History: Ginger is the Swiss Army knife in a bartender’s back pocket. Drink is too sweet? Add some ginger for a kick. Cocktail is lacking in flavor? Throw in ginger to give it a full-bodied boldness. When he’s not dreaming up cocktails for Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steakhouse like the Mai-Tai-relative “King Hippo Milk Punch” or pickled strawberry and ginger beer combo “Clear Keep Lane Fire,” Ray Fuentes is probably busy working on ways to make his current libations better. Fuentes is a well-known Los Angeles, California bartender, leader of Bourbon Steakhouse’s bar program, and the business partner of True Roots Brewing Company co-founder John Shin. Ginger beer continues to be the hottest beverage in craft soda. It’s downright mandatory these days for any bartender, and with the rapid ascension of choices and quality on the ginger beer market, Fuentes grew tired of the old options he’d been using and decided to try his own hand at ginger beer. “Wow, this is good!” was the first thought Shin had when sampling his buddy’s brew. The two quickly turned it into a product, testing it in a restaurant in San Francisco, perfecting the recipe, and then officially debuting it in July of 2015. Less than seven months later, they were bottling True Roots Ginger Beer is cute-ass stubby, little bottles. The company produces a stand-alone ginger beer for drinking by itself or in cocktails, a ginger beer syrup, as well as the more exotic smoked ginger beer syrup. Looking at the ginger beer’s atypical bottle, you might not even believe it to be a beverage. But there’s a lot of thought and ingenuity the liquid in that little bottle.
“It’s very hard to get a good, robust ginger beer,” tells us over the phone. True Roots brews their ginger beer with cocktails in mind first, and instead of making the bartender add a bunch of bitters and syrups to your drink, Shin and Fuentes wanted their ginger beer to be a one-stop-shop of flavor. It’s for this reason True Roots Ginger Beer is made with a handful of complimentary spices that you won’t find in others. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this stuff is maxed-out to the limits of what we know as artisan. Fans of gourmet culinary experiences: keep your pants on as we go through this list. First this is a ginger beer made without preservatives of any kind, meaning to ensure freshness it needs to be refrigerated. It’s also literally brewed in beer tanks. Next, it’s “very ginger and lime forward,” according to Shin. Typically ginger beers are made with more lemon than lime. True Roots Ginger Beer has no lemon because they felt lime provided a bolder tasting experience. Shin goes on to say, “We’re probably the only ones that cold-press our ginger.” I don’t know what that means and neither do you, but now we’re both intrigued. As for the sweetener? They use both pure cane and brown sugar, something Shin says gives the ginger beer “a bit of a molasses flavor.” Despite multiple sugar types, the total amount is less than a majority of craft soda on the market. This is done to ensure the real flavors in their soda are not masked. Then, of course, there’s those spices we previously mentioned. We tried to pry, but the duo keeps that list close to the vest, though they did divulge the use of cinnamon. The one spice we forgot to put in our photos? Cinnamon. In terms of whether or not this packs a punch, Shin admits they “absolutely meant for it to be a spicy ginger beer,” but also adds that due to a longer carbonation process, it has a bit of “a creamy complexion.” It seems like with True Roots Ginger Beer, for every Yin, there’s a Yang. After our interview with Shin, I’m convinced this will be one of, if not the most interesting ginger beer I’ve ever reviewed. But that’s not the point, he says. ““We weren’t trying to do something different. We were trying to do something better.”
Where to get: True Roots Brewing Ginger Beer is currently sold only in California. To find out where you can purchase some, check out the company’s Facebook page or contact them directly via their website.
Nose: Ah, a complicated smell. A little bit of ginger and several spices. Those are what you’ll smell most. The spices are robust. Cinnamon and clove smells stand out the most. Also some lime too. Very nice.
Taste: Lime; mild ginger; citrus; general spice. This is an especially citrusy ginger beer, and it’s mostly lime you’ll taste. Bold, strong lime. What’s most important to get across here is that this tastes real. You can taste the fresh juices in this ginger beer. Pretty mild carbonation, as well as mild ginger flavor. You actually taste the ginger more near the end of the sip than the beginning. In my opinion, this isn’t particularly spicy in terms of heat. The spice is more in the flavor. I’d call it a 5/10 on the heat index. The spiciness doesn’t hit you hard. It’s more of a lingering effect that builds in the back of the throat. The more you drink this, the more the spice flavor reveals itself. It’s more of a combined effect, meaning you’re probably not going to be able to isolate just cinnamon or clove notes. They work as a whole to impact the ginger beer’s flavor profile. What you’ll likely take away from True Roots Ginger Beer the most is a strong lime influence with subtle ginger near the finish.
Finish: Ginger root, mild spice that lingers, and citrusy lime. Definitely a little more cinnamon on the finish than the body. You also get a little bit of the brown sugar here, even if it’s fleeting.
Rating: If you’re looking to make a stellar dark and stormy or moscow mule, pull out your copper cup and an endearing stubby bottle of True Roots Ginger Beer and go to town. Its intense lime and subtle ginger flavors really work well when paired with a high percentage alcohol. However, on its own, this is likely to be a divisive soda amongst drinkers. For some, the lime flavor, while very authentic, is going to be overbearing. It’s loud and proud like a fat woman in a two-piece on the beach. The ginger flavor isn’t as strong as other ginger beers and mostly hangs in the background while the lime takes center stage. What works best about True Roots Ginger Beer as a stand-alone beverage is the lingering heat that continually builds as you drink the soda. It’s very pleasant and adds a nice kick that should be tolerable for almost everyone and brings an extra layer to the ginger beer’s flavor. On the other hand, the biggest downfall for us was not tasting all the spices in the recipe. You can smell both cinnamon and cloves on the nose, but I don’t get much of that in the ginger beer’s body. What we do taste in terms of spices is very mild. I think if you could taste the spices in this, it would really add something extra for drinkers who want to enjoy it without alcohol. I’d dial up the cinnamon a little more. Cinnamon and citrus actually pair really nicely next to the bitey flavor of ginger. Bottom line, if you enjoy lime and ginger, you should really enjoy this – but you need to like lime or citrus. I also want to add this: don’t give up on this ginger beer if you don’t enjoy it solo after one bottle. I wasn’t sold after one go ’round without booze. A couple days later I came back and the flavors seemed more pronounced. Sometimes complicated soda complicates things for your mouth and brain. They need time to warm up to it. It’s a grower for sure. True Roots Ginger Beer won’t be for everyone on its own, but I’d certainly recommend it over almost any competitor a cocktail. And trust me, we did the market research. We woke up at noon the next day. Cheers.