April 9, 2009

Ginger Beer Tasting Part I

Ginger Beer Tasting: 15 gingers, 1 dark rum, and a shit load of limes...May the best ginger win. South Lake Tahoe, California - March 21, 2009

A public service is any service rendered for the greater good of the public interest. And in that spirit 2 Out of Three, in association with the Best Cabin ever, held it’s first ever ginger beer tasting on March 21 in South Lake Tahoe. The mission was to establish a pecking order for ginger beers, specifically in the mixation of a Dark ‘n Stormy. The blue ribbon panel consisted of veteran Dark ‘n Stormy tasters, including, but not limited to William Lavery, Robert “Frodo” Sostak, Bea Leung and yours truly.


Normally we frown on rules at 2 Out of Three but as this tasting was for the greater good and to avoid the unpleasantries of an inebreated judging panel it was prudent to apply a bit of structure. 15 ginger beers were divided into five groupings. Within each grouping the judges did a solo sampling and then mixed up a Dark N’ Stormy to determine if any new flavor notes would be revealed when combined with the drink’s other ingredients – Goslings Dark Rum and lime. The judges then scored the ginger beer on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being utter crap that hereupon will never meet your lips again and 10 being proof that God does exist and he/she loves us). The scores were then averaged to attain an overall rating for each ginger beer. In order to uphold the storied tradition established on the beaches and boat decks of Bermuda the below key and results should be consulted before picking the ginger that’s right for your Dark ‘n Stormy.

Key:

  • Score 8-10: Buy it, steal it, do whatever you can because this ginger is worth your hard earned dollars or the prison time.
  • Score  6-7: Solid ginger beer. Can be whipped into a decent Dark ‘n Stormy
  • Score 5: In a pinch these slightly underwhelming gingers will do the trick
  • 4 and under: Stay away, far away from these. Our expert panel has done the leg work so you don’t have to suffer.

Cock ‘n Bull

Cock 'n Bull ginger beer

(score 8.43) (final rank 3 of 15)

Already an establish favorite of our judging crew Cock ‘n Bull can be found in most San Francisco bars that serve a D ‘n S (noteably Hobson’s Choice and Bruno’s). Tasting notes included a stronger ginger scent than taste, a clear appearance and a low spiciness score (1). Cock ‘n Bull has a brisk start and a smooth finish and when mixed into a D ‘n S our tasters all agreed “it was like coming home”. In the final assessment Cock ‘n Bull is a top performer and should be stocked in any self respecting D ‘n S’ers fridge.

Buderim Ginger

Buderim Ginger

(score 5.29) (final rank 10 of 15)

A late edition to the lineup I was really excited to try this unheard of variety. Billed as “Aussie style” (a “Yank” style, which we have yet to sample, does exists) Buderim comes strong with the ginger flavor upon first taste and then lingers with a medium hit of spice (a 4 on the spice scale). It’s golden color takes away from the storm clouds provided by the application of Goslings. Overall our judges were disappointed in the Buderim describing the mixed cocktail as muddled with the ginger being overpowered by the rum and lime.

Maine Root

Maine Root Ginger Beer

(score 7.86) (final rank 5 of 15)

After carrying back two bottles of the Maine Root from New Mexico I was fired up to give it a try. Subsequently I’ve spotted the Maine Root at both a Cost Plus World Market in Fairfield, CA and the Whole Foods in Santa Cruz, CA. A fresca like color hides a solid kick of spice (5) in the Maine Root. The spice intensifies as it lingers in your mouth, possibly because of it’s slightly syrupy texture. It’s flavor is more unique than most gingers and worth a sampling. Due to it’s spiciness you won’t be able to put down glass after glass of a D ‘n S made with this stuff but that can sometimes be a good thing.

Vita Malt

Vita Malt Ginger

(score 0.4) (final rank 15 of 15)

It don’t look like ginger beer, it don’t taste like ginger beer, in fact it’s a malt drink that just happened to have the ginger flavor. In the interest of science we ended up tasting the Vita Malt and mixing it into a D ‘n S which was a mistake. Molasses is a decent enough flavor, but I just don’t ever want to see it anywhere near dark rum and a lime.

Bunderberg

Bunderberg ginger beer

(score 9) (final rank 1 of 15)

In Australia, where Bunderberg is made, the company makes a pre-mixed Dark ‘n Stormy stubby so we were pretty sure these guys knew how to craft a fine ginger beer. Our judging panel found very few faults with the Bunderberg, declaring it a “great dance partner”. One judge went so far as to exclaim “I would drink the shit out of that!”. It has a clear yellow look and sits very light inside your mouth. Lacking the spicy kick found in some of the other gingers it’s very refreshing and sweet – making you want to go back for another sip before you’ve finished the last one. Whether it’s a hot summer day on the porch, or the snow is blanketing your driveway, Bunderberg makes one hell of a D’ n S and is the gold standard for ginger beers.

Stewart’s

Stewart's Ginger

(score 5.29) (final rank 10 of 15)

Bite baby bite, that burning sensation in the back of your throat is just the way Stewart’s says hello. As an 8 on the spicy scale you’ll progressively take fewer sips of this ginger beer as you’ll be forced to wait for your mouth to cool off. The excessive spice also found it’s way into a few of our judge’s noses due to a high level of carbonation. It’s deep golden brown color obscured all storm cloud visibility during the mixing of a D ‘n S. Once mixed, the rum and lime flavors are almost completely drowned out leaving a less than refreshing D ‘n S. Stewart’s ginger beer scored just above the Mendoza line meaning it’s an acceptable mixer for a D n S, but you won’t see me rushing out to pick up a case.

The Ginger Peoples

The Ginger Peoples Ginger Beer

(score 2.33) (final rank 12 of 15)

“Gently tip to and fro and enjoy” is a tag line on the bottle of the Ginger Peoples and it had our judges feeling whimsical and ready to pop open this drink. You can tell the makers are serious about ginger, after all they named their entire company after it. At first pour you’ll notice a cloudy almost grapefruit looking appearance, as well as the strong scent of ginger. Unfortunately after the pour everything went downhill. Being called the “Mountain Dew of ginger beers” or noticing a “hint of a metallic” flavor were not meant as compliments by our judges. High expectations can sometimes be blamed for low scores but that is not the case here, this ginger beer just flat out sucks.

A few images from the tasting

The official logo for the Ginger Tasting: If there is enough demand we will produce t-shirts

All 15 of the Ginger Beers in our tasting lined up in a classic South Lake Tahoe storm

On your mark, get set, start tasting

Robert Sostak inspecting Vita Malt, we later discovered it was not a ginger beer

Bea Leung served as the record keeper during the tasting

Seven ginger beers down, eight to go. Coming up in part II: Can anyone top Bunderberg’s high score of 9?; how Ike Turner and ginger beer are related; and instructions for a hot summer days.

Editors Notes:

We were able to acquire almost all available ginger beers our judging panel had knowledge of, with the exception of Barritt’s. If anyone out there knows where to purchase Barritt’s in the San Francisco Bay Area please let us know.

*Update: The good people at Barritt’s were nice enough to ship us a case which we reviewed in out 2010 tasting. You can stock up on Barritt’s and support this site by purchasing a couple of 4 packs on Amazon.

For another ginger beer tasting see the Cocktail Nerds Ginger Beer Extravaganza – an excellent review – albeit skewed due to the editors preference for Moscow Mules.

16 comments

  1. Tina on

    Thank you for this thorough review. I am looking into trying Cock & Bull Ginger beer, after reading about it here, I will definitely give it a try 🙂

  2. John McLean on

    Thank you for your positive feedback on my business and for ranking our Ginger Beer so highly – we to believe we have a brilliant product offering.

    Our family owned business creates hand crafted products that are refreshing on themselves and with a mixer – such as Rum in Dark and Stormy.

    If passing through Bundaberg in your travels, drop in for a sample.

    Cheers

  3. Walt on

    Hard to find ginger beer around the QC area. Reeds (don’t go there) and somettimes Sioux City (pretty good stuff). I ran across Stewarts on a trip to KC. Thought it was sensational. While I can’t vouch for its mixability, I loved the bite and great carbonation. Certainly not a soda you’ll guzzle, but very refreshing.

  4. Eric on

    As a fan of the bite, I enjoy Stewart’s but agree entirely with your review. In a mixed drink I don’t think that it would fare as well as many others. It’s a bit disappointing that I can’t find it anywhere in the Seattle region, as back when I was in NJ I could just hop down to the Stewart’s store and pick up a case!

  5. Abraham on

    @Eric, I may have some bad news for you. I’ve heard Stewart’s discontinued their ginger beer. I can’t confirm this but I haven’t seen it for sale in over a year.

  6. Mark Wiles on

    As a fan of Stewart’s ginger beer which brand has to same zest and bite as Stewart’s? I appreciate any and all opinions. Making Moscow Mules and not Dark and Stormies. Thank you.

  7. Mark Wiles on

    @Abraham I appreciate your help and I’ll definitely give it a try. I’ve even gone as far as trying to make my own ginger beer, but of course it never turns out very good. Thanks again.

  8. masterchiefmas on

    I became a fan of ginger beers while visiting New Zealand several years ago, after trying Bunderberg on a whim. I was excited to find it at World Market after returning to the states and was disappointed in the US product. The Australian version has much more bite and much less sweetness, I assume because of the general belief Americans prefer everything sweeter. As a result I began sampling all the ginger beers I could find, and for me, I much prefer Maine Root to anything else out there, but I look for the bite that I had in the Australian version of Bunderberg.

  9. David on

    Ah, a trip down memory lane to the dark days before Fever Tree existed. Who in their right mind would even think of using Bunderberg for a cocktail mixer anymore? It’s still good as a straight-up soda, mind you.

  10. Ramsay "RC" Cowlishaw on

    Hello lads –
    I wanted to let you know a couple of things:
    1) I dig your reviews – I’m a die-hard ginger beer drinker, either by itself or in a mule, a D&S or a Cold Fusion.

    2) Stewarts’ ginger beer is now a dodo – hold on to any bottles you may have and auction them off to the highest bidder!

    3) The review from CocktailNerds is no longer available either – they’re a dedicated e-cig site now.

    4) There is no 4.

  11. Jamaican on

    To the readers looking for DG ginger beer, look for it at a Jamaican restaurant/ goods store if you have one near you.