A good bar is only as good as its mixers. Whether you are staring down a bottle of rum or a splash of vodka, ginger beer is key to adding some zest to any drink. This bubbly beverage particularly comes in handy when you’re laying off the booze but still want that cocktail-drinking experience.
Ginger beers also run the gamut from sugar-filled to the oh-so-spicy. When choosing the right one for the job, Paul McGee, a partner of Lost Lake in Chicago and the beverage director of Land and Sea Dept., says, “I always look for a balanced ginger beer that has less sugar, moderate spice and bright effervescence. There is nothing worse than a semi-flat highball.”
Know this: not all ginger beers are alike. While they're often treated as an afterthought, the world of ginger beers is more complex than you might think; there are companies that have specialized in the spicy brew for centuries, as well as small-batch newcomers putting their own twists to the beverage.
Here are the best ginger beers to use as mixers or for drinking on their own.
Best Overall: Maine Root Ginger Brew
It’s easy to love Maine Root. With its commitment to using Fair Trade Certified organic sugar cane and loads of ginger, there’s no mistaking the authentic ginger flavor in this handcrafted beverage. It has a bright and spicy taste that has been known to leave lips tingling—in a good way.
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Best Cocktail Mixer: Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer
Bartenders swear by Fever-Tree’s “premium” take on ginger beer for all sorts of concoctions. “It’s nice and dry (less sugar than most) with a flavor that won’t overpower the other ingredients in the cocktail or Highball,” says McGee. “Really great effervescence as well.” Made by brewing three gingers from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Cochin, India, this beverage will elevate classic cocktails like a Dark 'n Stormy or Moscow Mule.
Best for Moscow Mules: Q Ginger Beer
Q’s lime-forward take on ginger beer brings out the citrus flavors in a Moscow Mule. Instead of using high-fructose corn syrup or sugar, it's made with a bit of organic agave for a refreshing taste. The addition of chili peppers and a boost of carbonation also helps give this cocktail component a little extra something.
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Best for Dark 'n Stormy: Bundaberg Ginger Beer
When making a cocktail like the Dark 'n Stormy, you’ll want a ginger beer that can hold its own against dark rum. Enter Australia’s Bundaberg. “It’s great for Dark 'n Stormys for the fall and winter because it has a great balance of sweet and spice with a warm foamy fizz that reminds me of dark beers,” says Fanny Chu, head bartender at Donna in New York. Brewed for up to three days, this authentic ginger beer is made with Australian-grown ginger and sugar cane.
Best for Drinking Straight: Barritt's Ginger Beer
Barritt's offers an accessible option that can be enjoyed on its own. The company has been making ginger beer since 1874 when William John Barritt opened a dry goods store in Bermuda. Today, it is a fifth-generation, family-run business that specializes in a ginger beer that’s “sweet, pleasantly spicy with nice effervescence,” according to McGee.
Best Value: Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer
Although Goslings advertises that this ginger beer is made for Dark 'n Stormys, its moderate spice level and restrained sweetness make it one of the more versatile options. It's also less fizzy than other ginger beers, as well as more budget-friendly and readily available.
Best Sugar-Free: Brooklyn Crafted Sugar Free Ginger Beer
You know you are getting the real deal with Brooklyn Crafted’s line of ginger beers. Made with unfiltered ginger and raw cane sugar, these beverages are available in a variety of flavors—think Mango and Lemon-Lime. This sugar-free version of its Extra Spicy Ginger Beer clocks in at just 10 calories.
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Best Spicy: Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew
“It has that bite when I want a little more of a ginger kick,” says Chu when describing this ginger beer from Reed’s. Made with twice as much ginger as its original recipe, Extra Ginger Brew has the right balance of heat and sweet. For the die-hard ginger fan, Reed’s also makes a “Strongest” version with three times the ginger.
Most Unique: Top Note Ginger Beer
A relative newcomer to the world of mixers, Milwaukee-based Top Note hit the market in 2014 and offers tonic water, club soda, and more. Its ginger beer particularly stands out, thanks to its darker appearance and use of date sugar as a mild sweetener. Add this to a Moscow Mule (or just about any cocktail) for a drink that’s both savory and sweet.
Read Next: The Best Tonic Waters
Best Design: Regatta Ginger Beer
Sometimes you just need a splash. Whether you’re topping off a cocktail or washing down a shot of something stronger, Regatta’s 8-ounce cans are the perfect size for one drink without wasting any ginger beer in the process. Made in the U.S. with natural ingredients, this mixer also contains a hint of salt that accents its crisp, clean flavor. Along with ginger, expect slight notes of citrus, apple and banana.
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Sarah Freeman is a food and beverage writer based in Chicago. She has been writing about restaurants and bars for the past decade—from learning about what makes a perfect piece of cocktail ice to the exploring art of beer label design.