ginger beer

Garwood’s Ginger Beer

History: Ginger beer is one of the most adult craft sodas on the market. But don’t tell that to Salt Lake City’s Thomas Garwood, who used to drink the stuff down as a kid. Still a young adult at 28, Garwood was no longer satisfied with the state of ginger beer. He felt he’d grown up, but his favorite soda hadn’t. It’s not me, babe. It’s you. “As an adult I’ve never been able to find a ginger beer that was quite spicy enough,” he says, his phone cutting in and out as if he was communicating from an AOL dial-up landline. He’d also become disenchanted with studying music in school. So Garwood, already experienced in the food industry, went to work. But he needed some help. Garwood’s Ginger Beer probably wouldn’t exist had it not been for a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $5,000. When it came to the soda, he didn’t just want more spice. He wanted more flavor. Fresh flavor. Garwood’s Ginger Beer is made with 30% real juice, using cold-pressed ginger, lemon and lime juices. Garwood made it a point to ensure his ginger beer was wrapped in a bed of natural citrus as opposed to using syrups or extracts. The only other ingredients are carbonated water and cane sugar. He adds, “The purpose of starting this business was to do unique things that you don’t find around a lot.” For example, down the line, he wants to create a malt soda. In the more immediate future, grapefruit or grapefruit-ginger may be on the table. He says so far, his two-man team (Garwood and his wife) have gotten a great response locally in Salt Lake City. Time to try this out. Better put on my adult pants for this review.

Where to get: Due to the small size and recent launch of the company, Garwood’s Ginger Beer is still only sold locally in Salt Lake City. For those of you stopping through, you can pick up a bottle at Liberty Heights Fresh Market or Caputo’s downtown market. Garwood was confident online sales would eventually happen. If you’re desperate, you can contact the company via their Facebook page.

Nose: Skunky, almost like a citrusy Heineken or Modelo beer. Lime and lemon juice are also prevalent. The ginger smell is relatively mild.

Taste: Ginger; lemon juice; lime juice. This tastes extremely fresh. You can taste all three of the main juices that make this up. Each bottle of Garwood’s Ginger Beer contains 30% juice, yet it tastes higher. You start out with a sweet, but tart lemon-lime flavor. The lime has more of a punch, but the lemon has more staying power in the flavor profile. The ginger comes in last. It’s not particularly hot, but full of flavor. This is light and tart, an extremely refreshing take on ginger beer that relies heavily on lemon and lime flavors to supplement the ginger.

Finish: Slightly skunky lime with just a tinge of citrus-infused ginger that coats the tongue. Some people are into skunky tastes, but others may be turned off.

Rating: Ginger beers are almost always engineered to be enjoyed with alcohol and for that reason, they almost always taste better with alcohol. I think this is the first ginger beer I’ve had that I would say is better on its own. The ginger, lemon and lime juices work perfectly together to form a refreshing citrus elixir. To me, this is like a ginger-infused lemonade with some notes of lime. Now this is a little skunky, something unusual in ginger beers, but that’s really an aside. Some may disagree, but I think it adds to the flavor. All three main juices stand out in a unique way in the flavor profile. The lemon is refreshing and full of citrus that forms the base of each sip. The lime is brief but adds a burst of tart, bold flavor. And the ginger tastes so fresh and zesty that it’s almost impossible not to be impressed. This won’t make your eyes water with heat, but you will cry if you don’t try one. This is like when a hot hipster girl transfers to your college in po-dunk nowhere and you realize you’ll be making a lifestyle change. Other girls can’t match her style, looks and sassiness. In similar fashion, I don’t think I can name a more flavorful or better ginger beer than Garwood’s. That’s a bold statement, but this is a bold ginger beer that ascends to the highest peak in its category. This is that hot hipster girl wearing her plaid shirts and shiny leggings. You need her. You need her like you need air. To be fair, I don’t think you’ll need this like you need air. If you do, contact a hospital and scientist. But you’ll need this more than any other ginger beer you’ve had to date. This is one of the newest players in the game and if Garwood’s continues making other flavors, they’ll be one of its heaviest hitters.

Kutztown Ginger Beer

History: Kutztown Bottling Works dates all the way back to 1851. Though it didn’t have the same name then, the Kutztown, Pennsylvania soda business has deep roots and has been passed around several times in its history. An important name to the brand is Percy Keodinger, who purchased a brewery and focused on selling beer and soft drinks. Then prohibition happened. No more beer. Way more soda. Keodinger developed 16 different flavors, his most famous being an original recipe birch beer. According to current Kutztown Bottling Works General Manager, Andy Schlegel, birch beer is still Pennsylvania’s most popular soda flavor. Since then, the business has been sold three times until it eventually wound up with current owners Jeff and Dana Taylor. The company actually didn’t assume the name Kutztown Bottling Works until 2002. The company sells soda in both 12 oz. glass and 24 oz. plastic bottlers. Click here to see which flavors come in which bottles. Like fellow eastern Pennsylvania bottler, Reading Draft, Kutztown is part of the Pennsylvania Dutch style. Again, no one can really seem to explain what that means aside from the fact that there’s a German influence. Shh, don’t worry about it. Yet despite the emphasis on birch beer, we decided to try their ginger beer, if for no other reason than because it’s red. And that’s odd enough to pop the top on this bottle. A fun fact: on the Kutztown bottle label it says “Nix Besser,” which means “Nothing better.” The more you know.

Where to get: Kutztown sodas can be purchased from the company’s online store. Their ginger beer is sold in plastic bottles through the Kutztown Bottling online store. If you’re looking for glass bottles, you can find those at Beverages Direct. Kutztown Bottling Works soda is distributed throughout 30 states and to many small Amish and Mennonite retailers by Dutch Valley Foods.

Nose: Ginger; mild red hot candies.

Taste: Mild ginger; mild spiciness; mild sugar. This is mild for ginger beer… if you didn’t get that by now. There’s a definite ginger taste, but the cane sugar in this almost acts as a bubble that coats the ginger. For some, that could be good. For others, it’s a flavor mask. There’s just the slightest bit of a minty undertone to this hidden beneath the ginger that you don’t find in most ginger beers. It seems like that mint flavor hides some of the bite found in stronger ginger beers. But every few sips that spice will sneak up on you and into your nostrils. It’s more of a heat on the finish than the initial sip. Not much in the way of lasting flavor or fire.

Finish: Light wintergreen mint and sweet candied ginger that swing back and forth until the flavor is gone. No lingering heat or after bite.

Rating: For those who aren’t quite ready for a strong ginger beer with bold spice, this is probably a good starting point. Not too spicy, but there’s just enough of it to let you know this is ginger beer. The sugar in this is a little bit stronger than its relatives and does have a tendency to cover up the richer and deeper flavor profiles ginger root possesses. But again, some will welcome that aspect. Kutztown’s ginger beer is unusually red. It looks beautiful in a glass and would make a fun party drink or mixer. For those desiring a powerful ginger beverage, this probably won’t be strong enough for you. For those looking to just get their feet wet, give it a shot. And for all of us those just looking to get drunk, this works well with a sprig of mint and your favorite liquid courage.

Harvey and Vern’s: Ginger Beer

History: It’s refreshing when a company understands itself and its purpose. “It’s authentic. We know what we want. It’s about the good old days,” says Paul Meeks, owner of Kichesippi Beer Company. Paul and I have a 15-minute conversation about his soda business, Harvey and Vern’s. Paul’s voice is soft, friendly, and always understanding. I too understand myself and my purpose, and I’d now like to get a few words out of my system: Moose. Maple Syrup. Poutine. Hockey. Friendly. Eh. Tim Horton’s. Paul will appreciate this show of authenticity, even if it does reveal I’m secretly nine years-old. Because if you haven’t guessed, Paul and his company are from Canada… Ottawa, to be exact. After the success of their brewery, it was was Meeks’ wife, Kelly, who decided they were versed enough in beer to branch out and try soda. Harvey and Vern’s is all about harkening back to simpler times. Harvey was Meeks’ grandfather, a farmer; Vern is Kelly’s father; a doctor – both traditional, hard-working jobs that suited the nature of what Meeks and his wife wanted in their small business soda brand. As a child Meeks would go from his family farm to the river and back to the farm, but not before stopping in to buy some vintage glass bottle sodas on the way home. The company tries to capture that childhood nostalgia and bottle it in the form of three flavors: root beer, cream soda, and ginger beer. Everything is all-natural: no sodium benzoate, no added colors and only cane sugar as a sweetener. Today, we try our first Canadian soda – Harvey and Vern’s Ginger Beer. Fun fact: Paul was born in Jamaica and chose the ginger beer’s flavor. While he wasn’t trying to enter the cocktail market, he says “The number of Dark and Stormy’s poured in Ottawa has definitely increased.” The company will be introducing a fourth flavor to its soda line in April of 2015.

Where to get: Harvey and Vern’s is distributed throughout Quebec and Ontario, reaching somewhere between 250 grocery stores, cafes, and food trucks. But what about the Americans, eh? The company is currently talking to distributers in the states and hope to have an online store set up by sometime in May of 2015. If you need to get your little paws on it before then, contact the company directly and they’ll work with you on an order. Just be prepared to pay shipping… the only downside of glass bottles.

Nose: Pure, ground ginger. Buckle up.

Taste: Strong ginger; heat in the nostrils; light sugar. Pops bottle cap, tilts bottle at 45 degree angle, down the throat…

Gear up  for this Canadian concoction because ginger and ginseng root are upfront on the palate and they are handsy. We coughed on the first couple sips. The fire shoots up your nose for a sinister initial sizzle. But honestly, after a few sips, you adjust. And then you realize: this is tasty. You get a hot, earthy ginger flavor right up front that mellows into more of a candied ginger. This doesn’t taste like anything artificial has been added. It tastes like pure, unadulterated, natural ginger. There’s definitely heat to this. The cane sugar is noticeable, flavorful and does a nice job cutting the spice on the backend. But make no mistake, this is spicy. On a 1-10 spicy meter, I’d give this a solid 7.5. It’s an upfront heat. There’s no lingering. In fact, it’s a little sweet near the end. The previously mentioned ginseng in this gives Harvey and Vern’s’ Ginger Beer an extra bite.

Finish: Candied ginger with notes of soft spice that fade into crisp sugar accompanied by a final note of sweet ginger. Best part of the soda.

Rating: Our neighbors from the north weren’t messing around when they made their ginger beer. Canadians are often regarded as overtly friendly, but this ginger elixir is your naughty neighbor you crave. There’s something about it. It’s spicy up front, yet sweet and flavorful on the backend to keep you coming back. So it’s like the opposite of my ex-wife. I’ll make this simple. This is ginger beer. It tastes like ginger. Seems like a no-brainer, but so often this category of soda is dressed up to be something it’s not. There’s no games here. This is 12 ounces (355 ml, eh) of sinus-clearing, ginger-infused, taste bud-rocking soda. Novices might not be ready for its initial spiciness. There’s no denying it’s potent. The more you drink it, the easier it gets and the more delectable it becomes. And honestly, ginger beer as a whole isn’t for everyone. It’s more of an acquired taste. But if you like ginger beer, then I assure you that you’ll enjoy this. Paired with rum, the ginger beer becomes much sweeter, more of a candied ginger with airier citrus flavors. Careful, I’ve already had one just writing this review. For most, it’ll be a sipper on its own and when paired with alcohol, it’ll be a nightmare the next morning. That’s a compliment, Harvey and Vern’s. We approve, go get your ginger juice on.

Bette Jane’s Ginger Beer

History: Kirk Pearson started making ginger beer for personal use a couple years ago in 2013. Having an extensive background in the cocktail and bar industries, Pearson just figured he could make something better than what was out there. Soon, he started testing it with friends in the industry and getting requests for use in their restaurants. So he self-taught himself how to carbonate and ferment, and voila, in July 2014, Bette Jane’s ginger beer was born. He’s still a one man show, but he’s quickly gaining a following on the West coast. The concept behind the product is a noble one. Bette Jane was the name of Kirk’s mother who passed from breast cancer when he was young. Pearson donates proceeds from every bottle to breast cancer research and those affected by breast cancer. While the ginger beer stands on its own, it was really developed to be a mixer to “carry through the cocktail.” A unique note about Bette Jane’s ginger beer: it uses lemon concentrate instead of citric acid, which gives it a more natural flavor and saves the barman the extra effort of having to add his own house juice to a cocktail. Headquartered in San Rafael, California, Bette Jane is soon set to launch a couple more intriguing products… but we’ll let them tell you when they’re ready.

Where to get: Contact Bette Jane’s directly to place an order.

Nose: Soft ginger; bold lemon; slight vanilla.

Taste: Slow ginger burn; lemon. More of a tart kick than a spicy kick. Very smooth for a ginger beer, which is fairly unusual. Tastes very authentic. The use of simple, quality ingredients stands out. Most ginger beers are slightly harsh, to very harsh on the palate by design. I didn’t know how to take this at first, but it really grows on you. It’s probably too light to consistently drink by itself. But that isn’t what this ginger beer was designed for, so now we had a perfectly good excuse to get drunk… test this out with rum. And whoa. It makes a world of different. The ginger beer really let’s rum do the talking for itself while still being present enough to make you say, “Ah, there it is!” Crisp and refreshing. This does better with alcohol than on it’s own.

Finish: Smooth lemon with a lingering candied ginger fruitiness.

Rating: If you’re looking for a mixer to add flavor to your cocktail without stealing its thunder, this is your ginger beer. The bite isn’t strong enough to shock, yet is bold enough to enjoy. The mildness of the ginger makes it easy to drink on its own, but may be too light to consistently drink without alcohol. The use of lemon in this is really phenomenal and is a flavor most ginger beers completely ignore. It really makes the beverage shine. Think of it this way: by drinking a bottle of Bette Jane’s, your also helping out a good cause. Who knew you could be philanthropic and get drunk all in one fell swoop. Get a copper mug; get a Bette Jane’s and an adult elixir, and take a load off.