A Brief History of Ginger Beer

For all of you that read my blog, I apologize for the long length of time since I last wrote. I took a hiatus from all things social media including blogging. As the fall approaches and life moves on I feel a need to start sharing my love of ginger with you, the people.

This post will be a shortened history lesson about Ginger Beer, its origins and the different ways it exists in our cultures today. My sources include: the Ginger Beer Wikipedia page which has it’s own list of references, The Art of Fermentation and thetemper.com)

Ginger Beer Origins

Ginger Beer was first created in Yorkshire, England in the 1700s during the colonial spice trade. It was made by mixing ginger, sugar water and optional lemon and/or cream of tarter together and leaving it to sit and ferment. Once the mixture was bubbly and slightly alcoholic it would be strained off and a portion of the old batch would be used to make the new. Though the name is deceiving, it was never actually a beer, but rather the production methods were similar.

Ginger Beer “Plant”

The Ginger Beer “Plant” is the community of bacteria and yeast that make up the fermented solids of the Ginger Beer. This gelatinous mass that floats on the top of the liquid is made up of the yeast Saccharomyces florentinus (formerly S. pyriformis) and the bacterium Lactobacillus hilgardii (formerly Brevibacterium vermiforme). this “Plant” is also referred to as a SCOBY and is similar to kefir, kombucha and tibicos production.

The Ginger Beer Confusion of Today

Ginger Beer and Ginger Ale get thrown in the same category together, but are by no means the same thing. Ginger Ale is a sweet soda that is flavored with ginger extract while Ginger Beer is a drier, fermented beverage containing real ginger root and probiotics. Since the resurgence of Ginger Beer in modern culture, helped by the craft cocktail movement, many companies will call their product a Ginger Beer, when it is in fact a Ginger Ale. If you’re unsure of what you are buying just look at the back of the label. Ginger Beer ingredients should include: real ginger root (non of that “extract” nonsense,) lower sugar content (if it’s above 20-30 grams of sugar per serving, guess what, it’s a soda,) and some kind of fermented or soured ingredient (take our House Cultured Ginger Vinegar for example.)

I hope you enjoyed my brief history of this amazing drink and spark your thirst for a cold, spicy Ginger Beer.

Gabriel Oliver-Kose