Aug 21, 2008

The Great Ginger Beer Taste-Off

I grew up in Detroit, so you should know that I came of age drinking Vernor's Ginger Ale. Nothing mixes better than Vernor's with vanilla ice cream, and Detroiters refer to this concoction as a Boston cooler.

But I digress.

While vacationing in Spain and Portugal, I chanced upon a drink in a convenience store known as Old Jamaican Ginger Beer. I immediately fell in love with its unique taste, and I vowed to procure some after I returned to the United States. Unfortunately, this product is not available in the US at this time, unless you are prepared to order online and pay exorbitant shipping costs (a 6-pack of Old Jamaican from online retailers will set you back about $50, though I am told this imported ginger beer sometimes shows up on eBay auctions).

By the way - for those unfamiliar with ginger beers, most fall under the category of non-alcoholic "bottled soda." There are a few purveyors of fermented ginger beer, but most of these seem to be local microbreweries.

Thus, I set out to find a suitable substitute for Old Jamaican, and I picked up three ginger beers that were recommended by a variety of consumers on websites. I settled on Stewart's Ginger Beer, Reed's Ginger Ale (my local retailer does not carry their ginger beer), and Sioux City Ginger Beer.

My wife and I did a blind, side-by-side taste test, and both of us picked Stewart's Ginger Ale as the spiciest and most refreshing of the three ginger beers or ales. We both liked Reed's next best, though I suspect that the Reed's Ginger Beer has more gingery bite.

Neither of us much cared for Sioux City Ginger Beer, which lacked the distinctive spice one would expect in a ginger beer or ale. This was a sugary, run-of-the-mill ginger ale taste more akin to Faygo than even the moderately spicy Vernor's I grew up on.

Thus, if you are looking for a beverage with a heady ginger kick, I suggest that you try Stewart's Ginger Beer, which was the best-tasting of the brands I tried. Feel free to offer other suggestions about ginger beers available in the United States that are worthy of experimentation.


Randy said...

I'm not sure if the brand was Reed's, but I tried a bottle of real Jamaican ginger beer from a local West Indian grocery a few years ago. It was so spicy, it was almost unbearable. It tasted like someone had ground black pepper into the bottle.

In fairness, the clerk at the grocery tried to warn me.

SensorG said...

Try the Anderson's I know they carry a few other types of Ginger Beer.

microdot said...

In New York, I had a few Jamaican friends and one ran a store on East 10th Street. They sold a line of beverages called, (I am not kidding)
Ho-Made. They were made in the Bronx.
The Ginger Beer was pretty damn good.
They also sold Sorrel Berry Soda, a sweet carrot drink and a concoction that was vaquely like egg nog, but the thickener was sea weed based (agar?)....actually it was quite good.
I loved Ho-Made Ginger Beer and it was so spicy it tasted like it had pepper. They also sold Homewood brand Jerk Sauce...

When I lived in Detroit though, Vernors was the best. In New york, you could only get in Dean and was an exotic imported speciality!
I think Detroit lost a big part of its soul when they tore down the Vernors Plant on Woodward Avenue and the giant Neon Green Dwarf disappeared for ever.

Hooda Thunkit said...

I'm not surprised that you picked Stewart's; their cream soda and root beers are some of my favorites ;-)

But what's happened to Vernor's?

Hardly any "kick" left in the fizz, these days.

Maybe the lack of aging (used to claim to be 7-years) or the watering down of the amount of ginger has taken its toll. . .

Robin said...

I've never tried their ginger ale, but Stewarts puts out a pretty good root beer and orange cream soda.

Anonymous said...

Try to find "Goya Jamaican Ginger Beer" some of our ethnic markets carry it here, its awesome!