What is ginger beer?
Ginger beer is one of the great misnomers of the beverage aisle. It says ‘beer’ right on the label, but is it?
In short, no. This niche carbonated beverage does have (slightly) alcoholic origins. It was first made in Yorkshire, England, and quickly gained popularity throughout the UK in the 18th century. Originally, it was a fermented drink made with ginger (of course), sugar, spice, and yeast with an alcohol content of upwards of 11%, although most versions contained a negligible amount of 2% to comply with excise tax laws.
Modern-Day Ginger Beer
Today’s ginger beer is more akin to soda. That’s because, more often than not, it is manufactured instead of brewed. Why the change? For the most part, you can thank the Prohibition Era of the 1920s when ginger beer lovers sought a completely non-alcoholic version.
Nowadays, ginger beers are made in a variety of ways. Some are fermented with champagne yeast and others are finished with forced carbonation like other soft drinks. You’ll even find some ginger beers that are basically ginger ale with extra ginger. This only adds to the confusion.
You still have companies creating a traditional, brewed ginger beer, but with minimal alcohol content like its kombucha counterparts. Let’s look at that process for a moment.
How good ginger beer is made.
Ginger beer is brewed using a colony of yeast and Lactobacillus (oh hey friendly gut bacteria) called a “Ginger Beer Plant.”
Wait, it’s a plant?
No, it’s not a plant. But ginger beer isn’t a beer so here we are.
Much like Daenerys Targaryen, Ginger Beer Plant (GBP) goes by a few other names including bees wine, Palestinian bees, Californian bees, and balm of Gilead. The important takeaway here is that ginger beer starts with a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria, aka SCOBY, just like kombucha.
Honestly, wrapping your head around GBP is the hardest part. Ginger beer is brewed by combining GBP, water, ginger, sugar, lemon juice, and spices and letting them ferment for days.
Bing. Bang. Boom. Ginger beer.
Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale
Traditionally, the difference between the two has been that ginger beer is fermented while ginger ale is basically a ginger-flavored soda.
Flavor-wise, the primary difference between the two is that ginger beer has a more punchy, ginger flavor. Ginger beer is also darker in color than ginger ale (typically).
Is ginger beer healthy?
Honestly, it depends on the brand and the amount of sugar used to make it. Ginger has some notable health benefits. Many of us grew up with ginger ale as the primary medicine proscribed by moms for an upset stomach. It might also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Beyond that, I wouldn’t classify ginger beer as a health drink. I would, however, recommend it as a great alcohol substitute and mocktail mixer. If you were a beer or cider drinker, ginger beer is a great, non-alcoholic option for fizzy, spicy, ginger-goodness.
Ginger beer is non-alcoholic. It’s delicious. And if you’re looking for an alcohol-free option that pack a punch, this one might be for you.