little hints of violets. This reminded me of ginger lemonade or a strong ginger ale (the soft variety), with the alcohol element being far from over-powering.
On ice, this was very refreshing, although we thought some of the complexity of the flavour was lost.

Hollow’s is available from The Drink Shop at £2.13 for 500ml.

#4 Church’s (Aldi) Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

This is available at a very reasonable £1.39 for 500ml, so it’s pretty cheap, but how does it taste?

This is quite fiery and gingery, but probably the least alcoholic-tasting that I have had. It was very similar in many respects, except colour, to Old Jamaican Ginger Beer and had that same heavy warmth of fieriness at the end. The upside of this is that it is not too sweet, which means you could probably drink more of it. There’s also a slight, bitter muskiness at end. The downside is that it is may be a touch too fizzy for my liking.

Still, it represents excellent value for money and is a pretty good product overall.

Church’s is available from Aldi for £1.39 for 500ml.

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#5 Sainsbury’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer* (3.8%ABV)

This beer was created by the Head Brewer of Freeminer Brewery, Don Burgess, a gentleman who lives “to brew beer, not make money”. Thanks to Chris to altering us to this variety

The beer is quite gingery, but, thankfully, not too sweet. It has a good level of fizz, without being overly effervescent. The flavour starts off slowly and then builds in a crescendo of spiciness. The finish is long, but, apart from the residual tingle from the ginger, is relatively hollow. This ginger beer is refreshing and quite easy to drink; we both enjoyed it and would buy it again.

I was intrigued that, despite being made in a brewery, this was not an ale-led ginger beer and in fact was more similar to soft-drink-style ginger beer.

Sainsbury’s Taste The difference Alcoholic Ginger Beer is available for £1.62 for 500ml from Sainsbury’s

#6 Crabbie’s Spiced Orange Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

Crabbies have taken their original formula and added natural orange extract and a hint of spice.

This had a medium fizz; it seems slightly less fizzy than normal Crabbies.
Initially, there are flavours of ginger and vanilla, which are followed by slightly spicy, bittersweet orange; in some ways, this reminds me of chocolate orange. This is then followed by the familiar Crabbies ginger fire.
I consider this to be a modest modification on the original, but the new flavours are certainly noticeable and quite welcome. It’s seasonality will keep it special.

Crabbie’s Orange is available from Morrisons for £1.99 for 500ml.

#7 Crabbie’s Black Reserve Ginger Beer (6.0%ABV)

This created by reserving some of the original alcoholic ginger beer during the steeping process and oak mature it with extra spice, citrus and steeped ginger.

nose: strong slightly syrupy with a hint of spice and fire at the end
taste: crisp and citrusy to start with then some sweetness and a good kick of ginger fire. Medium to low fizz touch of smokiness to.  This is refreshing, easy to drink and pleasantly quaffable.
with ice: the ice chills the ginger beer down nicely and on a scorch hot day this would be lovely, when it’s not so sweltering I’d go for having Crabbie’s Black chilled from the fridge to stop the drink becoming too watery.

Crabbie’s Black Reserve is available from Tesco for £1.99 for 330ml.

#8 tESCO sIMPLY ALCOHOLIC Ginger BEer (4.0%ABV)

Tesco were a little behind the curve on making a soft-style alcoholic ginger beer. However, following in the footsteps of Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s, they havehad an ale-led alcoholic ginger beer for a good while now. When I purchased my bottle, it was available at a promotional price of £1, but the regular price is still a reasonable £1.50.

I thought it had a medium-high fizz, good levels of fiery ginger and wasn’t too sweet. As such, it was refreshing and very easy to drink.
I would say that this is the alcoholic ginger beer that most closely tastes like a soft version. With added ice, this was even more cooling and refreshing; the ice brings out additional hints of citrus, making it highly quaffable. Overall, this had a great taste and was even better value for money.


Tesco Simply Alcoholic Ginger Beer is available from Tesco for around £1.39 for 500ml.

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#9 JEREMIAH WEED ROOT BREW (4.0%ABV)

Bottled at 4%ABV this had an intriguing nose of sweet ginger, sarsaparilla and malt. To taste, it had quite a rich texture and, like the Sour Mash brew, a medium-low level of fizz. The ginger was definitely there, along with some herbal and citrus notes. Not too sweet, it was quite refreshing on its own, even without ice. The finish had reasonable fire to it.

Once ice was added, I found that the fire became far more restrained and, as a result, the drink became more refreshing. It was nice served with a lemon wedge.

Overall, this was well-balanced and easy-to-drink.

Jeremiah Weed Root Brew is available from most supermarkets for around £1.80 for 500ml.

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#10 Morrison’s New Season Cider with Ginger Flavour (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is actually a ginger cider and is made by H Westons & Sons of Herefordshire, (they make a large range of cider and perry, including  my favourite, Old Rosey, a really great, scrumpy-style cider. That said I’d say that this I’d say it a pretty comparable product.

Nose: Jammy, citrus and ginger. A bit like ginger marmalade.

Taste: Rather pleasant; dry, juicy and, whilst the ginger is there, there’s no definitive burn or fire. Finally, there’s a little vanilla at the end. There’s some muskiness and hints of almond, too. It’s very refreshing, not too sweet and, although initially the ginger is faint, as you drink more, its effects builds up.

Morrison’s New Season Cider with Ginger Flavour is available form Morrison’s for £1.50 for 500ml.

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#11 Brother’s Special Edition Ginger Cider (4.0%ABV)

This ginger beer is actually a ginger cider and is made by Brother’s (they also make pear, tutti fruitti, strawberry and toffee apple cider to name but a few) but I’d say it a pretty comparable product.

Funnily enough, this tastes like ginger cider (who’d have thought it?); however, it also has similarities to the sweeter alcoholic ginger beers, such as Crabbies. Brother’s Ginger is not too fizzy and not too sweet and is really quite refreshing; however, one downside is that after one bottle, it is a bit sickly. I don’t think that I’d bother with ice for this drink; just serve it straight from the fridge. Whilst this is not technically a ginger beer, it is worth trying if you enjoy the likes of Crabbies, Stones and Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer – if you like cider, too, so much the better!

Brother’s is available from Tesco for £1.99 for 500ml.

 

#12 GINGER GROUSE (4.0%ABV)

This first time a whisky company  has got into making  ginger beer, this drink is (partly) fortified with Famous Grouse Blended Scotch, this make sense as a Scotch and Ginger Ale is a classic and refreshing drink.

On its own (chilled)
Nose: Warm ginger, hints of sweet butter.
Taste: Whilst not overly or forcibly bubbly, lots of small bubbles do rush over your tongue initially. The flavour is then light and refreshing, with notes of citrus – both lemon and lime, and both buttery and creamy, reminding me of lemon tart and key lime pie. The whisky is subtle, but present from the outset, adding a very light woodiness that reminds me of a Whisky & Ginger; the main difference being the stronger, more fiery notes of ginger on the finish that gradually build up as you drink more. All in all, this is tasty, refreshing, and very easy to drink.

Ginger Grouse is available from Tesco for £2 for 500ml.

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Ale-led Ginger Beer

From left to right: Tesco, M&S, Frank’s Williams’

#12 Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0%ABV)

From the folks that brought you Koppaberg Cider comes Frank’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Made in Sweden in the style of Genuine Swedish Ginger Beer, this is described as a traditional beer blended with ginger. Frank’s also make an Alcoholic Root Beer.

This was somewhat of a hybrid between the two categories and we both quite enjoyed it. The drink had a frothy head and smelt rather malty. The drink in itself was quite fizzy and, with hops and malt throughout, much more like beer than the previous varieties. I also got a subtle flavour of apples from the drink, too. In addition to all of this, it also had a strong ginger flavour that became more pronounced as you drank it. However, this didn’t improve with ice.

Frank’s Ginger Beer is available from Tesco’s for around £1.99 for 500ml. It is also available at J.D. Wetherspoons.

#13 William’s Ginger Beer (3.8%ABV)

Made by Williams Bros Brewing Company in Scotland, William’s Ginger is described as having a “beery” flavour even though it contains no hops. This was pretty beery with some light ginger flavours initially, followed by a very strong ginger aftertaste.

If you find most ginger beers too sweet and would find something like the M&S (see #6) too far-removed from ginger beer, this is definitely worth trying. It’s worth noting that this did not improve with ice, but then real ale doesn’t usually go well with ice.

#14 Marks and Spencer’s “Ginger Ale” (6.0%ABV)

This is a blend of Fredrick Robinson’s Dark Ale with Fentiman’s Traditional Ginger Beer, in an approximate 70/30 ratio, and is bottled exclusively for Marks and Spencer. Robinson’s also make a separate beer called Ginger Tom, which is also a dark ale blended with Fentiman’s.

The Ginger Ale was very dark; the same colour as coke. It tasted predominately of ale and, to befair, we easily guessed which one this was. There was some ginger on the finish, but its taste didn’t readily identify it as a ginger beer and, as far as real ale goes, I’d rather have a pint of something else. It was a bad idea to add ice to this.

Marks and Spencer “Ginger Ale” is available from M&S £1.99 for 330ml.

#15 Tesco’s Finest Alcoholic Ginger Beer (3.8%ABV)

Like #5, this is also made by Williams Bros Brewing Company of Scotland. It’s worth noting that this is effectively the same product as #5, but it was interesting that the Tesco variety was darker, despite the flavours being very similar. I would suggest that the best way to serve this was slightly chilled but not too cold.

Tesco’s Finest Ginger Beer is available from Tesco’s (suprise, suprise) for around £1.79 for 500ml.


#16 Piddle Brewery’s Leg Warmer Ginger Beer (4.3%ABV)

From the Piddle Brewery in Piddlehinton, Dorset.  Amongst other products, they also make the following beers: Jack’s Riddle, Silent Slasher and the seasonal Santa’s Potty.

Leg Warmer itself is a seasonal beer, for the summer, and it is made with Styrian Golding and Saaz hops and real ginger.

Certainly an ale-led Ginger Beer, it has the appearance of a cloudy pale ale, with no fizz; it is quite hoppy, with ginger at the end, but it is quite subdued. However, it is most pronounced on the aftertaste. It certainly isn’t one that you’d serve on ice and it has a suggested serving temperature of 12-13 oC. Unlike most of the other ale-led Ginger Beers, this is not too rich nor stout-like, which makes it rather more refreshing..

This is available from various Piddle Brewery Outlets.

#17 wYCHWOOD gINGERbEARD (4.2%ABV)

A dark, amber brown in colour.
nose: Initially, there was malt , followed by sweet ginger wine.
taste: Very smooth and quite sweet, with minimal fizz. It seemed like a real, middle ground between soda and ale.

with ice: much better, the flavour is tipped towards the soda side of that balance. Still, it’s a bit sweet and creamy, like ginger soda, but with malt undertones and a real, real fire on the aftertaste.

GingerBeard is available from most supermarkets for around £2 for 500ml.

#18 BADGER BLANdFORD FLYER (5.2%ABV)

This is made by the Hall & Woodhouse Badger Brewery of Blandford St. Mary in my neighbouring county of Dorset. They are well known for their ales, such as Badger’s First Gold , Tanglefoot and Fursty Ferret. This bottle has a fly fishing theme that appealed to an angler friend of mine.

This was certainly an ale-led ginger beer, being very smooth, not too fizzy and definitely not too sweet. It worked better chilled than over ice, providing a very refreshing tipple. Fans of heavy ginger notes may be disappointed, as the Flyerhas a more subtle fieriness, that only appears on the finish.

Blandford Flyer is available from Tesco and Waitrose for around £2 for 500ml.

#19 OLD TOM ALE WITH GINGER (6.0%ABV)

Made by Robinson’s of Stockport, this is a variation on their popular Old Tom Orignal Ale (which itself has a slight fieriness to it) with added ginger.

This was a deep, dark red-brown ale, with hops and hints of sarsaparilla and ginger on the nose.
Ale-like initially, this was followed by some sweetness, hints of vanilla, sarsaparilla, and wintergreen,with more ginger coming through towards the end. Intriguingly, rather than a ginger beer, this seemed to be more of a mix of ginger or root beer with dandelion & burdock and cream soda.
With ice, the drink became smoother and more refreshing and the ginger spice was more prominent. Overall, I would say this is one of
the better ale-led ginger beers.

Robinson’s Old Tom with Ginger is available from Sainsbury for around £2.50 for 330ml.


A very enjoyable evening.

In Conclusion

After the tasting, it was clear that we both preferred the Traditional Style Ginger Beers (although Mr. Hartley of the Institute of Alcoholic Experimentation preferred the Marks & Spencer’s version), which we found both more gingery and more refreshing. An 8th ginger beer (Crabbie’s Non-Alcoholic) was thrown in as a wild card, and the most noticeable difference was the colour. In terms of size we thought 330ml was the sweet point of size.
I also think that it’s worth noting that, although most of the brands suggested enjoying their drinks over ice, we both preferred them on their own and would simply drink them well-chilled from the fridge.

Here is our top 3, over which we reached a general consensus:

With Alcoholic Ginger Beers an Root Beers entering the market, a return to alcoholic lemonade? Personally I’m hoping for a hard Dandelion & Burdock.

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An Evening with Crabbie’s

Whilst preparing for an upcoming Alcoholic Ginger Beer tasting, Mr Hartley (from the IAE) and I found ourselves invited to event that would give us as sneak preview of the most famous Alcoholic Ginger Beer of the moment, Crabbies.
The event was held at The London Cocktail Club on Great Newport Street, where I finally got to see the fabled bottle of “ancient” Miller’s (nothing to do with the more contemporary Martin Millers, this was flavoured with Bahua leaves.
The event was held to launch a Crabbie’s non-alcoholic ginger beer but we were lucky enough to try some other bits to, here are some notes:

John Crabbies Traditional Cloudy Ginger Beer
I quite like the new Crabbie’s it has a good amount of fieriness and is pleasantly effervescence, neither too fizzy nor to flat. The balance of sweetness is about right and it’s popular with a few folks I’ve shared a sample with.

Diet John Crabbies Ginger Beer
There are similarities with this and the above variety. I’m typically not a fan of diet drinks as the sugar substitutes seem to through the sweetness off and tend to cling to the mouth. This variety’s seem lighter and I definitely prefer the sweetness of the non-diet version. As diet versions go though it is quite good.

John Crabbie’s Fiery Ginger Beer
Pow! A good fiery kick at the beginning (interesting, because Hartley felt the kick at the end), full of flavour and one of the most fiery ginger beers out there. This comes in a 200ml mixer-size bottle for use in Moscow Mules or to mix with Gosling’s Rum for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.

John Crabbie’s Ginger Beer with a Twist of Orange
My favourite of the ginger beers that we tried, this was a very unusual combination and one that I think may well catch on. The orange flavour was quite strong and could be described as “confectionery orange”, reminding me of orange boiled sweets or orange Starburst (Opal Fruits). As I drank more, the orange flavour reminded me a bit of orange flower water and, finally, faintly brought back memories of Still Fanta.
This was a tasty variety (Hartley agreed) and is one to look out for in the future.

John Crabbie’s Dry Ginger Ale
This was my favourite drink of all that I tried that evening. Why? Because here, finally, is a commercial Ginger Ale with some kick to it. Those that attended the Graphic Ginger Ale evening will be aware that some varieties taste a bit washed out, with few having much of a fiery kick. This delivers that along with a sweet spiciness reminiscent of cinnamon and nutmeg. The strong ginger flavours of Crabbie’s Dry Ginger Ale are a nod toward the old “Belfast style” of Ginger Ale and is a very welcome addition to the market. I’ve had it again since the launch and it was even better.

Shhhh!
And, as if that was not all, we also got a sneak preview of Crabbie’s 12yr Old Blended Scotch, their new Speyside-based product. It was all rather hush-hush and I wasn’t even allowed to take a photo, but, having tried a dram (or two!), I can say that I rather liked it and that it is up there with the better blended scotches in its price range. To me, it seems a good way to expand the brand and go back to Crabbie’s whisky roots. I look forward to using it with their Ginger Wine to make a freshly mixed Crabbie’s Mac.

My thanks to Jennie and all the folks at Crabbie’s for inviting us and to team at the The London Cocktail Club and Wayne Collins for helping to have a fun & tasty evening.