I'm not huge on sodas like Ed, but I will drink a ginger beer every once in awhile. Since visiting London when I was little with my family and buying big bottles of it at the local grocery store, I've been hooked. I think that ginger beer goes great with a whole bunch of foods, cutting through fatty food and complementing spicy Thai food. In summer, it's refreshing; in winter, the ginger is warming. Aesthetically, I like it because it often comes in cool glass bottles instead of a can. As a bonus, it's often made with honey or real sugar instead of fake sugars or high fructose corn syrup, which both gross me out.
I didn't think I'd overdone it when I walked into the office with seven bottles of ginger beer banging around in my bag. However, by the time I had poured out seven samples of each for five mouths to taste, things were starting to look a little crazy. We are very serious about our taste tests here at Serious Eats, so of course we did it blind-style and highly organized.
Reed's Premium Ginger Brew
Reed's Extra Ginger Brew
GuS Grown Up Soda Extra Dry Ginger Ale
The Ginger People Ginger Beer
Great Uncle Cornelius' Finest Spiced Ginger
Ithaca Soda Co. Ginger Beer
Fentimans Traditional Ginger Beer
We tasted, we were overwhelmed, but we persevered.
The most interesting: Fentimans describes itself as "Botanically Brewed" and it is the only one of the bunch with true fermentation going on. I'd hazard to say that this is the reason that the British export tasted so weird when placed next to all the other higher-in-sugar carbonated American brands. Like beer, traditional ginger beer is brewed through a fermentation process. A traditional ginger beer, like Fentimans uses the ginger beer plant or other live active cultures, like yeast. Fentimans was the least sweet and has a flavor that can only be described as funky. Some tasters thought it was "medicinal" while others loved its "ginger bite."
The biggest surprise: Reed's, which is widely available throughout the U.S., is my old standby. Out of the two varieties we tasted, we preferred the Premium Ginger Brew. When I purchase Reed's, I always go for the Extra Ginger Brew for that extra kick, however the taste test proved that the Premium, sweetened only with white clover honey and pineapple juice (and without the fructose) is where the flavor's really at. Tasters described Reed's as being "fruity", "gingerbread-y", "sweet but not too sweet", and having a "pronounced honey flavor."
The best to mix with a drink: Great Uncle Cornelius' Finest Spiced Ginger. We all agreed that the darkest, spiciest, and sweetest of the bunch needed to be cut with something. I think I'll take it home and do just that. It would be great with tonic for a homemade ginger soda, with Goslings Black Seal Rum for a Dark N' Stormy, or with whiskey for a Jack and Ginger, but is way to heavy to drink by itself.
GuS Grown-Up Soda Extra Dry Ginger Ale was thrown into the field just as a benchmark. It's a lot easier to find ginger ale than ginger beer in the U.S. Though I'm sure this is a perfectly nice ginger ale, it just didn't stand a chance against the stronger ginger beers. Comments ranged from "watered down" to "weak flavaaa."
The Ginger People Ginger Beer was a huge disappointment. I love the spicy little Ginger Chews that this company makes, but we all agreed that the strong lemon flavor made this smell like awful bathroom cleaner.
Ithaca Soda Co.'s Ginger Beer was bizarrely clear and light-tasting. Somehow it was peppery without having any ginger flavor.
At the end of the tasting Robyn drew a picture to illustrate how we all felt:
*Note: Since we finished this taste test, ginger beers seem to be jumping out of grocery store refrigerator cases at me. I've now seen Goya, Regatta, and Stewart's. Maybe we should do a second taste test with more varieties or maybe we've missed your favorite?