Month: September 2015

Timber City Ginger: White Peach Ginger Beer

History: “I’m sick of being in kitchens,” Kyle McKnight told Kara Patt in 2014 inside a Seattle bar. He was explaining his homemade ginger beer recipe to her that he came up with two-and-a-half years prior and hinting that maybe they could do something with it. Back then, McKnight was selling the ginger beer in a restaurant and it was going faster than the food. Patt also came from the food industry. She had 18 years of experience and received a masters from NYU in food studies. She wanted something new as well. She told us over the phone, “I wanted to start my own business and do it in the right way…. This ginger beer tasted like the right ticket.” Shortly after their encounter, they both quit their jobs to devote themselves to Timber City Ginger. The independent bottlers started in Seattle farmer’s markets, growing from two to seven and then to online sales. This is a sassy ginger beer, one with attitude, defiant even. The company proclaims on its website, “This is not a soda – This is a tonic: an elixir.” Hmm. Sometimes I put on a Kobe Bryant jersey, go to the Y, and get hot from the 3-point line. But at the end of the day, I’m still just an un-athletic white dude who writes about soda on the Internet. Point is, we think it’s still safe to call this soda. But we understand why they prefer the term “tonic.” Timber City Ginger produces a ginger beer that is noticeably less sweet, made with local Washington produce and herbs. Sage and thyme are used in every batch, and according to Patt, “The herbs are what really make it stand out.” The ginger itself does not come from Washington, as it’s not grown there. But don’t worry, you’ll get your money’s worth; there’s almost a pound of fresh ginger in every gallon of ginger beer. As you might imagine with a beverage this artisanal, there’s no preservatives or artificial flavors used. The use of local ingredients also leads to lots of seasonal favor variations on their signature ginger beer, including today’s review, white peach. They call the majority of ginger beers on the market today “formulaic” and “sugar saturated.” They’re certainly proud of their more botanical approach. “People will come in a cold rainstorm and buy the ginger beer,” says Patt. That’s a lot confidence to drink in. Let’s see how it tastes.

Where to get: If you aren’t in the Seattle area, you can buy Timber City Ginger Beer in 32 oz. cans, swing top bottles, or in syrup concentrate at the company’s website. Eventually, Patt and McKnight would like to expand Timber City Ginger down the west coast and perhaps open a branch in Colorado, where Patt is from.

Nose: Lemon; pink lemonade; earthy ginger. This is a beautiful desaturated pink hue and has the matching pink lemonade smell. Olfactory heaven.

Taste: Bitter lemon; crisp ginger; faint peach; mild sugar. This is definitely an earthier ginger beer, tinged with a mild peachy sweetness. Everything here tastes very authentic. You’ll taste the lemon first. Very fresh and definitely bringing a bitterness. The ginger has light savory notes on its own and gives off a little bit of a pickled ginger (the stuff you get with sushi) taste when combined with the peach. That savory aspect tastes familiar. It’s unquestionably sage, an herb Timber City Ginger uses in every batch. The sweetness in this ginger beer really comes from the peach. It elevates the sugar in the flavor profile and gives the ginger beer a signature flavor. It’s not too sweet, but enough to make this easily drinkable without rum or vodka. I’d say a 5/10 on the sugar scale. The peach also imparts a little bit of a floral taste when combined with the botanical ginger flavor. This gets mildly sweeter as you continue to drink it, and the peach flavor really elevates to the top of the flavor profile.

Finish: Bitter lemon notes with peppery ginger that lingers until the next sip. The ginger sticks around long after the peach flavor has faded to remind you just who owns this soda tonic soda.

Rating: Ginger beers are a dime-a-dozen these days, but what separates Timber City Ginger’s concoctions from the rest of the market is the signature freshness they capture in each giant silver can of ginger beer. The ginger tastes like you chopped off a fresh piece and ate it. The peach flavor is real and not from a candy store. Together, the two work well. Now, in addition to being extremely popular, ginger is a flavor that can really vary in character from soda to soda. Timber City Ginger went with an earthier, slightly floral take with mild sweetness. If you’re someone who likes a lot of sweetness in their moscow mule, this probably isn’t the ginger beer for you. Sugar isn’t where this ginger beer shines, but there are some sweeter elements. The peach notes blend with the sugar to create sweet, floral flavors. These contrast with the peppery, savory ginger notes to form a little bit of a pickled ginger taste. This is probably the best flavor in the entire drink. You’ve seen pickled ginger on those sushi dates you overpaid for and didn’t take the girl home on. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the cane sugar upped just a little bit to open up those peach notes more. I also think if the ginger had more heat, both the ginger and peach flavors would stand out more on the palate. Lovers of earthier, more natural sodas will almost certainly enjoy this take on ginger beer. Its versatility allows it to be enjoyed on its own as a sipper or as a great peach-infused dark and stormy. Start with the first, pass out with the latter.

Bruce Cost: Ginger Ale

History: Bruce Cost knows about ginger. Dude’s been writing books about it and using it in his Asian-inspired restaurants since 1984. According to Bruce Cost Ginger Ale Marketing Manager, Kevin Li, Cost is also a “2-time James Beard nominee as ‘Best Chef in California.'” As of this sentence, I’m a two-time Bruce Cost Ginger Ale and rum consumer. I wonder if I can make it to four by the end of this review. If I do, I wonder if I’ll even make it to the end. It’s good timing for Cost, considering in mid-2015, we’re in the midst of a ginger boom in craft soda. But, as Li tells us, Cost started making his “chef-driven” unfiltered ginger ale back in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, introducing it in three flavors: original, jasmine tea, and pomegranate. You can literally see pieces of ginger floating in the bottle, hence the “unfiltered” label. The chef went through 14 different restaurants before putting all of his eggs in the craft soda basket. “The idea was to produce a kind of soda that was more akin to a microbrew beer, full bodied with the mouth feel of beer or wine rather than the sparkly flavored, sugar water that is familiar to most people,” says Li. But don’t think this soda has no sugar. He adds the company strives for a flavor that is “somewhat sweet and lightly carbonated.” There’s a reason we’re reviewing the original. Look around on the Internet. You’ll notice that Bruce Cost Ginger Ale has quite the reputation. Li notes the company sources its fresh ginger from Shangdong, China and does not use any ginger extracts or flavorings in its soda. Each bottle contains a whopping 40 grams of ginger. Though not fermented, Bruce Cost ginger ale’s unfiltered look, slightly foamy head, and use of only fresh ginger make it a close cousin to ginger beer. Like Arkansas-cousin close. Sorry, Arkansas readers. In fact, Li surprises us with a scoop, telling us the company is entering the other side of ginger soda market this fall and will introduce an 8.4 oz can of ginger beer. Until then, we pull back the curtain on Bruce Cost’s original ginger ale and see if the critical claim has merit.

Where to get: Bruce Cost Ginger Ales are sold in physical retailers mostly in New York and California. You can also find it at The Fresh Market stores nationwide and Whole Foods in five regions. Check out Bruce Cost’s online store locator to find out where the nearest retailer is to you. For the rest of us eating pizza in our Snuggies, there’s always the Internet. Amazon, BevMo, Harney and Sons Teas… just take your pick.

Nose: Musky, kind of has an agave syrup smell to it. Definitely not spicy ginger like you might be expecting from a soda with actual pieces of ginger floating in the bottle.

Taste: Cane sugar; candied ginger; light spiciness. An easy-drinking ginger ale that surprisingly leans on the sweeter side of things. This is an unfiltered ginger ale, and while this is obvious when looking at the pieces of ginger in the bottle, it seems to have an effect on the sugar as well. The sugar, in turn, really impacts the flavor profile. The signature flavor in this is more of a candied ginger than one that’s raw and full of fire. There is a little bit of spice to the ginger on the backend every now and then, but not enough to make those hesitant of spicy flavors bat an eye. You’ll taste more sweet than spicy with just enough of the latter to provide balance. The carbonation is very light and the ginger intensifies throughout the drink. Definitely does not have the same bite and tartness you’ll find in a ginger beer, but also isn’t as dry as most ginger ales. Lots of sweet ginger flavor.

Finish: Sweet ginger with a tinge of pepper. Almost a little bit of a mild herbal effect if you take enough time in between sips.

Rating: Generally ginger ales are full of carbonation and fairly light on flavor. Bruce Cost flips the script with its Ginger Ale by filling each bottle with unfiltered pieces of ginger root packed with big, sweet flavor and hardly any bubbles. The ginger flavor tastes more candy than spicy, but it permeates every sip from beginning to end, increasing in strength as you continue to drink it. Probably one of the sweeter ginger ales you’ll try and not quite as dry as some others. This makes it a great candidate for cocktails. I understand a lot of you will leave at this point to go make a drink. I get it. For those of you who stuck around, the password is wast3ofAsentenze. Bruce Cost certainly tastes like a gourmet ginger ale, but it is a little on the sweet side, coming in at 37 grams per bottle. I’d probably chop that number down to around 30. But this has a nice ginger flavor and is versatile enough to be enjoyed on its own or in your favorite Friday night concoction. One of the better ginger ales on the craft soda market. It certainly seems to be a fan favorite.