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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
However my research did uncover a similar drink, the McKossack, which was mentioned in Kingsley Amis’ On Drink, see below.

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:

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.
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.

Non-Alcoholic Ginger Wine


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.

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.


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.


Ginger Wine Variations

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.
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.
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.


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.”


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.

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.

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.