Unless you’re a homebrewer or know one who makes an alcoholic ginger ale or ginger beer, you’ve likely never had one produced in the U.S. because the recipes include no malt or hops, a federal requirement for the commercial production of a beer or ale. The domestic ginger ales and ginger beers you see on the grocery store shelves are all kid stuff.
The rules do not affect proper beers that use ginger as a flavoring, such as Left Hand Brewing’s Good JuJu or Allagash Brewing Company’s seasonal Ginger Wit, in which the root is used as a flavor enhancer.
Fortunately, the prohibition against hard ginger ale apparently does not apply across the pond. Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer, originally fermented in 1801 in the shipping port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland, is now available throughout most of the country. The story goes that a merchant-adventurer by the name of John Crabbie began mixing up the concoction in his shop at the port after he “searched the Far East for the best ingredients, including ginger and exotic spices.”
The elephant on the label is a nod to the purported mode of transport for these at-the-time mysterious ingredients.
If you’ve had the kids’ version of the beverage, you won’t find much difference in the adult drink, at least as far as the pour or taste goes. The booziness is barely noticeable. The biggest difference is that the drink tastes a bit smoother than the teetotaler version, with less of a ginger “bite” and hints of spiciness and vanilla likely from its advertised “four secret ingredients.” It’s a refreshing thirst-quencher, especially in the summer. An issue might be that it goes down TOO easy, and you might forget that you’re not drinking the ginger ale of your youth, though at 4.8% alcohol by volume, it doesn’t pack too much of a wallop. Still, be careful.
The brewer recommends serving Crabbie’s over ice in a glass, with a twist of citrus, which is how I consumed the bulk of the 11.2-oz. bottle. Not a bad way to drink it, but just having a few slugs out of the bottle proved refreshing as well.
Other than drinking it straight, the alcoholic ginger beer can serve as a different sort of cocktail mixer. In fact, St. Killian’s Importing Company, which imports the beer into the U.S., offers a few suggestions. The simplest is a version of the traditional Dark and Stormy, with 2 oz. of dark rum and 8 oz. of Crabbie’s poured over ice. Another is a Moscow Mule, using lime, vodka and Crabbie’s.
Crabbie’s also produces a Spiced Orange version that is available on this side of the Atlantic.
Brewery: Halewood International Ltd.
City: Liverpool, England
Style: Alcoholic Ginger Beer
Availability: 42 U.S. states, most recently Florida.