The History of Ginger Beer

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It’s one of the worlds most popular drinks both on it’s on it’s own and used in cocktails: the humble ginger beer. 

Even though how it’s made has changed over the years, the flavours in the bottle are still one of a kind and can be used in many different ways. 

As far as we know, ginger has been used in different ways as early as 500 BC. Ancient China used it as medicine and to flavour food. In the west, people used it to flavour drinks. During the Victorian era, a drink was brewed that was called ginger beer. 

The drink as we know it today was first brewed in Yorkshire England in the mid-1700s. From there, it’s popularity exploded across the British Empire including what became Canada. 

The most popular way to make ginger beer back in the day was to use the obviously named “ginger beer plant.” It had other names like “bees wine,” but for the purposes of this blog, it’s the ginger beer plant. The name plant was also a little misleading as it was more of a fungus than a plant, but would you want to drink something made of ginger beer fungus? Probably not. 

Anyway, the ginger plant would be included with water, sugar, ginger and flavours (such as lemon and even cream of tartar) that individual brewers would pick to brew with. The mixture would be left to ferment for several days before it was ready. 

When the ginger beer plant made it’s way to the UK, some of the plant used to be saved to use in future batches, almost like a sourdough starter. Some supplies were handed down through generations. 

For a variety of reasons, whether it be safety or supply, the ginger beer plant is hardly used today, if at all. 

Brewers have found you can come up with similar results using using the same ingredients (water, sugar and ginger), just replacing the ginger beer plant with brewer’s or baker’s yeast. 

Ginger beer is available with or without alcohol already in it. 

On it’s own, ginger beer can be quite bitter. So, if you’re going to drink it as just a ginger beer, then adding ice and lemon is highly recommended to cut down some of that bitterness for a more balanced drink.

Otherwise, ginger beer can be used in a variety of cocktails most notably the Moscow Mule (vodka, lime and ice) or a Dark and Stormy (dark rum, bitters and ice.) 

While those drinks are the most popular cocktails using ginger beer, the options are virtually limitless and a quick Google will give you all kinds of options. 

What’s your favourite way to enjoy ginger beer? 

Joel Gasson