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

Ginger Ale Cocktails

With the approach of the Ginger Ale Tasting at Graphic on the 17th January, I thought that I would look at some other drinks, beyond the Gin Bump (or Buck), that use ginger ale as an ingredient. Of course, the Horse’s Neck is one of these, but I will skip over this, as it will be the subject of another post.

 

Clockwise from back left: White Horse,Ginger Daisy, Happy Thought, Brunswick Cooler, Sloe Gin Bump, Dog's Day, Postmaster.

Postmaster
This cocktail is quite similar to a Gin Bump, although it less tart, without the citrus. For that reason, for me, it has a little edge on the Bump. I think it is important when making a Postmaster (or a Bump) to use a gin of moderate strength, around 42%, and one that isn’t too over-powering.

Happy Thought
A rather different non-alcoholic cocktail, this is a good take on an iced tea. We found the extra fizz from the ginger ale quite pleasant. Mrs. B got a lot of gingerbread flavours from this drink, found it quite yummy and thus it was her favourite.

Dog’s Day
Rather reminiscent of a rum and soda to start, with a slight smokiness from the whisky on the finish. The orange adds a little spritz of freshness to the drink.

Sloe Gin Bump
The sloe gin that I used, a home-made variety, was deliberately dryer than most, so it was interesting how the ginger ale brought out the sweetness in the gin. But it was still quite tasty; typically, I prefer my sloe gin with ginger ale to tonic water, with my ultimate preference being bitter lemon.

White Horse
A very tasty cooler; the ginger, Scotch and orange blend well together. I found this most refreshing, although Mrs. B thought it could use a touch more flavour; perhaps another splash of bitters was in order?

Ginger Daisy
To be to the point, this tasted very much like a brandy and ginger ale, but took a good deal more effort to make. Given the minimal improvement to the flavours of the simpler version, I’m not convinced that this is worth the bother. I was also surprised at how little the gin came through.

Brunswick Cooler
A lovely, simple cooler. This was so cooling that the cold went down my throat and chilled it like a good whisky warms it. Most unexpected; I have only ever had this twice before, both times  with Martinis (and one was made using liquid nitrogen). It still eludes me as to what exactly caused it, but a great drink nonetheless.

In conclusion:
It seems clear that ginger ale is a particularly good ingredient in non-alcoholic cocktails, as it was included in some of the best I have ever tasted. When mixed with alcohol, it seems that the simple cocktails are the better ones; good examples of this being the Postmaster, Dog’s Day and Sloe Bump.

Top Alcoholic Cocktail recommendation: Postmaster
Top Non-Alcoholic Cocktail recommendation: Happy Thought