ginger ale

Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Brew

History: Chris Reed, founder and CEO of Reed’s Inc. is not a shy man. He’s upfront and original with every thought. And he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks about the competition. How could a raspberry ginger ale not catch your eye? Because c’mon, you know that sounds appealing. Well, the reason Reed created his is because the others… didn’t. He says over the phone, “Probably about 20 years ago, Canada Dry came out with a raspberry ginger ale…. They were so appallingly bad that I wanted the world to taste what real raspberry ginger ale tasted like.” Man, sounds like my ex-wife talking about me. Point is, probably not gonna be a combination soda between Canada Dry and Reed’s anytime soon. Reed adds that most of the competition has fallen by the wayside. If you google “raspberry ginger ale,” Schweppes is the only other brand on the radar. Apparently its a cutthroat flavor. While labeled a ginger ale, Reed prefers to call his line of Reed’s soda “ginger brews” because they contain spices and other fruits not found in traditional ginger beers or ales. Reed’s was making ginger-based sodas before the category became all the rage in 2015. They’ve been doing it since 1989. Raspberry ginger ale was the third flavor Chris Reed created after his traditional ginger brew and spiced apple brew. Upon founding his company, Reed admits “I wanted to dose the world with ginger.” Like all of the company’s sodas, the raspberry ginger ale does not contain preservatives, caffeine, gluten, or GMO’s. It does, however, use real raspberry juice. It’s “a very full-flavored raspberry [soda] with a background of ginger,” Reed says. He also adds that lime is probably the second most noticeable flavor. Speaking of noticeable, you’ve probably heard of Reed’s. It’s headquartered in Los Angeles, but it’s available all over America. If you ever stroll down the organic section of your grocery store, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find something available from either Reed’s or its sister company, Virgil’s. The company also sells kombucha, ginger chews, and several other beverages. But ginger brews are and always will be the company’s marquee product.

Where to get: Reed’s is one of the most popular craft soda brands in the nation. Start by checking your local health food or all-natural stores, or even the organic section of your favorite grocer. Or you could just use the company’s online store locator. You can buy Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale online directly from the company or in single bottles from Soda Emporium.

Nose: Getting a lot of apple and pear notes with a little bit of ginger. This is made with apple and pear juices, so it makes sense, but I’m not smelling raspberry so much.

Taste: Ginger; fruity; floral notes; apple; raspberry; blackberry; mild lemon. First of all, this is extremely refreshing for a ginger ale. Tastes more like a punch with a little oomph instead of a fruit-flavored ginger ale. Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale is made with a cornucopia of ingredients and many of them come through. Fruity and floral notes shine the most with raspberry, blackberry, apple, and elderflower being most prominent. For those of you not familiar with the flavor of elderflower, it’s a mild floral taste that usually varies depending on what ingredients with which it is paired. Here it tastes more like rose petal because of the sweetness from the raspberries and apples. The ginger is definitely present, but this is not a spicy beverage at all – more of a fruity summer drink with just a tinge of ginger spice. It hangs out in the background, mostly. The blackberry and raspberry flavors seem to switch out prominence with each sip, while the apple taste always stays on your tongue. You’ll also taste just a litttttttle bit of lemon to give this some light acidity and flavor contrast to the sweeter fruits. Another point I’d like to make: this is a very natural-tasting soda. The fruits taste real. But it also still has enough sweetness to make soda fans happy. All and all, very approachable and refreshing.

Finish: Light carbonation with mild raspberry and lemon notes. The apple is still present too, just not as much as in the body. The finish strips back some of the flavors in the body for a less complex, cleaner end to your sip.

Rating: Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale is an excellent fruity infusion to the category, but its flavors may surprise you. If you come into this thinking you’re going to taste a straight ginger ale with some raspberry juice, you’re in for a surprise. There’s lots of fruity and floral notes in this that give it a more complex flavor than you’ll probably expect. But it’s also very light and refreshing, so it’s easy to drink. Besides ginger root, spices, and elderflower, there are five other fruit juices in this recipe. As a result, Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Ale ends up tasting more like a fruit punch with mild spice notes from the ginger. In all honesty, the ginger is not the star of this drink. The apple, raspberry, blackberry, and elderflower flavors are much more prominent on each sip. Ginger plays more of a supporting role in the background with lemon to give the soda’s sweeter side some contrast and tartness. The fruity notes of apple, blackberry, and raspberry work well together to make this soda one that begs for warm weather drinking. I could drink this by the pool with a bunch of babes around. Or I could at least pretend to from my living room. What I’m trying to say is this: the fruit punchiness (yeah, I made it up) of this is excellent. If this was called Raspberry Punch instead of Raspberry Ginger Ale, you’d get no complaints from me. And this leads me to my only complaint – sometimes the fruit overpowers the spice so much that I can’t taste the ginger in this at all. Regardless, the flavor should turn a lot of heads in a positive way. If you like fruiter sodas that taste authentic, this is definitely going to be your thing. It’s also Vegan-friendly if you’re into that sort of thing. I was surprised by Raspberry Ginger Beer’s flavor. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was a nice surprise.

Four Stars

Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale

History: Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale is one of the classics in the American craft soda scene, and man, was it hard to track down someone to talk to about it. After a seemingly endless number of fruitless Internet clicks, we finally used some common sense and just looked on the bottle to discover Red Rock is distributed by Clayton Distributing in Atlanta, Georgia. We spoke to Paul Redd, the company owner and proud southern boy. The accent? Thick. Occasionally when he really got going, his words all spilled out in one gelatinous blob like molasses dripping out of a jar. For example, he explained “Red Rock was formulated inAtlantahfewYAassforeCo-CoCola.” But in all seriousness Redd was extremely helpful, and to translate, he said Red Rock Ginger Ale was created in Atlanta in 1885 by Lee Hogan and G.T. Hogan even before Coca-Cola. It reached its peak popularity in the 30’s and 40’s when it was available in all 48 states of the continental U.S. “It did very well on up through World War II,” says Redd. But with the sugar rationing that occurred during the war, Red Rock as a brand took some damage (there’s also a Red Rock Cola). The ginger ale always survived, though its availability shrunk decisively to mainly just Atlanta until the 1980’s. From one southerner to another, this is a soda that’s seen hard times, daddy! The ginger ale’s formula, made with cane sugar, has been the same since 1885 with one exception: Clayton Distributing added capsaicin, a component from chili pepper. Redd adds that it gives the ginger ale its signature “hot and spicy taste.” Red Rock is similar to another old time ginger ale called Blenheim in that both are known for being especially fiery when it comes to taste. In fact, Redd says “The first time you drink it, some people think it’s too hot,” before quickly adding “the more you drink it, the better it tastes.” I guess we’ll find out.

Where to get: Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale can be purchased online in single bottle quantities from Soda Emporium or in six-packs from Beverages Direct. If you’re a retailer looking to sell Red Rock in your store or just need to make a large order, contact Homer Soda Company. Physically, the ginger ale is available mostly in the southeast. Cracker Barrels around the nation also carry the soda. Basically, you’d need to have a really good excuse not to find it.

Nose: Smells like what you’re accustomed to with ginger ale. Slightly earthy, slightly sweet.

Taste: Medium spice; bold ginger ale flavor. I think we all know how Canada Dry Ginger Ale tastes. Take what you know about Canada Dry and imagine its flavor emboldened by about two levels with a little heat, and that’s what you have in Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale. A couple other differences: this has more carbonation and it also has a funky initial taste I’m not crazy about. It has an earthy spice to it that crawls into the sinuses at first, but mostly resides in the throat. This is a ginger ale that has some familiarities, but is stronger than what most people buy at the grocery store. Definitely has a noticeable kick.

Finish: Candied ginger with some earthy notes and lingering medium heat in the throat.

Rating: Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale is a classic and one of the bolder-tasting ginger ales on the market. If you’re using Canada Dry as a base, this has stronger flavor, more carbonation, and some actual heat for a ginger ale. The spice initially creeps into your nostrils before settling in the back of the throat. It’s definitely a good ginger ale, but I wouldn’t call it great. There’s a funky, earthy taste you get immediately at the beginning of each sip that’s just hard to shake. It’s a little too earthy and unwelcoming. The longer you drink this, the more it goes away… or maybe you just get used to it. But I can’t forgot it when it comes to rating this ginger ale. That said, there are also good qualities. One is the carbonation. There’s lots of it and the bubbles really make the ginger ale pop in your mouth. Great texture. The body of the ginger ale also has really nice flavor. Bold, crisp, and refreshing. This would probably make a really good cocktail mixer. Love the color. Like the flavor, but don’t love it. Definitely stands out as retro amongst the newer styles and flavors of ginger ale, so if you’re looking to get down with some old fashioned nostalgia, Red Rock Golden Ginger Ale is definitely an option for you.

Three Stars

Norka Beverage: Ginger Ale

History: Akron is a city in Ohio of just under 200,000 people, but if you ever ended up there for more than a few days, guessing its population would almost be impossible. The dichotomy of personalities in Akron is perplexingly stark. I know from experience – I have family from around the area. Some days you feel like you’re back in the 40’s when you stop in at the local deli and the butcher knows the names of all the shop’s customers. Other times it feels like some bizarro displaced version of New York City where loud Italians on their porches sit their beers down to yell at you just to see what’s up. “Ay, kid whaddahyou doin – you lost?” No, but you sound like you aren’t far from it. One thing all these people have in common? Pride. Michael Considine, Norka Beverage Founder and President, feels the same. He thinks what originated in Akron should stay in Akron. The city is famous for being the home of LeBron James and the corporate headquarters of Goodyear Tires, but back in the 1920’s, it was also where local soda bottler, Norka Beverage originated. Norka is, of course, “Akron” spelled backwards. Considine had no idea about the soda until he spotted an old bottle in a restaurant while out to lunch with his father. The original Norka closed its doors in 1962, but with the rise in popularity of craft soda, Considine dug deeper into the soda brand’s history, finding the old packaging designs with the original ingredient listings. He decided to take a chance, saying, “I had no idea Akron had its own soft drink…. It was a cool opportunity to bring something back in the beverage industry.”

Considine re-opened the doors to the new Norka Beverage in early 2015 and tells us Norka sodas are made with “100% natural flavors and pure cane sugar,” and are also caffeine and gluten-free. Norka is most famous for its cherry-strawberry soda, but another one of the original flavors from 1924 is the ginger ale. It’s Norka’s third-best seller behind cherry-strawberry and root beer. Considine tells us the ginger ale took the longest to get right of Norka’s four flavors, going through six months of focus group taste testing. With the current popularity of ginger in the world of soda, there are no limit to the flavor variants of ginger ales available on the market. “True ginger ale is crisp, refreshing, and does have the real ginger in it” Considine says. He goes on to add, “A lot of ginger ales will try to be spicier…. Ours on the spectrum probably leans towards a Canada Dry.” Norka Ginger Ale uses natural ginger extract and cane sugar, something Considine believes helps eliminate the syrupy aftertaste of many ginger ales, even the comparable Canada Dry. It is designed to be “very crisp and not overpowering.” We’re told it pairs well with both food and alcohol. Considering I already have sweat pants on, this sounds like it could be the beginning of something special.

Where to get: Norka Beverage sodas are sold mostly throughout Ohio with limited regional reach in surrounding states. You can also find it at massive craft soda superstore Pop’s Soda Ranch in Arcadia, Oklahoma, as well as in parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco. For everyone else, the easiest way to buy Norka sodas is by ordering them online from the company’s store or at Summit City Soda.

Nose: Classic ginger ale; lime. This smells more along the lines of a classic ginger ale in the sense that you don’t get a forceful ginger scent that singes the nostrils.

Taste: Citrus; cane sugar; classic ginger ale. This is a crisp and refreshing take on ginger ale. If I had to compare it to a brand you might be familiar with, Canada Dry comes to mind. The ginger in this is very mild, though if you let it sit on the tongue for a second, you do get just the slightest zippy sensation of heat up the nostrils. So the ginger is definitely there. The carbonation is crisp and interacts with the cane sugar in a way that allows for a sweet bite. The most prominent element in Norka’s version of ginger ale is citrus. It’s a citrus closer to a lemon-lime soda than a ginger beer. Mild, drinkable, and very refreshing.

Finish: Light citrus that bubbles on the tongue and tails of for a very crisp finish.

Rating: Ginger is possibly the hottest flavor on the craft soda market. So often bottlers get caught up in who can add the most ginger to their soda. It gets to the point where the ginger is either too spicy or too masking of the other flavors present. Norka decided not to go this route. Instead, they focused on making a light, refreshing ginger ale that stands on its own and doesn’t need to rely on alcohol in order to pull back the reigns on its potency. I’d call this a relative of Canada Dry ginger ale, only this one does everything just a little bit better. The cane sugar plays the fiddle of flavors in this ginger ale, giving the bottle’s carbonation a sweet, crisp bite, enhancing the lime notes in the citrus flavor profile present, and giving the mild ginger bite a drinkable, refreshing finish. This is one ginger ale to which I wouldn’t even bother adding alcohol. And if my neighbor’s cat hadn’t puked on me earlier, I might actually follow that advice. Rough day. But seriously, this pairs excellently with bourbon. It’s also great with ice. Lovers of strong ginger may be let down. This won’t make your eyes water, but it will beg for you to crack the cap on another bottle. This is simple, yet elegant in its taste. It’s an old-school take on a classic flavor in a world that increasingly craves nostalgic, glass-bottled soda. Its flavor and versatility place it in the elite tier of craft ginger ales on the market. Still, the classics aren’t always a sure thing as bottlers continue combining artisan flavors in search of creating a modern masterpiece. Norka didn’t over think this and the brilliance is in the simplicity. This is a near-perfectly done take on a milder ginger ale.

Five Stars

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.

Americana: Honey Lime Ginger Ale

History: The Americana line of sodas is produced by a giant retro soda bottler known as Orca Beverages. Orca came about in the 1980’s and was founded by Mike Bourgeois in Mukilteo, WA, an affluent suburb of Seattle. The first brand they produced was their very own called Orca Sparkling and “contained over 50 percent juice sourced from Northwest juice processors.” Orca no longer bottles their own name brand, but they’ve expanded to become one of the biggest craft soda bottlers in the country. They’ve partnered with over 100 brands to produce their sodas, including classics like Dad’s Root Beer, Moxie Original Elixir, and Bubble Up. According to CFO Charles Funk, Americana is now the company’s flagship brand with 11 different flavors. The Americana bottles used to feature old presidents on the label. Personally, we’re not sure why they abandoned such a neat idea. But I’m also not sure why I’m on my third marriage and sleep on the couch half the time. In the words of the company, the brand is a throwback to the time of “soda fountains, sock hops and five-cent sodas.” You can’t even get a disease for five cents these days, much less soda. But you get the idea. Orca Beverages is steadfast in their emphasis on quality. Says Funk, “One thing about our whole line of sodas we produce is that we use the best ingredients we can find,” even if it means paying more. The company employs their own “Tasteologist.” So do we. We’re called Five Star Soda. Today, it’s honey lime ginger ale made with premium honey.

Where to get: Americana craft soda from Orca Beverages is distributed world-wide and easily found in stores that sell glass-bottled sodas. Americana is one of the more popular craft soda brands, just a touch below Boylan’s, Virgil’s, and Jones. You can find it online at Summit City Soda (better pricing) or on the company’s website. You can also purchase single bottles at Soda Emporium.

Nose: Ginger; honey. Maybe the first soda made with honey I can actually smell in the bottle.

Taste: Ginger; mild heat; honey. This is spicier than you expect it to be for a ginger ale with the word “honey” on the label. It’s light like a ginger ale with enough spice to call it a ginger beer. Probably a 7 on the heat scale with spice that lingers on the tongue. Some of that may be from the citrus of the lime that causes the heat to stick. It takes a few sips to adjust before the honey really comes through. After that initial heat, this becomes quite a sweet ginger ale. Almost too sweet at times. The spice of the ginger and the flavor of the lime form together to create a pepper-like heat. This is a ginger ale that’s definitely sweet with lingering spice.

Finish: Light honey immediately followed by peppery spice.

Rating: Americana Honey Lime Ginger Ale is an interesting take ginger ale and probably won’t fit the preconceived notions of taste you might have about what’s in the bottle. It’s quite spicy, but not the traditional gingery fire akin to ginger beers. No, this tastes like it has some kind of pepper in it. It’s a little too prevalent for me. Yet at the same time, this is also sweeter than most ginger ales. It’s an odd combination of sweet and spicy. The lime doesn’t quite come through in the flavor profile all that much, but that doesn’t really bother me. I just keep coming back to the sweet vs. heat. It feels like a struggle over which one should be more bold on the palate as opposed to working in tandem to create a balanced flavor profile. This is worth a try simply because it’s different, but it could use some tweaks. One thing I will say about this soda is that it benefits from being on ice as opposed to sipping straight from the bottle. There are better ginger ales out there, but you will please your inner soda connoisseur by trying one this different.

Zuberfizz Ginger Ale

History: Hailing from the mountains of Durango, Colorado, Zuberfizz is the craft soda brain child of Banden Zuber and his business partner. And honestly, how can you not utilize a last name like that in your branding? Zuber and his college buddies used to brew beer and had aspirations of launching their own. But by the time they were ready to go public, the city of Durango had already become saturated with breweries, as had Colorado as a whole. So what now? Well, he already had all that equipment for brewing, and as Zuber says, gourmet soda “had the same footprint” as beer. Naturally, he started with root beer, still the company’s most popular seller today. Then came vanilla cream. But the soda that’s catching both of them? Zuberfizz Ginger Ale. Zuber says they tried shooting for something in between a spicy Reed’s Ginger Brew and a lighter ginger ale you could get at your local grocery store. Something not too pungent on the sinuses, but enough to let you know you’re drinking a ginger-infused beverage. All of the things you look for in craft sodas hold true here: they’re handcrafted in small batches, devoid of caffeine, and only use pure cane sugar as a sweetener. It’s for all these reasons that we needed to find out what Zuberfizz Ginger Ale was all about.

Where to get: Zuberfizz’s main distribution is found throughout Colorado and the four corners region. However, it’s also commonly found in Rocketfizz retailers. And if neither of those work, get your Zuberfizz Ginger fix on at their web site or Beverages Direct.

Nose: Ginger; more akin to smell of ginger beer than ginger ale; citrus.

Taste: Light ginger; earthiness; frothy carbonation; mild sugar. Earthy ginger coats the tongue first and then slowly enters the nostrils. It isn’t full of heat like a ginger beer, but has more of a kick than most ginger ales. I think if someone handed me this and didn’t tell me what it was, I’d probably say it was a mild ginger beer. But there’s definitely that traditional mellow ginger ale tartness near the end of the sip. This has a very natural taste, with no one flavor overwhelming the other. That said, no one flavor really stands out as remarkable. This tastes like it could be an excellent mixer, but doesn’t quite have the bold flavors that make it stand out on its own.

Finish: Tartness that mellows into an earthy, watered-down ginger beer taste.

Rating: Certainly, some people will enjoy this, but we found its flavors to be pretty average. I certainly don’t want you to get the idea that this bad. It has some good things going on with the nice initial ginger taste and an enjoyable level of sugar that doesn’t distract from the flavors Zuberfizz tried to get across in the soda. It’s just that none of the flavors aside from ginger for a few fleeting seconds really makes an impression. Some sips I think, “No wait, I do like you.” And then other sips I say, “Nah, you’re not worth it again.” It kind of reminds me of every relationship I’ve ever had. It’s just missing that special something. Perhaps alcohol (whiskey). Perhaps some kind of juice (whiskey OJ). I don’t know. This is pretty average. Worth a shot if you enjoy ginger beverages or need something to settle your tummy, but if not, it probably isn’t something I’d recommend to people. Just keepin’ it real. If you walked the line of sodas, this is almost smack dab in the middle.