Ginger Beer: Everything You Need to Know

What is ginger beer? The short answer is it’s a quintessential cocktail mixer that every home bartender should know about. Here’s everything you need to know about ginger beer, including how it’s made, how it’s different from ginger ale and what to mix with it.

a bottle of barritt's ginger beer on a white countertop with a piece of ginger root, a lime, a green tea towel and a cocktail jigger.

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Today I’m here to talk about one of my favorite cocktail ingredients of all time: Ginger beer.

What is ginger beer? Is it different from ginger ale? What’s it for? I’ve got all these answers to everything you wanted to know about ginger beer — and more.

Yes, more! In a near-future post, I’ll be taste-testing the top brands of ginger beer to help you (and me!) find our new go-to bottle. Seriously. I took one for the team and tried every one I could find.

Irish mule recipe in a mule mug on a green cloth napkin

What is ginger beer?

Ginger beer is a fizzy, flavorful soda that is often used as a cocktail mixer. It’s especially well-known for its role in the Moscow Mule.

It’s made with a mixture of fresh ginger root, water and sugar that’s fermented with yeast, then carbonated and bottled.

Its flavor is bright and zippy, sometimes even spicy. If you’ve ever taken a bite of the ginger on your sushi tray, you’ll know what I mean. Ginger can be both refreshing and zingy all at once, and ginger beer has these qualities in full force.

In fact, ginger has long been used as a tonic and herbal supplement for an upset stomach, and ginger beer can stand in for the age old ginger ale if you’re not feeling well.

A Ginger Pumpkin Beer Shandy is a fall cocktail that's reminiscent of pumpkin pie. Sip on this lovely hybrid of sweet, non-alcoholic ginger beer and a spicy, tart pumpkin ale for Thanksgiving and other autumn get-togethers. (via feastandwest.com)

Wait, is ginger beer different than ginger ale?

Yes, although similar, ginger ale and ginger beer are two different beasts.

Ginger ale is often sweeter and milder than ginger beer, as it’s typically ginger syrup mixed with carbonated water.

Ginger beer, on the other hand, is brewed and fermented over several days with real ginger, water, sugar and yeast. It has a much stronger, more robust flavor than ginger ale.

Is ginger beer alcoholic?

Typically, no. Way back in the 1700s, ginger beer was fermented longer and contained alcohol, though this is not the common practice any longer.

These days, even though it has beer in the name, ginger beer does not usually contain any alcohol. Almost all ginger beer brands sell it as a “soft” drink, meaning it is non-alcoholic.

kentucky mule in a copper mule mug

Where can you buy ginger beer?

You can typically find ginger beer in the part of the grocery store that has sodas or cocktail mixers. It’s often next to the root beer and other fancier sodas.

You might also find a local brewery that brews their own ginger beer, but even still it will likely be non-alcoholic. One of my favorites here in Charlotte is the Unknown Brewing Ginger Ale.

Is there diet ginger beer?

Yes! There are several brands of diet and zero-calorie ginger beer. They taste like a gingery version of diet soda, so if you are sensitive to the flavor of sweeteners, they might not be for you.

One that I’ve tried is Zevia ginger beer, which is a pretty good substitute if you’re worried about calories or prefer diet soda.

Best cocktails for ginger beer

Ginger beer is well known for its role in the Moscow Mule, but it shines in lots of other ways.

  • Ginger Beer Shandy — Try a gingery shandy with real beer for a fun, fizzy drink.
  • Dark + Stormy — Mix ginger beer with spiced rum and lime for a tropical delight.
  • Irish Mule — Irish whiskey and lime are a perfect pairing with ginger beer.
  • Kentucky Mule — There’s no match for this triple threat: ginger beer, bourbon and lime.
  • Gin-Gin Mule — Gin and ginger are a gorgeous herbal combination you should try ASAP.

For a non-alcoholic sipper, you can also enjoy ginger beer on its own or with just a squeeze of lime juice.

It’s one of my favorite refreshments, even without alcohol. I can’t wait to tell you more about ginger beer in an upcoming post! // susannah

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