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.

Horse’s Neck Cocktail

There is a new cocktail in my list of favourites and, surprisingly, it is not gin-based, but brandy-based; I am talking about the Horse’s Neck. My fondness for this drink was recently rekindled after writing Monday’s article on ginger ale.

HISTORY

The injured Lieutenant Weston (played by Donald Houston) explains how to make a Horse’s Neck

As a cocktail, the Horse’s Neck is rather unique in that it is equally well-known both as an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic drink. The standard recipe for the latter produces a high-ball glass filled with ginger ale and ice, garnished with a long strip of lemon peel (the “Horse’s Neck”). The alcoholic version used today sees the drink typically fortified with brandy, although some recipes call for whisky or bourbon instead. The alcoholic version is sometimes known as a “Horse’s Neck with a Kick”.

The earliest reference to the cocktail that I have found is from 1st September 1895 from the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal. This refers to it being a soft drink. A later article from December of 1897 mentions the possibility of adding a splash of whisky and, in The Mansfield News in 1900, it is stated that the version using brandy is known as a “Horse’s Collar”. In the latter publication there is also a story that says that the drink was invented by a bartender in attempt to stop his boss from firing him; needless to say it worked.

By the Second World War, the Horse’s Neck had become a favourite beverage to be served in the Officer’s Ward Room in the British Royal Navy; a replacement for the Pink Gin. One of the first on-screen references that I have found of it is in ‘The Yangtze Incident (The True Story of HMS Amethyst)’, notable for its pairing with “Herrings-In” sandwiches.

Aside from British Naval Officers, another notable fan of the brandy and ginger ale concoction was the writer Ian Fleming. Despite his fondness for gin and vodka, this was one of his staples. James Bond himself drinks a double brandy and ginger ale whilst waiting in the VIP airport lounge in the book On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, whilst in disguise as a member of the aristocracy and a Fellow of the College of Arms. In ‘Octopussy’, one of the last Bond stories written by Fleming, Major Smythe (who bears a certain resemblance to the author) drinks two stiff brandy and ginger ales for his elevenses, which he actually takes at 10:30am. Fleming reflects that this beverage is “The Drunkard’s Drink”.

RECIPE

Whilst I accept that the American whiskey version of the Horse’s Neck most likely predates the brandy version, for me, the grape wins over the grain in this instance; no doubt my preference is influenced by my having a family with Naval connections.

Classic Horse’s Neck / Horse’s Collar
50ml Brandy
100ml Ginger Ale
(I like something with ginger and effervescence, for this drink I find Schweppes* hard to beat)
A long thin strip of lemon peel.

This is a great drink: smooth and very easy to drink. A good quality ginger ale is the key, more so than the quality of the spirit. As James Bond says, “the cheapest way to improve the quality of a poor drink is with a good mixer”.

There are some hints of brown sugar and warmth from both the ginger and the brandy. After each sip, you are left with a slight glow and a flicker of ginger fire on the finish. The whole drink is set off nicely by the little zip from the citrus.

Despite its great warming qualities, this is also a very refreshing drink, making it perfect for all year round.

Non-Alcoholic
150ml Ginger Ale
Ice and A long twist of lemon peel

4

VARIATIONS

Original Horse’s Neck

50ml Rye Whisky
100ml Ginger Ale
A long twist of lemon peel

This is very smooth and slightly grainy; the sweetness is of a vanilla, bread-y quality, rather than the burnt sugar flavours of the brandy version.Very nice; lighter and more refreshing then the brandy version, but not as warming.

Presbyterian

30ml Bourbon
40ml Ginger Ale
40ml Soda Water
A long twist of lemon peel
3

3


Major Smythe

Inspired by Major Smythe’s reference to the local (Jamaican) “poison” (drink) being rum and ginger. The Major tells Bond “with the automatic smoothness of an alcoholic” that he prefers the ginger ale by itself.

50ml Skipper Dark Rum
100ml Ginger Ale
A long twist of lime peel

I thought this was very pleasant; a little lighter then a Dark & Stormy, which uses ginger beer, and thus a touch more refreshing. I used Skipper Rum, which gives the drink a really dark, brown sugar and molasses thickness, with a hint of treacle. The drink may have verged towards sickliness if it wasn’t for the freshness provided by the lime twist.

* I mean Schweppes over Canada Dry (sadly they seem to be the same thing in the UK now) I have tried the new Fentiman’s Ginger Ale in a Horse’s Neck and sadly it is just too gingery and so upset the drinks balance.

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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

Thomas Henry Mixers Review – Tonic Water, Bitter Lemon Etc…

Thomas Henry Tonic Water is just one of a range of mixers produced by this German firm that we shall be reviewing today.

I’ve long been interested in tonic water and, after a recent tot-up, I realised I have now tried over 50 different varieties; so you can imagine my intrigue when Simon Difford’s digital version of Class Magazine gave first place in their Tonic Water tasting to a product that I had never even heard of, let alone tried.

Needless to say, I quickly got on the phone to Germany to find out more about it. I spoke to Sebastian Brack, who told me that, in addition to the acclaimed tonic water, they also make Bitter Lemon, Ginger Ale, Ginger Beer and Soda Water; he was kind enough to send me samples of the first four of these.*

Thomas Henry was an apothecary from Manchester, England. He is attributed with the first production of carbonated water (the first fizzy drink/soda) in 1773; he made this  in 12-gallon barrels. The technology he used was based on the system by Joseph Priestly (who invented/discovered carbonated water in 1767). It wasn’t until 1794 that Jacob Schweppe started production of his sparkling water.

Tonic Water

1) Own
Clean, crisp, fresh and light. This is not too heavy in terms of citrus and has a balanced sweetness. It has a high-to-medium level of fizz and a good depth of flavour, with some earthy bitterness and a touch of sweet citrus at the end.
2) Gin & Tonic
i) As always in my tonic water tastings, I used Plymouth Gin for this Gin & Tonic. The drink was excellent: the full flavour of the gin comes through, with added bitter and fresh characteristics from the tonic. It was clean and crisp, with a brilliant balance; exactly how a Gin & Tonic should be.
ii) For a second G&T, I used Knockeen Hills Elderflower Gin. Superb; I was surprised at how much of the flora and fruity elderflower notes from the gin were brought out by this tonic water. There was a touch of sugar at the end, but the cocktail is neither too sweet, nor cloying. This was a great way to enhance the gin and a very tasty Gin & Tonic.
3) Vodka
I used Beluga Vodka. With Thomas Henry Tonic, this made a pleasant drink, with the underlying vodka coming through. This drink seems quite clean and refreshing, and citrus notes are more prominent. Once again, the mixer complements the spirit, rather than overpowering it.

Bitter Lemon

1) Own
Good levels of citrus, sweetness and bitterness. Medium fizz with a full, but not overpowering, flavour. There’s also a good tang at the end, as well as a crisp bitterness, rather than a nasty cloying effect.
2) With Xoriguer Gin
This is a traditional way to drink this Xoriguer Mahon Gin, from Menorca; the floral and herbaceous flavours of the gin are very strong and cooling, and the bitter lemon provides a crisp, citrus finish. This gin can also be used to make a great Gin & Tonic.
3) With Sloe Gin
I used the Marks & Spencer Sloe Gin (made by Boudier, In France) Delicious; a gentle way to lengthen your sloe gin in the summer. The bitter and tangy citrus contrasts nicely with the sweet, fruity and marzipan characteristics of the sloe gin.

Ginger Ale

1) Own
Thomas Henry’s Ginger Ale has a typical ginger ale nose, with ginger, citrus, and a hint of sugar, all of which are quite light. It has a medium-to-high fizz and quite light flavours, including subtle ginger. There’s good effervescence, although it’s a touch cloying. Still, it is a fresh and unobtrusive mixture that should work well with most spirits.
2) Gin Buck
Quite nice, with a ginger-nut biscuit fieriness. Flavours of the gin come through strongly and the drink is not too sickly, although in vast quantities it may become so.
3) Horses Neck
An unobtrusive mix: the ginger ale gives the brandy room to breathe and the flavours come through. For my taste, it’s a tad sweet and could do with some more fire, but it’s still rather good.

Ginger Beer

1) Own
A very familiar nose of a good standard ginger beer. Reminds me of my standard when using the soft drink, D&G’s Old Jamaica. A cool start, with medium-to-high fizz, musky ginger and then sweeter, with medium fire from the ginger. A very good mixer and comparable to Old Jamaica, but not better.
2) Moscow Mule
Works well; the ginger beer is not too intrusive, but does add something to the mix. The drink isn’t sickly or overpowering and is a good standard for the Moscow Mule, but not spectacular.
3) Dark ‘N Stormy
Pretty tasty. The ginger beer let’s the dark burnt sugar of the rum through, whilst adding the fresh combination of lime and ginger, as well as a fiery kick. Very tasty and above average, but not exceptional.

In Conclusion

I think that it’s clear from my review that I am impressed with Thomas Henry mixers overall, the Ginger Beer and Ale being of a good standard and the Bitter Lemon being better than most of its competitors (it was the bitter-sweet balance that did it). But Thomas Henry’s Tonic Water was the real gem of the tasting; it is truly exceptional and possibly the best I have ever had (a blind run-off of my top 5 is in order, I think).
Overall, this is an excellent range. I hope that they find a UK distributor soon so that we can all get a chance to try and enjoy them.

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The Thomas Henry Products are not available in the UK but if you are and importer/distributor and think it may be of interest please Contact Them Here.

.* Sebastian seemed a little bemused at how much e-mail interest he had been getting from the UK in the previous day; once I had explained about the article (and e-mailed him a link) it became much clearer.

Alcoholic Ginger Beer Update #2 – Church’s (Aldi) & Leg Warmer

Church's and Leg Warmer Alcoholic Ginger Beer (Note that the lady on the second bottle is wearing both stockings and leg warmers, that's what you call a woman!))

Church’s and Leg Warmer Alcoholic Ginger Beer (Note that the lady on the second bottle is wearing both stockings and leg warmers, that’s what you call a woman!)

It certainly seems like the Alcoholic “Ginger Beer” is growing at a steady rate;  at the beginning of the year, I was aware of just three varieties, but now I’m about to review #9 and #10. You know something is a boom when the low-cost supermarkets want a piece of the action, and that is exactly what has happened with the first of today’s ginger beers.

Church’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer: From Aldi

Church’s (from Aldi)  %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.

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Leg Warmer (Piddle Brewery) 4.3%ABV

The second ginger beer comes 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; I got mine from the excellent top notch Champagne Charlie’s near Ocean Village in Southampton. Worth checking out if you’re in the area and looking for something a bit special.

For the rest of the Alcoholic Ginger Beer Tasting, click here.

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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.