Ginger Beer is the New Cider

Photo courtesy Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer

If orange is the new black and 60 is the new 50, then ginger beer just might be the new cider.

Ginger beer may be soft (nonalcoholic) or hard and it’s simply a combination of fresh ginger root, sugar, yeast and water that becomes naturally fizzy long before the juice turns alcoholic.

A few years ago, it seemed the percentage of menu space devoted to hard ciders grew exponentially. Now the same thing seems to be happening with hard ginger beer, so we asked some producers what this phenomenon is about and for some ginger “beertails” (cocktails made with beer).

“It’s not for everyone…you need to enjoy that burn on the sternum,” says Rick Anand, the creator of Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer. Brewed in Kingston, think of this spicy elixir as a malty alternative or “malternative” more than a ginger wine. “Ginger is brewed into the mash; it’s not ginger concentrate added. We use blue ginger and cane sugar from Jamaica,” explains Anand. And while the alcohol is moderate (4.5 percent ABV), Anand says if there were an IBU (international bitterness units) scale for ginger beer, Royal Jamaican would be at the top. “We’re using one of the highest amounts of ginger in our beer,” he notes.

Anand loves to pair Royal Jamaican with barbeque, spicy Asian foods such as a good curry, or even Japanese cuisine. It almost goes without saying that Royal Jamaican pairs well with jerked chicken.

Most ginger beer fans are aware of the rising popularity of Moscow Mules (vodka, ginger beer and lime juice, presented over crushed ice in a copper mug), but one of Anand’s favorite beertails is the Kingston Press: two ounces Royal Jamaican Gold Rum and four ounces Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer; fill a tall glass with ice and garnish with a lemon wedge. Or be a purist and “serve Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer over ice with a lemon.”

Mike Clark thinks hard ginger beer is a natural complement to Sprecher Brewery’s products, since the company is known for its craft sodas such as root beer, cherry cola and ginger ale – which devotees say is different from most commercial ginger ales. On the malternative side, Sprecher makes hard versions of many of its sodas: root beer, orange soda, cola and cherry cola.

Sprecher is a Milwaukee-based company that fire brews its products. Clark says using direct flame instead of steam under the kettles produces a caramelization of flavors that’s unique. (Fire-brewing was popular in Europe before World War I and later was adopted by the old Stroh’s Brewery in Detroit.) Clark describes Sprecher Hard Ginger Beer as “not too sweet with a dry finish…It has a natural ginger flavor that gives it a refreshing crispness.” He enjoys pairing it with smoked meats or Asian-inspired dishes. “It’s really good with sushi because the ginger cuts the wasabi,” he adds. Clark suggests thinking outside the infield for Derby parties and making a Kentucky Mule: bourbon, Sprecher Hard Ginger Beer, fresh lime and don’t forget the mint sprig.

Ginger has long been considered a spice with curative powers for ailments from an upset stomach to joint pain. So even if your horse doesn’t place, sipping some ginger beer may make the results more palatable.

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