Ginger Beer: A Primer + Picks for every Palate
Don’t be fooled. Ginger BEER is not ginger ALE. There is a difference. While both evoke images of swarthy pirates throwing barrels of fermented liquids, only Ginger Beer is actually brewed (mixed with bacteria to do something unholy and scientific to sugars in the drink). The result is a tang that is best likened to the gap between apple juice and apple cider. It’s noticeable. And like any hipster-drink, Ginger Beer has just enough of a backstory to impress at the bar.
The descendant of Mead and Metheglin (mead + spices), Ginger Beer was invented by the English in the late 18th century. In the mid 1800’s, English law mandated a 2% alcohol limit on non-taxable drinks. Anything over 2%? Pay up. This lead to the infusion of carbonated water into the previously “adult” beverage. Simultaneously, emigrants to Islands such as Bermuda and Jamaica discovered “awesome” and decided to add it into their drinks. Today, its numerous flavors reflect the diversity of its brewers, and the result is a beverage best-reserved for the waning light of a summer day.
Where to Find Ginger Beer?
To be honest – the better the brew, the more challenging it may be to find. However given that most of us don’t have access to Caribbean shoreline or self-brewing tools, here are four locations where you should start:
- International-Mart: These are typically found in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, and will always greet you with the distinct smell of either fish, curry, suya spice or cardamom depending on nationality of the owner. Walk straight to the counter and ask plainly for ginger beer. You will be escorted past the rows of unidentifiable delicacies to a short dusty shelf containing your reward. Fortune and Glory kid, Fortune and Glory.
- World Market: This pan-American chain contains the largest collection of ginger beer, (but ran out of Bundaberg the day before I arrived,) Prices here are often higher than the International Mart, but are subject to sales and promotions.
- Liquor Store: Given the relation of ginger beer to the Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy cocktails, many liquor stores make a point of carrying a healthy selection of ginger beer (at times bundled with Rum at a “promotional” price). A bit more expensive than World Market, but a one-stop-shop for those with hair on their chest (Read: Liver).
- Hipster + Fair Trade + Sustainable + Hyper Local + Organic shop: Look for the shop or the store with the ironic name. (Mine was “Two Turnips and a Truck”.) Therein you’ll likely find the highest prices of the bunch, but short of the International-Mart, it’s your best chance at a truly esoteric ginger beer.
Caveat Emptor: The most important aspect of good style is fit. The sugar content of the following drinks stand in direct opposition to that. Hell, even reading this review may even add something to your waistline. Prices below are ballpark, and what was found while gathering samples for this post.
DG Jamaican Ginger Beer – Per Bottle: $1.39
Knit ties are meant for the summer – Ginger beer the same. No drink is better woven than DG Ginger Beer. The liquid cloudiness and throat-tingling ginger-spice stands as an example for dappered men everywhere. May the sounds of steel pans and Patois accompany each pour. Look for this one wherever green cards are sold. The downside? 56g of sugar is quite a bit more than anyone should have in a liquid serving.
Don’t be fooled by the pretentious bow-tie-wearing language on the front of the bottle – this brew is as real as it gets. 100 years of history is proven is on the label, where it suggests you “upend before pouring”. (Such that the flecks of ginger are evenly suspended in the flask.) Note: “the finest ginger root of Shanghai, and global juniper and yarrow” will cost you. Visit your favorite Hipster’s fridge first to try this drink before blowing your hard earned cash. World Market / Hipster-Mart also carries it.
As the only choice on the list with alcohol, Crabbie’s is technically the most “True-to-form” ginger beer. Much like a quality pocket square, it may seem like a lot to spend up front, but step into the outside world and you’ll see bars in Edinburgh (where’ it’s made) charging five pounds for it. You’ll have similar experiences trying to buy a pocket square on Savile Row. The ginger is strong with this one, so strong in fact that you will be forgiven for attempting to chew it. Liquor Store or Bar only.
With one-fifth the sugar of its Jamaican cousin and all of its cloudy, flavorful goodness, this is your bartender’s choice. I personally found the flavor a perfect complement for both mixed drinks and straight pours. All men should aspire to this. There are ginger beers, and there are Ginger Beers. This is the latter. Liquor Stores and World Market carry this. Amazon will even ship a bunch of minis to you in a chilled container.
Lapel flowers are a bit much for some. Others however wear them with an air of invincibility. Such can be said of Cock & Bull Ginger Beer, no lie. This is up there on the sucrose chart, so buyer beware. (36g) Find it hiding amidst the orange sodas at World Market.
Easily the most divisive of the drinks on this list, Reed’s is nothing special. This is exactly what makes it so dangerous, you’ll never see it coming. It’s just quality ginger beer with some islandy flavors. Further research shows that it is still brewed today the same way it was years ago. This is entry level stuff, (sorry Joe) but it’s not to be overlooked. Much like a linen pocket square, it’s probably your first real venture into expanding your horizons into the realm. Yet strangely, it gets the most play out of anything in your wardrobe. You’ll find it at your local grocery store, hidden among the ginger ales.
I admit, this is where I got started. My first ginger beer at the tender age of fourteen. It was my first dark and stormy. My first tailored suit. Its flavor was a blank canvas on which everything else was meant to be built. Now that I know what I’m doing, I rarely go back here, as there are cheaper, tastier options with healthier compositions. Kudos to Gosling’s for recognizing the best Island Dark & Stormy’s are made with dark rum however. Don’t ever buy the bottle + can deal, it’s a rip-off.
Goya’s flavor is hard to pin down, I’ll leave it to an earlier comment by Clawbrant : “That is a real masochist’s soda, less ginger bite and more chemical burn.” He’s not kidding. This stuff is prescription-grade. It’s non-alcoholic, so Drinkwel isn’t really necessary, but much like a fedora, your stones must be named Ricky and Ricardo for you to pull it off. If DG is the sweetness of Montego bay, Goya rolls down the hard streets of Kingston. Welcome to Jamrock.
You can’t go wrong with ginger beer, but you can go very right. Ask for it at the bar and wait for a respectful nod from the bartender. It’s different. It’s delicious. And aside from Crabbie’s, it’s not a half bad option if you’re the designated driver. Watch out for the sugar content, as this article was accompanied by extra laps for me. As far as the style seen in the pics? Most of it came from the Bespoke Post “Made” Box, Hook and Albert, or the Tie Bar.
About the Author: Julian (A.K.A “Brailleyard” in the comments) is a Grad student down-south who sympathizes with the struggle of finding good Ginger Beer/clothes at a great price. Between classes and trips to the tailor you’ll find him behind his camera in a makeshift photography studio or sampling Nashville’s food scene.