Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale

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December 28, 2017 (Last Updated: March 26, 2018)
Four bottles of Cock 'n Bull ginger beer sitting on a table with a white background for our ginger beer vs ginger ale discussion

One of the interesting things about the origin of the Moscow Mule is the role of ginger beer in its past. One of the creators of the Moscow Mule, Jack Morgan, was the owner of a company that made ginger beer, Cock ‘n Bull. An obstacle that Jack Morgan had was that Americans just did not buy ginger beer. The preference among the public was for ginger ale. Why? I thought it would be a good exercise in our Moscow Mule series to look at the difference between ginger beer vs ginger ale to see if we can narrow down why 1940’s America was just not keen on ginger beer.

So, what is the difference between Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale?

They are actually pretty similar, but there definitely is a difference. Ginger ale is flavored carbonated soda, but the ginger flavoring is added to the mix as an afterthought. So, it really is like a Coke or Mountain Dew, but instead of a cola flavoring or a lemon-lime flavoring, ginger is added.

Ginger beer, however, is something a bit different and is more along the lines of a beer. Ginger is added early on in the brewing process. The beer variety is fermented. The bubbles in a homebrewed ginger beer tend to come from the fermentation process rather than forced carbonation. Although, I suspect many store-bought ginger beers are not naturally carbonated but I could be wrong in that. On the flip side, forced carbonation would always be the case in ginger ale.

Comparing ginger beer to brewing beer

Like, for me, I am more familiar with the beer making process. When I used to bottle beer, we would add some additional sugar to the bottles. The trace amount of yeast interacts with the sugar and produces CO2 in the bottle. The liquid around it absorbs the CO2 and becomes carbonated.

Now that I keg most of my beer, I have a CO2 canister that keeps the entire keg under pressure so that the liquid absorbs the CO2 and becomes carbonated in that way.

BUT, there is still a fermentation process. Unlike the beer I would typically make, ginger beer typically is not that strong. And of the batches of ginger beer we have made, it is difficult to tell if any alcohol is in there. Low alcohol is not abnormal for ginger beer, but also the spice of the ginger may hide what alcohol taste there is. In the debate of ginger beer vs ginger ale, we cannot disregard these differences.

Difference in taste

Ginger ale tends to be sweeter and more carbonated than a naturally carbonated ginger beer. Ginger beer has a tendency to have less carbonation, particularly if naturally carbonated, and may not be as sweet.

So why might have ginger ale been more popular than ginger beer?

I think for many reasons. Ginger ale probably was more affordable and easier/cheaper to produce. The difference in quality between ginger ale and ginger beer was not enough for people to fork out a little more for the flavor. Having alcohol in it probably limited ginger beer’s ability to compete, particularly considering that ginger ale had the entirety of prohibition to sell. Prohibition probably had quite a bit to do with ginger ale’s popularity. Post-prohibition, ginger ale just had a strong market and competing probably was difficult.

Summary

Ginger ale is a sweetened ginger flavored drink. Ginger beer is a fermented beer that contains alcohol and brewed with ginger. Prohibition, as well as ease/cost of production, were the likely culprits in keeping ginger beer as the lesser known of these two beverage cousins.

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Mimi
    December 30, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Fascinating. I wanted to make a recipe a few years ago with ginger beer, but the cocktail was awful. Then my daughter told me I bought the wrong thing, that it was supposed to be non-alcoholic or something. Since there are a few in my basement fridge, I need to go check out the label and see what the hell I bought!! Thanks for the ingo!

  • Reply
    Frank
    January 1, 2018 at 8:38 am

    I have to say I do like ginger ale. In fact, it’s probably the only soda that I actually like. Even as a kid, if you can believe that. But after reading about ginger beer, it sounds even better. Less sweet, naturally carbonated… I’m definitely going to have to search it out and give it a try.

  • Reply
    Myra
    January 5, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    I LOVE ginger beer (did you try Bundaberg? It’s the best!) and it’s usually the first thing I look for in a cocktail:-)

    • Reply
      Ben
      January 6, 2018 at 9:55 am

      I have not tried Bundaberg, but I know I have seen it. Not sure if on other posts or at my liquor store. Gonna have to try and find it.

  • Reply
    Jeff the Chef
    January 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

    I’m a long-time ginger beef aficionado. I would add that, in my experience, although you there is a distinct variety in the flavors of different ginger ales, there is much more so among ginger beers. The latter are often far more nuanced.

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