“Yaroo!” Billy Bunter would have cried. “Here’s the ginger beer.” And the Famous Five never went on an adventure without some.
To get a flavour of what those original brews might have tasted like, try a bottle of Fentimans Traditional Ginger Beer. Fentimans makes a range of mixers – and non-alcoholic ginger beer ‘botanically brewed’ in Northumberland to a traditional recipe. Great ginger flavour and a refreshing change after the seasonal excesses. Available in farm shops, up-market bars and in my local Waitrose at £2.09 a 750ml bottle.
There is a growing interest in alcoholic ginger beer and many are produced locally, but when supermarkets start offering their own-label versions then you know there is a serious market out there. Research locally – but to start, here are three found in supermarkets and for which I set up a special tasting panel…
Crabbies Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer has gained wide supermarket distribution. At four percent abv and born from the excellent alcoholic Green Ginger Wine made in Leith, Scotland (Edinburgh’s port), it follows the same real ingredients traditions and steeped and vat matured for eight weeks. The result is a stimulating adult drink. In Sainsbury’s at £1.99 for 500 ml and widely available elsewhere.
Sainsbury’s also offers its own label Alcoholic Ginger Beer, also four percent, which seems to be the general standard strength for ginger beers. At £1.89 for 500 ml, it’s really just a matter of taste.
Aldi offers Church’s four percent at a bargain £1.49 per 500ml. It is brewed by Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire, well known up there for its pubs and a vast range of real ale beers. The label says ‘best poured over ice’ which gives a clue to its character. Sharply fizzy, musky ginger, not too sweet so a good session drinker. Good value and worth a try.
My tasting panel was led by a ginger beer enthusiast from my local sailing club with a few friends, not all ginger beer lovers. They reported:
“We liked the fact that it is ‘good for you’, ginger being reputed to have incredible healing powers. Perfect for this time of year. No discussion on alcoholic content. Everyone assumed they all were and were pleasantly surprised to find the Fentimans was not. Perfect for the driver. Screw top means you can put it back in the fridge.”
On points, Fentimans won for ginger flavour and overall favourite product. Church’s won for fizziness and came second overall, with Sainsbury’s Own Label just one point behind. Crabbies seems to be liked by people who normally drink bitter rather than ginger beer. Try them all and any local ones you can find with your own test group. It is good fun.
If you want the Fentimans flavour but miss the alcohol, you can use it to make your own mixes! Try adding dark rum or Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum for the famous Dark & Stormy cocktail – invented in Bermuda and a favourite in Australia using Bundaberg Queensland rum.
Ginger beer is also a great summer drink and can go happily with lemon and ice. Add its healthy and anti-seasickness reputation and you have two good reasons to have ginger beer with or without the alcohol on board next season.
Happy New Year!
Read In The Drink every month in All At Sea