Ginger beer is a shoe-in for a shrine at the Great Mixers Hall of Fame. It’s as if ginger—that gnarly little root—evolved solely to fraternize with spirits. Most of us are familiar with ginger ale, which is ginger beer’s paler, less muscular cousin. But a raft of ginger beers have come on to the market the last few years—rich, spicy, complex, full of unexpected flavors—and many are well worth checking out. A good ginger beer adds a whole new element to even a familiar highball, like a whiskey and ginger. I like a small dose of it with just about any bourbon, or mixed up with a medium-bodied rum, like Mount Gay or Appleton. Here are my tasting notes on a number of popular brands. Enjoy!
The Australian Bundaberg has minute bits of ginger floating in it and a surprisingly citrusy aroma, with a softer, rounder flavor that’s not as ginger-forward as you might expect. There’s an unusual malty-fruity quality to it, with a pear-like aftertaste.
This Minnesota product has a mild aroma, which makes the sharp and angular taste a bit of a surprise. The aftertaste is surprisingly sweet (it reminded me of 7Up), although it mixed up with a gingery kick.
Fentimans is made with fermented ginger, which gives it a yeasty, slightly vegetal taste. It’s paler in color, tastes lighter and is more ethereal than other ginger drinks. Look for a long spicy finish with a mild burn.
Goya’s ginger beer is the only one I tasted that was sweetened with corn syrup rather than cane sugar, and it showed. It has the most heat and bite at the back end, but the flavor is musty and somewhat off-putting. Not recommended except for in a Dark & Stormy emergency.
Reed’s features lemon and lime flavors and is sweetened with a mix of fructose, pineapple juice and honey, which come together in an interestingly complex way. But the dominant honey notes tend to prevail, making it more of a challenge for mixing with spirits.
This pale, slightly cloudy ginger beer is beautifully balanced with a smooth taste that’s not too sweet and with only a hint of an after bite. It mixes with just about everything and will satisfy those looking for the familiarity of ginger ale but with just a bit more robustness.
Wayne Curtis writes about drinks for The Atlantic Monthly and is author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.