While ginger beer and ginger ale may seem synonymous, these two ginger-based drinks differ in many crucial respects. Simply put, from brewing to serving, they have only ginger to share and pretty much everything else to differ from.
Despite their differences, however, these drinks are a treasure for all lovers of ginger’s flavor and sharp tang. They have been enjoyed both plain and in alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, and they can even be beneficial for the health.
In fact, as ginger is a healthy root, some people use ginger beer and ginger ale as home remedies to combat stomach troubles, sore throat, nausea, and heartburn. This is because ginger has oils which have an extremely beneficial effect on health.
And, even if you don’t drink it with the active purpose of improving your health, the aromatic kick from the ginger is a great way to spice up your day. Young people choose ginger beer and ginger ale increasingly due to their similarity to alcoholic beverages, and many people prefer them for their lower calorie count and lighter taste.
Because of their unique aroma, appearance, and health benefits, the demand for these drinks is only growing. Reuters and MarketWatch report that market analyses project a healthy increase in growth both in the ginger beer and the ginger ale market.
But the question remains: what is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer, and how will this difference affect your choice? Here is what you might want to know.
The Origins and History of Ginger Beer and Ginger Ale
Ginger is one of the oldest spices known to mankind, dating back over five centuries. It was first discovered by the ancient Chinese and Indian cultures, and it was introduced to the western world by the Roman empire in the first century AD. However, it was not until the 1800s that ginger received its first alcoholic twist in the form of ginger beer.
Originating in England, this drink was made by fermenting sugar, ginger, water, and sometimes lemon with a starter culture. This resulted in a brew that contained anywhere between 2-11% alcohol by volume (abv).
Interestingly, ginger beer was in many ways a product of necessity, as people used to rely on the bacteria-killing alcohol levels to combat the general lack of safe drinking water. The addition of ginger served to provide a mild, pleasant spiciness that made the drink more palatable.
With the introduction of carbonation, ginger beer started to receive a non-alcoholic interpretation. Today, it is generally considered a soft drink, with some exceptions where it still contains some alcohol and is labeled as ‘alcoholic ginger beer.’
Ginger ale is claimed to have been first invented in the late 1800s by Thomas Joseph Cantrell, an Irish apothecary and surgeon. It was the early version of what today is accepted as the widely known and consumed ginger ale.
Also known as golden ginger ale, this type of drink was characterized by a darker color, sweet taste, and a strong ginger spice flavor. It did not contain alcohol.
A hundred years later, Canadian chemist and pharmacist John McLaughlin added the flavor extract of the ginger root to soda water to create the pale dry ginger ale, which he patented as “Canada Dry Ginger Ale.”
The popularity of the pale dry ginger ale quickly rose to the extent that it surpassed the golden ginger ale and ginger beer, and became a staple in bars, supermarkets, and airlines. Today, it is the common version of ginger ale, produced commercially by many brands.
The Differences Between Ginger Beer and Ginger Ale
Despite their names, neither ginger beer nor ginger ale have alcohol. They are both based on the ginger root, as the names imply, and most varieties contain real ginger root. However, this is where the similarities end.
Ginger beer and ginger ale differ in many respects, from how they are made to how they taste, what nutritional value they have, and how they are used.
How They Are Made
Ginger beer and ginger ale are produced in two distinctively different methods.
Despite being non-alcoholic, ginger beer has retained its traditional production methods of brewing. Manufacturers nowadays control the fermentation period to avoid the rise in alcohol content.
Nevertheless, because of fermentation, ginger beer can contain less than 0.5% abv, which classifies it as a non-alcoholic beverage. Since ginger beer is fermented, it is less carbonated.
Ginger ale, on the other hand, is the result of adding ginger flavoring to carbonated, sparkling water. It does not require any fermentation, and sugar and/or corn syrup are added for a sweeter taste.
The Taste and Appearance
Because of the different manufacturing methods, these two drinks tend to differ considerably both in taste and look.
Ginger beer is less carbonated, can be either clear or cloudy, with a spicy whiff, and a strong, distinct taste of ginger. Because of the natural fermentation process, ginger beer tends to develop a beer-like head when poured into a glass. Ginger ale, on the other hand, has a mellow, sweeter taste and is always transparent.
However, these differences are not always so evident, as some companies choose to naturally brew both their ginger beer and ale, while others decide to add stronger flavors to carbonated water to mark the difference between the beer and ale variant.
Additionally, some ginger ales are notorious for using artificial flavorings which have little to do with the real ginger root. So, if you are looking to experience the full health benefits ginger has to offer, the safer option would be to go for a ginger beer.
In any case, the main difference between the ginger beer and ginger ale comes down to taste, with ginger beer having a stronger and spicier kick, and ginger ale being sweeter and mellow.
Ginger beer and ginger ale are also known for receiving some variations in flavor. Ginger ale is more varied in terms of flavors, coming in varieties such as green tea, cranberry, blackberry, cherry, pomegranate, and peach.
Ginger beer, on the other hand, sticks to more citrusy flavors such as lime, lemon, and pineapple.
Ginger beer and ginger ale do not differ greatly in terms of nutritional values. Ginger ale is the lighter option, with 125.1 calories and 32.3 grams of sugar per can (12 fl oz). Ginger beer is a bit heavier but nevertheless very close to ginger ale, with 140 calories and 35 grams of sugar per can or bottle (12 fl oz).
Ginger Ale vs. Ginger Beer in Cocktails: Can You Substitute One for the Other?
Ginger beer is a famous mixer in cocktails, being a staple ingredient in cocktails such as the Moscow Mule, Dark’N’Stormy, Ginger Apple Cooler, and many others. Ginger ale, on the other hand, is generally used in non-alcoholic cocktails. If you want to go by the book when making cocktails, it is best that you stick to ginger beer where ginger beer is due.
This is because the flavor profiles of these two drinks are noticeably different. When paired with alcohol in cocktails, ginger beer can hold its own due to its robust flavor. Ginger ale has a gentle flavor and a sweeter note, which can easily result in its taste becoming muddled and hidden in the drink.
However, in the end, it all comes down to preference and taste. If you want to substitute ginger ale for ginger beer in your cocktail, you can do it, but you will get a different drink.
For example, swapping ale for beer in the Moscow Mule will give it a sweeter, fuzzier, and bubblier texture, opposed to the more intense, citrusy flavor of the original Moscow Mule.
The Health Benefits of Ginger Beer and Ginger Ale
Considering that ginger beer and ginger ale contain ginger root, these drinks have health benefits which make them a worthwhile refreshment. That is, of course, if the flavorings in the drinks are natural.
The health benefits of these drinks are due to the presence of gingerol. Gingerol is the most important of the natural oils that make up the unique fragrance and flavor of the ginger root.
Gingerol has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and it helps in a variety of health-related situations:
Ginger beer and ginger ale can help to combat many forms of nausea, including morning sickness and motion sickness.
Reducing Muscle Pain and Soreness
Ginger has a positive effect on exercise-induced muscle pain. It is believed that this effect is due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Helping with Indigestion
Indigestion can lead to pain and discomfort in the upper part of the stomach. Drinking ginger beer or ale can facilitate the emptying of the stomach.
Lowering Cholesterol Levels
Ginger has a positive effect on the reduction of cholesterol levels in the body, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of gingerol, drinking ginger beer or ginger ale can help to inhibit the growth of different types of bacteria, especially ones which cause inflammatory diseases in the gums.
Improving Brain Function
The bioactive and antioxidant compounds found in ginger can help to inhibit inflammatory responses that occur in the brain, thus slowing down its aging process. It has also been found that ginger can improve the reaction time of the brain and boost its working memory.
Some Popular Brands of Ginger Beer and Ginger Ale
Many companies globally manufacture ginger beer and ginger ale. Here are some of the most popular brands.
Ginger Beer Brands:
- Barritts Bermuda Ginger Beer
- Brooklyn Crafted Ginger Beers
- Bundaberg Ginger Beer
- Fentimans Traditional Ginger Beer
- Fever-Tree Ginger Beer
- Maine Root Spicy Ginger Brew
- Old Jamaica Ginger Beer
- Q Ginger Beer
- Reed's Extra Ginger Brew
- Zevia Mixer Ginger Beer
Ginger Ale Brands:
- Boylan Ginger Ale
- Bruce Cost
- Canada Dry
- Polar (Original & Golden)
- Q Ginger Ale
- Red Rock
- Verdant Kitchen
The Bottom Line
Ginger beer and ginger ale are popular drinks which deserve a taste both for the flavor experience and their health benefits. Although they are both non-alcoholic and derived from the ginger root, they differ in some crucial respects that range from manufacturing to serving.
However, the main difference comes down to flavor. If you are someone who prefers a stronger kick from the ginger taste and aroma, you should opt for a bottle of ginger beer. If, on the other hand, you would rather go for a mellow and sweeter taste, then ginger ale may be your best choice. In either case, enjoy!