Ginger Beer: Recipes, Common Questions and History
Ginger beer is an ancient and confusing drink.
Many people are surprised to learn that it's non-alcoholic (the label does say "beer", after all), and even more surprised when they taste the strong, crisp beverage.
We feature a lot of alcoholic beverages here on Gentlemint, and Ginger beer is an excellent alternative to alcohol.
We'll provide some background and history on the drink, address some common misconceptions, and give a few recipes for ginger beer.
What is Ginger Beer?
Ginger beer is traditionally a sweet, carbonated beverage made naturally fermenting ginger, yeast, and cane sugar. The result is a strong but refreshing carbonated drink that can be consumed by itself or mixed with other drinks.
The original recipes for ginger beer would brew the liquid and ferment yeast, creating carbonation. Modern manufacturers skip the brewing process and instead use syrups and color additives. But you can still make your own ginger beer easily at home.
Some of the various ginger beer brands found on the market.
The ginger-based soda is one of the strongest non-alcoholic drinks out there. Often people equate it with ginger ale, and the two are very different.
First made for the medicinal qualities of ginger, the drink has seen a recent surge thanks to popular alcoholic drinks using it as a base for the cocktail.
History and Origins of Ginger Beer
Ginger has long been used as a folk catch-all treatment for stomach issues and other disorders. The earliest forms of Ginger beer were created as early as 500 BC for medicinal purposes in China and India.
It wasn't until the mid-18th century that ginger beer became popular in Britain, the U.S., Ireland, and other countries. The strong and spicy drink was made with low amounts of alcohol, as an alternative to stronger liquors like whiskey or bourbon.
Is it Alcoholic?
Typically, ginger beer is a non-alcoholic drink.
Think of it as root beer, which is also non-alcoholic. There are a few brands of ginger beer that are alcoholic, but the vast majority of ginger beer on the market is non-alcoholic. (See popular ginger beer brands below).
In the Victorian era ginger beer actually contained low levels of alcohol, like a modern hard cider. Britain during the Victorian era was very much into their low-alcohol content beers ("small beers") that were spiced and flavored, and ginger beer was a popular choice among them.
However, thanks to the recent surge in craft flavored beers, alcoholic ginger beers are making a comeback.
What's the difference between Ginger Beer and Ginger Ale?
This is confusing for most people. An ale is a type of beer, but ginger ale isn't actually brewed.
Ginger ale is usually very smooth and mellow, with sweetness dominating the taste of the drink, with a touch of ginger.
Ginger beer, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite, chock-full of ginger and with less sweetness.
Is ginger beer gluten-free?
Ginger beer is typically gluten-free, depending on the manufacturer. The core ingredients in a traditional ginger beer are ginger spice, yeast and cane sugar.
The only questionable ingredient is yeast, which if it is an ordinary baker's yeast like Fleischmann's, it shouldn't have gluten.
Brewers yeast usually can have barley in it, but the recipes we have below only use normal baking yeast. If you make your own ginger beer, you can certainly control whether or not the ginger beer has gluten in it.
As with any food, consult the label to be sure.
Where to buy ginger beer
Well, if you're lazy like me, Amazon is always a great option. They've got an incredible selection to choose from, with bigger brands and much smaller brands as well. Many are offered with free shipping, which helps.
However, if you did a price comparison between Amazon and in-store chains like Trader Joe's, the ginger beer should be significantly cheaper at your grocery store. You're paying for shipping heavy liquid bottles when you buy online. This means that the best place to buy ginger beer is at your local grocery store.
While ginger beer isn't as popular as big name sodas like Coca-Cola, you can typically find at least one or two brands at your local supermarket in the cola sections.
Because ginger beer is usually made with much fewer ingredients than most colas, they're often featured in the organic or health section, depending on the store.
If you're looking for alcoholic ginger beer, the local liquor store is always a good option.
Popular cocktails made with ginger beer
One of the reasons that ginger beer has grown in popularity over the last few years is due to popular cocktails being made with the ginger drink.
The original location of the Cock 'n Bull restaurant in Hollywood, California. This was where the Moscow Mule was originally served in a restaurant. Owner Jack Morgan first dreamed the recipe up with two friends while tasting a batch of his new ginger beer.
The Moscow Mule is a tasty drink that features ginger beer alongside vodka and lime. It's a very simple drink, but the real distinguishing aspect of the Moscow Mule is that it's served in a copper mug.
According to New York Herald Tribune article from July 1948, here's how the drink was inspired.
"Three friends were in the Chatham bar, one John A. Morgan, known as Jack, president of Cock 'n' Bull Products and owner of the Hollywood Cock 'n' Bull Restaurant; one was John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein Brothers Inc. of Hartford, Conn., and the third was Rudolph Kunett, president of the Pierre Smirnoff, Heublein's vodka division. As Jack Morgan tells it, "We three were quaffing a slug, nibbling an hors d'oeuvre and shoving toward inventive genius". Martin and Kunett had their minds on their vodka and wondered what would happen if a two-ounce shot joined with Morgan's ginger beer and the squeeze of a lemon. Ice was ordered, lemons procured, mugs ushered in and the concoction put together. Cups were raised, the men counted five and down went the first taste. It was good. It lifted the spirit to adventure. Four or five days later the mixture was christened the Moscow Mule..."
You can make other variations of the Mule by simply swapping vodka for other liquors. Here are some popular variations:
- Kentucky Mule - Bourbon
- Gin Gin Mule - Gin
- Mexico Mule - Tequila
- Irish Mule - Irish Whiskey (like Jameson)
Here are some other variations that you can try instead of vodka.
Dark 'n Stormy
The traditional Dark 'n Stormy, a Bermuda based drink that features ginger beer.
A traditional Dark 'n Stormy (or Dark and Stormy) is another simple cocktail that features ginger beer, dark rum, served over ice and garnished with lime.
If you want to get very technical with your Dark 'n Stormy, you have to use Gosling Black Seal rum, as the Gosling Brothers in Bermuda trademarked the name. Here's the official Gosling Brothers recipe for a Dark 'n Stormy.
Or, here's a visual demonstration of a bartender making the Dark 'n Stormy.
Ginger Beer Recipe
Ginger beer is a simple drink that you can make at home. If you googled ginger beer recipes, you'll notice that there aren't many variations of the recipe. The only major differences between recipes is how long the ginger ferments.
We've got two recipes below that address this issue: one for the more patient that takes a few days, the other with a recipe that ferments in only 24 hours.
About the ginger: Both of these recipes call for fresh ginger root. It's readily available in most supermarkets in the vegetable section. You'll need a strainer (or cheesecloth) to separate the bits of ginger from the liquid.
You could get ginger powder and substitute that, but we can't recommend it.
Fresh ginger root.
About the container: You're probably wanting to use a glass bottle to store the ginger beer in, which is totally fine. But because of the fermenting yeast, there is a small chance that the bottle might explode.
The refrigeration slows down the fermentation, but you're never really out of the woods until the drink is fully consumed. Here's how to make sure your bottle doesn't kablooey all over the fridge.
- Release the fermentation every day. Just unscrew the top of the lid and release the gas every day until the drink is gone. As you drink the ginger beer over time, there is more head room in the container that allows for more gas expansion, so it's more important to do this early on.
- Use a plastic bottle and squeeze. Glass bottles are great, but when you're making sugary fermented drinks, they're a bit easier to explode. Instead use a clear 2-liter bottle (like a washed Coke bottle) to house the ginger beer. Not only are they a little more flexible, they allow you to do a nifty trick that releases oxygen (which increases fermentation): simply unscrew the top halfway and squeeze the bottle until the liquid reaches the top, then tighten the lid. This removes the oxygen in the bottle. Only do this when you're ready to put the bottle in the refrigerator, not during the fermentation stage.
Old Fashioned Ginger Beer recipe
This is a simple recipe that will fill a 2-liter bottle with ginger beer.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 71/2 cup water (for the syrup)
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
- 1/8 tsp active dry yeast (like Fleischmann's)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice (fresh-squeezed is best, but the bottled stuff works too)
Peel the skin off the ginger and grate 2 tablespoons worth. Place the ginger in a saucepan along with 1/2 cup water and the cup of sugar on medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved itself, and then turn off the heat and let the result sit for an hour.
Next, strain the liquids, and the result is ginger syrup.
- In your plastic 2-liter bottle, take a funnel and sprinkle in the yeast. Then add the lemon juice, ginger syrup and the 7 cups of water.
- Screw the lid on bottle tightly and shake until the yeast is dissolved into the liquid.
- Place out of sunlight at room temperature (not your basement floor in the winter)
- After 2-3 days, check the fizz amount in the bottle. If it's fizzy enough, it's ready to drink. Pour and enjoy, and keep the remainder refrigerator
- Every day open the lid on the container to ensure that the fermentation doesn't build up.
Quick Ginger Beer recipe
Instead of fermenting the ginger for days, the ginger is simply soaked for 24 hours and only slightly fermented and doesn't require any yeast.
- 6 cups water
- 1 pound (2 1/2 cups) coarsely chopped ginger
- 1 cup sugar (brown sugar, cane sugar, white sugar... whatever you please)
- Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and
- While the water boils, chop the ginger with either a knife or a food processor.
- Put the chopped ginger in a large glass bowl, and then once the water boils add the water to the ginger. Cover loosely with aluminum foil for 24 hours at room temperature.
- After 24 hours, strain the result into a pitcher, add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Pour over ice, garnish with lime wedge if feeling fancy. If you have any leftover, you can store in 2-liter bottle. It's best to use it right away though.
Note: If the ginger is too spicy or strong, just add some club soda or more ice (or both).
Popular Ginger Beer Brands (non-alcoholic)
If you're wanting to go the easy route and just buy a few bottles, then here are some of the more notable ginger beer brands on the market right now.
Fever-Tree Ginger Beer
The highly-rated and popular Fever Tree ginger beer.
Fever-Tree makes a ginger beer that many believe is the best on the market. The company claims this is because they use three different blends of ginger from Nigeria, Cochin and Ivory Coast.
The bottles have a slight ginger sediment that they say should be mixed in by tipping the bottle upside down before opening. It's clean and refreshing, without being too sweet.
Reed's Ginger Brew
Reed's is a popular Jamaican ginger beer.
Reed's Ginger Brew is probably the most readily-available ginger beer on the market. It's sold in many mainstream grocery chains like Kroger, Costco, Ralphs, Whole Foods and Trader Joes, to name a few.
From the Reed's website, their Ginger Brew
...is a Jamaican recipe for homemade ginger ale using 17 grams of fresh ginger root, lemon, lime, honey, cane sugar, pineapple, herbs and spices.
Reed's is a very affordable ginger beer, clocking in at only $2 per bottle. You might find it even cheaper in grocery chains. You can find Reed's on Amazon as well.
Bundaberg Ginger Beer
Bundaberg: Australian for ginger beer.
Bundaberg is an Australian company that makes a great ginger beer. Bundaberg is notable because of their iconic "rip cap". They also recommend tipping the bottle upside down before opening so you can see the ginger pieces floating around.
If you're in the U.S., you might have a harder time locating this ginger brew. It appears that they have locations in World Market and Bed Bath and Beyond, but you can always see where the closest Bundaberg distributor is near you.
Bundaberg Ginger Beer is also available at Amazon.
Cock & Bull Ginger Beer
Cock 'n Bull was the very first beer used in the Moscow Mule.
However, finding Cock 'n Bull in your area might be challenging. They appear to be stocked at World Market locations as well as online at Amazon
Barr's Originals - Ginger Beer
The Barr's family has been making fizzy drinks in Scotland since the 19th century.
The Barr family has been making tasty beverages in Scotland since 1875. They have recreated their original traditional recipes using modern ingredients, thus making the Barr's Originals line.
You can find these in cans online through Amazon, as well as at World Market locations.
Alcoholic ginger beer brands
Alcoholic ginger beers are making a comeback in the craft brewing space. If you're looking for something with a bit more kick, than here are some of the popular alcoholic brands of ginger beer.
About drinking ginger beer
Ginger beer is a bit different than a normal beer in that it is acceptable (and common) to be served over ice. This helps cut some of the strength of ginger and the dryness.
Crabbies Beer, a Scotish brew bottled by Halewood International Holdings PLC.
The Crabbie's brand used to be well-known for its green ginger wine. But since the 1980's, Crabbie's has been known for their ginger beer. Crabbie's ginger beer is around 4.8% alcohol, or about the same strength as a regular beer.
Lick Pier Ginger Beer, a glutien-free ginger beer.
Lick Pier is a ginger beer brewed by the good people at East 9th Brewing company. The brew tops out at about 4% ABV, and is gluten-free.
Aussie's know a thing or two about fine-tasting ginger beer.
Australian-based Matso's Broome Brewery has created an alcoholic ginger beer that has a spicy ginger kick to it with notes of lime and a light body. It's 3.5% alcohol by volume, and
Stone's Ginger Joe
Ginger Joe is brewed by the iconic Stone's brewing company, a pioneer in ginger beer manufacturing.
Stone's is an iconic ginger company, established in London in 1734. They have many ginger products, but one of their flagships is the Ginger Joe, a ginger beer with a surprisingly high 8% ABV.
Robinsons Old Tom Ginger
Award-winning Old Tom Ginger, brewed by Robinsons Brewing.
“Ginger and lots of spice on the nose. Lots of ginger on the palate. Candied ginger. Coca-cola, cola cubes and ginger nut biscuits.”
Brewing Your Own Alcoholic Ginger Beer
Buy a Kit
Beer kits are a great way to quickly make beer on your own, like this Bastard Stepson Ginger Beer from Northern Brewers.
Like any other beer, you can always brew your own at home, if you like. If you're into homebrewing, you just pick up a kit online.
For example, you could order this kit from Northern Brewer for about $40 that includes all of the ingredients needed to brew your own batch of ginger beer.
DIY Ginger Beer
DIY alcoholic ginger beer recipe.
If you wanted to brew your own alcoholic ginger beer, here's a recipe from Instructables. This fairly simple recipe calls for raisons, ginger powder, and common cooking yeast to brew a batch of ginger beer in about 3 weeks.
There exists some debate as to how much alcohol is in this DIY version, but you can create more or less alcohol depending on how much sugar you add to the recipe. Here's a loose rule of thumb when calculating how much ABV the recipe yields.
- 1/2 lb of sugar and a gallon of water yields 3% alcohol by volume
- 1 lb of sugar and a gallon of water yields 6%-7% alcohol by volume
- 2 lbs of sugar and a gallon of water yields 12%-14% alcohol by volume
So, if you're wanting something with a little more kick, add more sugar per gallon of water.
Alternatives to Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic)
Ginger beer not your cup of tea? No worries. There are plenty of alternatives to ginger beer that you might consider.
Shweppes is a popular ginger ale brand.
How could we not leave off ginger beer's kissing cousin, ginger ale?
Ginger ale is typically a much smoother and sweeter version of ginger beer, but sometimes the differences between the two types are very small.
If you want to try your hand at making it at home, Gentlemint-favorite Alton Brown has a fairly simple recipe that looks very similar to the ginger beer recipes above.
A&W makes the classic root beer, made famous by their drive-in restaurants.
Root beer is another strong and unique bubbly drink that people find as a nice alternative to the common cola. It's a sweet soda that prominently features the extract of sassafrass tree.
Alcoholic Alternatives to Ginger Beer
There are plenty of refreshing alternatives to ginger beer that have alcohol in them. Many of them share a common theme of a sweet and spice.
Stone's Green Ginger wine has a surprisingly high alcohol content, at just under 14% ABV.
Green ginger wine is not a very common type of alcohol, but at one time was a very popular drink.
Made with raisins and ginger root, ginger wine originated in England in the 1740's from the same company that today makes Stone's Ginger Joe. The drink was often mixed with brandy, and typically have a similar alcohol by volume as a wine.
For example, Stone's Green Ginger Wine has an ABV of 14%.
Lemongrass is a citrus-flavored plant that is more subtle than ginger, but still very refreshing.
Kona Brewing Company's Lemongrass Luau.
For example, the Kona Brewing Company makes a refreshing Lemongrass Luau, which features prominently lemongrass (as well as a tiny bit of ginger).
Alcoholic Root Beer
Not Your Father's Root Beer is an alcoholic root beer.
The alcoholic root beer industry has exploded over the last few years, with many craft root beer companies showing up prominently on liquor store shelves.
The interesting thing about alcoholic root beer is that the flavor and sweetness of the root beer can easily mask the taste of the alcohol. This makes it much more accessible to people who wouldn't normally like the taste of a traditional beer.
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