Update November 2012 – Ginger Grouse Added,
Update July 2012 – Since 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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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.
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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