By Joe Gray, Tribune Newspapers
12:22 PM EDT, July 16, 2013
Mostly the province of obscure drinks — like a Dark 'n Stormy or a Moscow mule — ginger beer is showing up more and more as an ingredient on ambitious cocktail lists. Will it be the new darling of hipster bartenders? That remains to be seen. (That's so over!)
But it's clear that whichever resurgence came first, the ginger beer or the classic cocktails, the spicy soda is teaming up more and more with spirits in the aforementioned classic drinks, plus gin-gin mules and a variety of new concoctions. That makes it high time to taste the range of brands out there.
Ginger beer is a soft drink made with the rhizome that flavors many Asian cuisines. It's not ginger ale, being spicier and less sweet than that cousin. And although it was born in 18th-century England as an alcoholic drink, it is, for the most part, nonalcoholic these days and is enjoyed straight up or in cocktails.
We blind-tasted eight brands — by no means exhausting what's available — finding they varied widely in flavors, sweetness and, especially, ginger power. The stronger, spicier brews did the best among tasters. They would hold up well in cocktails, while the milder versions would be best on their own. Ginger beers made with natural ingredients and sweetened with cane sugar tended to do best, although one top-three finisher, Barritts, is made with high-fructose corn syrup.
A final note: Some of the bottles, in fine print, direct the drinker to upend (gently) the ginger beer before opening. This redistributes any ginger that has settled out, improving the zing factor.
1. Maine Root Ginger Brew
Good balance of spice, ginger and sweetness; very bubbly; late heat with a warm, spicy lingering aftertaste.
Per serving: 165 calories; 40 g sugar
Price: $6.99; 12-ounce bottles, 4-pack
2. Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer
Powerful, with earthy and dusky flavors, and a ginger zing that clears the sinuses; lingering bite; great as a mixer.
Per serving: 88 calories, 20 g sugar
Price: $5.99; 6.8-ounce bottles, 4-pack
3. Barritts Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer
A bit sweet with a strong and lasting spicy flavor, but more ginger flavor than sweetness.
Per serving: 200 calories, 49 g sugar
Price: $6.99; 12-ounce bottles, 6-pack
In order of preference, from most to least:
Sioux City Ginger Beer: $3.99 (12-ounce bottles; 4-pack)
Gosling's Ginger Beer: $7.49 (12-ounce cans; 6-pack)
Fentiman's Traditional Ginger Beer: $5.99 (9.3-ounce bottles; 4-pack)
Ginger People Ginger Beer: $5.99 (12-ounce bottles; 4-pack)
Reed's Extra Ginger Brew All Natural Jamaican Style Ginger Beer: $3.99 (12-ounce bottles; 4-pack)
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