it’s served over plenty of ice. However, it’s a drink I enjoy sporadically. For example, I may go a year without drinking much of the stuff at all but then there are years I drink ginger beer all summer long. This year, for me, has been a big ginger beer year and here are five of the best if you care to join me.
But first, you may be wondering what the difference is between ginger beer and ginger ale? Traditionally, ginger beer is brewed, alcoholic, and naturally carbonated as part of the brewing process. As a result, ginger beers tend to be darker and more lightly carbonated. Some ginger beers have a very low alcohol content but typically drinks marketed as ginger beers or ales are alcohol-free.
You may hear ginger beer snobs (if there are such things, I’ve never met one!) complain that ginger ales are basically sugary soft drinks with ginger flavouring. This is certainly true of some brands out there but worrying too much about the distinction between ginger beers and ales isn’t really that helpful. I like both ginger ales and beers.
Perhaps the only time it is useful to make the distinction is when choosing a mixer for cocktails. A classic Moscow Mule, vodka + ginger beer + fresh lime, works best with the strong flavours of a ginger beer. For a whisky highball, one part whisky + 2 parts ginger ale, the preferred pairing is a lighter ginger ale. Whisky highballs can also be served with tonic or soda water instead of ginger. As a rule of the thumb, the light refreshing taste of ginger ale can be used as a substitute for tonic or soda water. A heavier, more fuller flavoured ginger beer would overpower the drink.
Today, I’m interested in ginger beers and ales as delicious and refreshing soft drinks to be enjoyed on a hot summer’s day. There are five brands I’ve chosen, one of which is a new one for me. By way of a rudimentary scoring system, I’ve come up with the following.
All drinks start off with a perfect 5/5 score from which they lose points depending on various factors based on taste, mouth-feel, and refreshment factor.
Ginger taste: too weak or strong, throat burn and after taste, going wrong with any of these and a point is lost.
Sweetness: too sweet and a point is lost, likewise for not being sweet enough.
Mouthfeel: syrupiness and carbonation, too heavy or light, or too gassy and a point is taken off.
Refreshment: simply, whether the drink is refreshing or not. No points if it isn’t.
Still drinkable? Even if a particular ginger beer drops a point in each round, it may still after all be drinkable. It won’t be the best ginger beer you’ll ever drink but still, nice on a hot day over plenty of ice. However, if the ginger beer is absolutely horrible then it will lose this final point. Spoiler: none of the drinks reviewed score a 0 / 5.
One final word. All of the ginger beers reviewed below were served in a glass over plenty of ice. Now that the “science” is out of the way, let’s get started.
Ginger Beer Taste Test and Review
Fentimans Ginger Beer 4 / 5
Fentimans has been around for a long time. They were established way back in 1905 when Thomas Fentiman came into possession of a recipe for a botanically brewed ginger beer. The Northumberland based company produces several drinks that I also enjoy, particularly their cherry cola. As well as their ginger beer, which I am reviewing today, they also do a ginger ale which I have yet to taste.
The ginger taste is certainly present but it is not particularly “fiery”. To be fair, Fentimans Ginger Beer is not marketed as a fiery ginger ale. However, it is sold as “botanically brewed” which means that there is a herbal, almost floral taste to the drink. It’s not unpleasant and the overall taste is very acceptable.
The carbonation is quite high for a brewed ginger beer, higher than Bundaberg for sure. This is a good thing as the fizz helps “lift” the drink which is welcome because, and this is the only downside, the drink is a bit syrupy sweet which is where the Fentimans drops a point.
Overall, a very nice ginger beer.
Fever Tree Premium Ginger Beer 4 / 5
Founded in 2003, Fever Tree is a company providing premium mixers for drinks. The concept behind the brand is the idea that since mixers are two-thirds of a gin and tonic, it’s a shame to pair high quality gin with bog standard tonics. Their aim, therefore, is to produce high quality “premium” mixers. At the time of writing Fever Tree produce four ginger based mixers: ginger beer, ginger ale, spiced orange ginger ale, and smoky ginger ale. This review is for their ginger beer.
Visually, the first thing you notice about this ginger beer are the “bits” floating around the bottle. This, of course, is normal and it is recommended that you tip the bottle before opening. These bits of ginger provide a strong and satisfying ginger taste with accompanying “throat burn” as they pass by on their way down. It is not heavily advertised as “fiery” (they mention “strong”) but Fever Tree Ginger Beer is a hot one. More fiery than the Old Jamaica Ginger Beer reviewed below. The ginger taste lingers to the point, unfortunately, of out-staying its welcome. For this reason and somewhat reluctantly I have deducted a point.
The drink is advertised as “light” on the tongue and it is. Despite the strong flavours and reasonably strong carbonation the drink feels light in the mouth. Another plus, adding to this sense of “lightness” is that Fever Tree ginger beer isn’t overly sweet. This means the drink is very refreshing.
Like the Fentimans, Fever Tree Ginger beer is a very good ginger beer.
Old Jamaica Ginger Beer 3 / 5
For a long time this was the only ginger beer I had ever tasted. I honestly don’t know if I knew other brands were available. Whenever I fancied a ginger beer I looked for the Old Jamaicalabel. Then, as time went by, other brands came along and I stopped looking on the shelves for this particular ginger beer.
I bought a regular can of Old Jamaica Ginger Beer, not the one they tout as “extra fiery” and poured it over plenty of ice. The taste was familiar and I was immediately reminded of summer’s past. However, it was a little disappointing. The drink itself was a little too sweet and syrupy and the ginger was milder than I remembered. It tasted sort of “fiery” but not very “gingery”. I think I also detected a lemon flavour. On the plus side, the carbonation was just right and with the ice it was, overall, a refreshing drink.
Old Jamaica GInger Beer is a perfectly acceptable drink but I had to deduct two points for the syrupiness and mild ginger taste.
Supermalt Ginger Beer 2 / 5
This was a new one for me. I have long known about the original Supermalt drink, the one that comes in little brown bottles with the gold and carmine wheat pattern label. Originating in the 1970s, it was first issued to Nigerian soldiers as a kind of health tonic. Supermalt, if you’ve never had it, tastes like a kind of health tonic and something not intended to be taken as a leisure drink. I know a lot of people, especially those from the Afro-Caribbean community, love the stuff but I just don’t like it. So, it was with some trepidation that I cracked open the first bottle of Supermalt Ginger Beer.
First off all, it doesn’t taste anything like Supermalt and of course it was never going to. Unfortunately, it doesn’t taste much like ginger beer either. Perhaps, I’m being unfair. There is a very mild ginger flavour with absolutely no fire or burn. The carbonation seemed to me to be on the weak side. And while, I wouldn’t say it was syrupy the
Supermalt Ginger Beer is a bit two sweet for my taste. Poured over ice, I can’t say the drink wasn’t refreshing. I wouldn’t say no if someone offered me a bottle but I won’t be going out to buy more any time soon.
Bundaberg Ginger Beer 5 / 5
Like Supermalt reviewed above, Bundaberg also makes a drink I don’t particularly care for and this is their unpleasant and medicinal-tasting root beer. Root beer does have a kind of medicinal taste but Bundaberg’s Root Beer takes it to another level. I’m old enough to remember when McDonald’s in the UK used to offer root beer and people said that it tasted of old plasters and germolene. Back then, I would defend the root beer, so it’s not as if I’m totally against the flavour. OK, I’m getting off track… I don’t like Bundaberg Root Beer but I do like their Ginger Beer, oh yes I do!
As you can see from the score, Bundaberg Ginger Beer doesn’t drop a single point in any of the rounds. It has a strong ginger flavour. Like the Fever Tree brand there are ginger particles in the drink. The carbonation level is right in the Goldilocks zone, not too fizzy and not too flat. Less sweet than Old Jamaica and Supermalt ginger beers and more refreshing than Fentimans.
Well, Bundaberg clearly won but Fentimans and Fever Treeboth came in a close second. If after reading this you’ve got a thirst for some ice-cold ginger beer then check out my article one food pairings for ginger beer.