Ranking the Best Ginger Ales

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There may be no more versatile soft drink than ginger ale. Drink it to settle your stomach or soothe your sore throat. Add rum for a Fidel Castro, whiskey for a Highball or beer for a Shandygaff. If you want to drink it straight, you can choose from a sweet golden ginger ale to a classic dry ginger ale to any number of fruit flavored varieties.

Developed in England and Ireland during the 1840s, a carbonated version quickly became the most popular soft drink in America, where both golden (barrel-aged) and dry styles were invented. During Prohibition, ginger ale was used to mask homemade or bootlegged liquor. It was eclipsed in the 20th century by sweeter sodas, but it’s having a bit of a renaissance lately with several drink-makers foregoing the corn syrup in favor or cane sugar and healthy heapings of actual ginger.

We wanted to know what the very best ginger ale was, so we got our hands on 23 different bottles to put in front of our tasting panel. We didn’t include Ginger Beer, which will get its own tasting later. Each brand was judged on its overall flavor and it’s gingery-ness. Here, we count down to the best ginger ales we could find.

poland-pom.jpg 23. Polar Pomegranate Ginger Ale
City: Worcester, Mass.
Ginger Flavor: Very low
The Verdict: One judge said, “smells like cough syrup, tastes like a melted Jolly Rancher.” Another said, “Cherry 7-Up.” It reminded me more of Strawberry Jello before it sets. We could all agree that it was ginger ale in name only and not something we wanted to drink.

zevia.jpg 22. Zevia Ginger Ale
City: Los Angeles, Calif.
Ginger Flavor: Very low
The Verdict: Everyone in Los Angeles has decided that sugar is worse for you than cocaine, so leave it to that city to come up with a zero-calorie line of soft drinks, including ginger ale. Unfortunately real ginger must have calories, because all I tasted was the natural Stevia sweetener.

polar-diet.jpg 21. Polar Diet
City: Worcester, Mass.
Ginger Flavor: Very low
The Verdict: Sweetened with aspartame, Polar’s zero-calorie ginger ale had a strong cola-like artificial sweetness and not much ginger flavor.

polar-green-tea.jpg 20. Polar Green Tea
City: Worcester, Mass.
Ginger Flavor: Very low
The Verdict: While the tea element smells and tastes like sweet tea, there wasn’t much ginger flavor to balance. One of our judges was excited about how this might pair with a whiskey, but none were too excited about it on its own.

gus-ginger.jpg 19. GuS Extra Dry
City: New York, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Low
The Verdict: GuS stands for “Grown-up Soda” and bills itself as an alternative to over-sweet soft drinks. I enjoyed the subtle ginger and extra-dry profile, but most of our judges felt like there wasn’t enough of any kind of flavor. Recommended if you’re looking for a bone-dry, mild ginger ale.

ale-8-1.jpg 18. Ale-8-1
City: Winchester, Kent.
Ginger Flavor: Low
The Verdict: Since 1926, Ale 8-1 (“a late one”) has been a Kentucky tradition. With lemon-lime fruitiness, the beverage has more in common with Sprite or 7-Up than with most of the other entries on this list. It reminded our panel of Trix cereal or Flavor Stripe chewing gum, but that’s not always a bad thing.

polar-golden.jpg 17. Polar Golden
City: Worcester, Mass.
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: This a much higher ginger content than regular Polar, this funky concoction is also truer to the original style of oak-aged ginger ales. The flavor is much sweeter, almost cola-like, and the color is a rich amber.

gingeroo.jpg 16. Gingeroo
City: New Orleans, La.
Ginger Flavor: High
The Verdict: What the hell just happened here? Okay, with a 10% alcohol by volume, Gingeroo might not even really belong on this list. But it’s marketed as “ginger ale.” This is much, much boozier than its 10% label. The ginger content may be high, but all we could taste was Spring Break. Not for the faint of heart.

schweppes.jpg 15. Schweppes
City: London, U.K.
Ginger Flavor: Low
The Verdict: Very light and a little sweet, Schweppes was almost indistinguishable from its competitor Seagrams. It was the mildest of the mass-produced ginger ales.

seagrams.jpg 14. Seagram’s
City: Montreal, Canada
Ginger Flavor: Low
The Verdict: Like Schweppes, Canadian brand Seagram’s is faintly sweet and very light. As one judge said, “tastes like a childhood illness begging for Saltines.”

boylans.jpg 13. Boylan Ginger Ale
City: Teterboro, N.J.
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: Surprisingly sweet, Boylan’s ginger ale lacked the dry ginger bite of some of its craft brethren. A smooth but solid offering for those who want something a little more interesting than the mass-produced ginger ales without diving deep into the true ginger waters.

poland-ginger.jpg 12. Polar Original
City: Worcester, Mass.
Ginger Flavor: Low
The Verdict: Not very gingery, but pleasantly refreshing, Polar is closer to Canada Dry than Schweppes and Seagram’s. It tastes like ginger ale from a soda fountain.

bruce-cost-66.jpg 11. Bruce Cost 66
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: We tasted several offerings from Bruce Cost, and the low-cal “66” was unsurprisingly the weakest. Lightly sweetened with cane sugar, the ginger flavor still comes through clear but not overpowering.

verdant-kitchen.jpg 10. Verdant Kitchen
City: Savannah, Ga.
Ginger Flavor: High
The Verdict: Possibly the sweetest ginger ale we tasted, Verdant Kitchen has big ginger kick balanced by cane sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Citrusy and floral, it’s a complex flavor unlike anything else on the table.

bruce-cost-pomegranite.jpg 9. Bruce Cost Pomegranate
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: Unlike Polar’s attempts to combine pomegranite and ginger ale, Bruce Cost’s version was a pleasant mix with strong red berry flavor. Still maybe a hint too sweet for most of the judge’s tastes.

bruce-cost-jasmine.jpg 8. Bruce Cost Jasmine Tea
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: All of Bruce Cost’s offerings had so much fruit and ginger settled on the bottom that they need to be shaken lightly (gingerly?) before pouring, but none more so than the Jasmine Tea, which is full of floaties. The tea flavor is even stronger than the ginger, making for a bitter punch.

q-ginger.jpg 7. Q Ginger Ale
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: High
The Verdict: Very dry, like a glass of club soda with several cloves of fresh ginger, we really liked the complex spiciness of Q, which is even stronger on the nose than the palate.

bruce-cost-passion.jpg 6. Bruce Cost Passion Fruit
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Low
The Verdict: As thick and viscous as O.J., the passion fruit didn’t spend much time in the blender. Packed with passion fruit flavor and just a hint of ginger.

canada-dry.jpg 5. Canada Dry
City: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: The best of the mass-produced ginger ales, Canada Dry was drier and crisper than its competitors (and fellow Canada Dry Mott’s brand Schweppes). A simple classic and the best ginger ale that comes in a plastic bottle, the ginger shines through clear.

red-rock.jpg 4. Red Rock
City: Atlanta, Ga.
Ginger Flavor: Very high
The Verdict: Founded in Atlanta in 1885, Red Rock claims “just the right amount of kick,” which is true if you’re looking for the ginger to really kick your ass. Spice heavy and prickly, the sweetness and hint of fruitiness make for a tasty combination.

bruce-cost-blood-orange.jpg 3. Bruce Cost Blood Orange
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Medium
The Verdict: Our favorite of the flavored ginger ales, the Bruce Cost Blood Orange is a pulpy, yummy soda with a citrusy punch that we imagine would make for some very interesting cocktails.

blenheim.jpg 2. Blenheim #5 Not as Hot Ginger Ale
City: Blenheim, S.C.
Ginger Flavor: Very high
The Verdict: This is what most self-respecting mixologists stock behind the bar, and for good reason. Even the “Not as Hot” version we tasted packed enough spice to warm the back of your throat. Not the driest of the bunch by far, but there’s enough ginger to balance the sweetness and make for an interesting drink.

bruce-cost-original.jpg 1. Bruce Cost Ginger Ale Original
City: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Ginger Flavor: Very high
The Verdict: The champion of our ginger tasting is only for those who take the first half of the name “Ginger Ale” seriously. This drink goes down clear-your-sinuses hot with the most pure, assertive ginger flavor of the bunch. Drink it with sushi, and you can leave the pink stuff on your plate.

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