I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of ginger beer. As I’m not huge fan of beer/wine/cocktails, but still want something a bit more exciting to drink than just water, ginger beer is my jam. It is not only delicious, but also great for digestion too, a fact that my sometimes-squirrelly stomach much appreciates.
Not all ginger beers are created equal, as I’ve discovered over the years. Not only that, but ginger beer and ginger ale seem to be drawing farther and farther apart. Warning: if you’re expecting syrupy sweet soda, you will not find that here. I’ll be honest, most ginger ales shouldn’t even be allowed to be labeled ginger; they’re basically just sugar, carbonated water, and caramel color (blech). If you’ve never had a true ginger beer before, you might find it shockingly spicy (yes, ginger is inherently spicy, with its own unique kind of burning heat) and less carbonated than typical soda. Sip it slowly, and enjoy the warm, effervescent sensation that fills your mouth and belly.
I have a few main characteristics that I look for in a good ginger beer:
1. I like it spicy. Essentially, it should burn a little going down, and leave a pleasant tingly sensation on your lips.
2. I like it just a little bit sweet. While the sweetness level of these ginger beers varies greatly, in general they are much less sweet and syrupy than ginger ale.
3. I like it fresh. The best ginger beer should taste like freshly juiced ginger.
4. I like it untainted. The ginger beers with added fruit juices, spices, or other flavors are typically not my favorite (with a few notable exceptions). The best ginger beers, in my opinion, contain little more than fresh ginger, spring water, and natural cane sugar, with maybe a dash of citrus juice or citric acid for zest.
5. I like it cloudy. I noticed a pretty common thread among my favorite ginger beers in that they are very pale yellow and cloudy, some almost chalky. Crystal clear, caramel colored beverages usually fall under my description of ginger ale, and thus, subpar (in my opinion).
These ginger beers come from around the world, from Bermuda to England to Australia to Maine, each with its own unique characteristics and flavors. My notes on each ginger beer are below.
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The Ultimate – Rachel’s Ginger Beer. If you live in Seattle, color me jealous. This locally made brew is the single best ginger beer I’ve ever had in MY LIFE. It tastes like freshly squeezed ginger, with just enough sweetness and tartness to balance the spice. They offer growlers (of ginger beer! I die.) as well as a number of specialty and seasonal flavors. You CAN order it online but it’s definitely a splurge. If I could get my hands on this more easily I’d never drink anything else (seriously).
That said, if you aren’t in Seattle you’ll need other options. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. :)
The Go-To – Fever Tree Ginger Beer. If I had to pick my absolute favorite ginger beer, this would be it: my tried and true, my go-to, and the winner of the title “Lindsay’s All-Time Favorite” ginger beer. I also love the small 6.8 ounce bottles, which are the perfect size to enjoy (12 oz is often more than I want in one sitting). Note that Fever Tree also has a ginger ale, which is sweeter and not as spicy as the ginger beer version.
Most Refreshing – Regatta Ginger Beer. One of my newer discoveries, this one is lightly carbonated, fresh and zesty with plenty of gingery bite but no painful burn afterwords. It’s got an interesting cloudy appearance and almost chalky texture (in a good way), made by blending Caribbean & African ginger in traditional stone crocks. You can also find this guy in adorable little mini cans.
The Natural – Maine Root Ginger Brew. A bit different, there are some interesting flavors and spices in this one other than ginger. Maine Root Ginger Brew is made with all organic ingredients, including pure evaporated cane juice. It’s got a nice tingly after-burn that you’ll feel on your lips, in an enjoyable sort of way.
The Sweetest – Bruce Cost Ginger Ale. The only one in the lineup that calls itself ale instead of beer, but it’s got more in common with the other ginger beers than not. At the same time, it’s noticeably sweeter than most of the others, with a fruity, almost tropical, candy-like sweetness. If you ever come across the Bruce Cost Passionfruit Ginger Ale, it’s definitely worth trying. I stumbled upon it once in NYC, and it was nothing short of amazing. Alas, I have yet to find it again, despite my pestering of all the local stores that carry the original variety. I mean, talk about my worlds colliding: passion fruit meets ginger beer.
The Freshest – Spindrift Ginger Beer. My newest discovery, this one has a delightful hint of fresh lemon juice to accent the spicy ginger, producing a very fresh and zesty tasting ginger beer. Another one you can’t buy online (yet), but I found it locally at the Turnip Truck.
Most Versatile – Bundaberg Ginger Beer. A classic, you can’t go wrong with Bundaberg. A perfect balance of sweetness and spice, and clearly made with lots of fresh ginger. It’s one of the most enjoyable ginger beers to drink straight, but also makes a great base for mixed cocktails.
The Original – Barritts Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer. Pleasantly sweet with just a hint of spice, this ginger beer was designed to be mixed with rum and thus is a bit more laid back than other, spicier varieties. Barritts comes in both cans and bottles (they’re filled with the same stuff but the cans are much less expensive).
The Hipster – Gosling’s Ginger Beer. You can’t go wrong with Gosling’s, which was designed to be mixed with Gosling’s rum for the ultimate Dark & Stormy. I call this one the “hipster” ginger beer, as it’s the brand that all of hip local eateries seem to stock. It’s on the sweeter side with just a hint of spice. (Tip for ordering ginger beer in restaurants: you’ll rarely see plain ginger beer on a restaurant drink menu. Instead, scan the cocktail menu: if they have a ginger beer cocktail like a Moscow Mule or Dark & Stormy, you know they’ve got ginger beer on hand).
The Spiciest – Goya Jamaican-Style Ginger Beer. By far the spiciest of the lot, this one burns on the backend not unlike straight whiskey, a heat that builds as you continue to drink it. Whatever you do, don’t drink it too fast, the last thing you want is this going up into your sinuses. Ouch. This one is definitely not as fresh-tasting as some of the others. I am not a huge fan of Jamaican-style ginger beers (too much spice and not enough ginger), but this one is an exception.
The Mildest – Parker’s Ginger Beer. Perhaps the least spicy of the lot, I’d call this one a “beginner’s ginger beer” as it’s just barely tingly on your tongue. If you’re not a huge fan of spice but still want to enjoy some ginger flavor, this one is a great option. It has a good amount of sediment that settles to the bottom, which is how you know it’s made from fresh ginger. This one doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon (gasp!) but I always see it at Whole Foods.
Most Unique – Fentimans Ginger Beer. This one goes slightly against my ‘untainted’ rule, being that it is “botanically brewed” with added herbals and flavorings and fermented ginger which give this ginger beer a very unique flavor. I think it’d be amazing with gin as it has some of the same herbal/floral notes. It’s pricy, but it’s worth it!
Granted, just because it is called ginger beer doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact I’ve had some pretty bad ginger beers in my quest to try them all. Cock ‘n Bull, Reed’s, Saranac (although their Root Beer is AMAZING), GuS, Trader Joe’s, Stoli… meh. Not my favorites. No offense to any of these brands, that’s just my personal taste, and I know I have very specific opinions about my ginger beer.
I find my ginger beer at World Market (Bruce Cost, Bundaberg, Fever Tree, and Fentiman’s), Whole Foods (Parker’s and Maine Root), Kroger (Fever Tree – in the British section), Publix (Goya – in the Latin Foods section), and locally in Nashville at the Turnip Truck (Spindrift and Bruce Cost), Midtown (Gosling’s, Regatta, Bundaberg, and Fevertree), and Craft Brewed (Bundaberg, Fentiman’s, Fever Tree, and Barritt’s). Wherever you happen to live, shop around at your local liquor stores, health/specialty food stores, and independent grocery stores… chances are you’ll find at least a few different varieties of ginger beer. The majority of the brands I’ve listed above are also available online, although usually only in case quantities.
I’m sure there are other amazing ginger beers out there that I have yet to find, especially as craft sodas become more and more prevalent and Moscow Mules seem to be the ‘hip’ cocktail of the moment, and that this list will continue to grow. Do you love ginger beer as much as I do, and if so, what is your favorite brand?
And if you’re up for a challenge… did you know you can make your own ginger beer? I’ve done it a few ways, both naturally fermented with champagne yeast (the old fashioned method), as well as from a fresh ginger concentrate mixed with club soda (the quicker method). This works with any old grocery store ginger, or if you can get your hands on fresh baby ginger… you’re in for a real treat. :)