Rum & Ginger, Part 3

Back again for more about Rum and Ginger Ale, but first I have to review another ginger ale. This one is Boylan’s, which I found in a local Trader Joe’s.

Boylan’s Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, citrus oils, natural ginger flavors, citric acid, caramel color, sodium benzoate

I bought a 4-pack at Trader Joe’s and seem to remember it being about $4, though it could have been $4.50. This is in line with most others in this area, like the Outrageous. This company from New Jersey makes a number of sodas made with cane sugar, and also produces a small line called “The Natural Kind” without artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives. Alas, no ginger ale in this line.

Small bubbles, but crisp. A bit sweet but not bad. Decent ginger taste, but still milder than I’d like. It has a much milder taste than the Whole Foods’ 365, but the Boylan’s does taste a bit more natural. The bubbles in the Boylan’s are much better though, which isn’t too difficult against the 365. The Boylan’s has noticeably more taste than the Schweppes, and actually has better bubbles, too. This is quite good, actually, and might be preferred by many since it tastes more like a typical ginger ale than the other cane sugar ales.

Back to the Rum & Ginger
I had planned on using the 365 for tonight’s comparison, but the Boylan’s beats it so I’ll try that instead. I opened a Schweppes and a 365 for the above comparison, so they might get thrown in if the mood strikes me.

Due to comments from Hank and Adam, I’ll be trying the Appleton V/X and the Appleton Extra tonight. Hank has mentioned that he enjoys the V?X with ginger ale, while Adam says that the “Appleton VX is very hard to play with.” And he suggest the Appleton Extra while I’m a bit worried about the barrel/smoke in this rum. We’ll see. I’m also going to through in a couple high-end rums that aren’t overly bold like the El Dorado I tried a few nights ago. A comment from Angelsword made me think about the Vizcaya VXOP, and once I grabbed that I revealed a bottle of Flor De Caña 18-year-old. What the heck.

Same lowball recipe as before – 1oz rum, 2oz ginger ale, a bit of lime. I’m going somewhere in between with the lime tonight – a gentle squeeze of a wedge. Since I found that the Stirrings’ already contained lime flavorings I’ll probably need a little bit more tonight.

Appleton V/X And Boylan’s
The rum and ginger ale have fused into a whole new taste, but not quite a pleasant one. The first part of the sip is simply odd, a bit of rum comes up and is followed by some ginger. Alas, neither really make themselves known, but rather pass quickly by. This is a bit dry. A bit more lime might help… and it does get better. It’s not odd any more, but it’s not great.

Appleton Extra and Boylan’s
I hit this with a bit more lime to start, hoping that it has an effect like it did on the V/X. This is decent, it seems. The rum comes through quite a bit, and the lime just a touch, but I’m wishing there was more ginger in here. Overall, it’s a little bit too rummy so another splash of ginger ale goes in, and it’s better. But still, the ginger itself is lost. It’s decent, but not a great balance of flavors.

Vizcaya VXOP and Boylan’s
I have no idea what made me pick this rum tonight, but I did want to try some high-end rums in this comparison, and this is such a damned nice rum. In a Rum & Ginger, this works fairly well, but it’s a little different than I had expected. It reminds me of my mistrials with the agricoles last night, which might be because of the Vizcaya’s sugar syrup origins. This drink doesn’t have those agricole tastes, but it does have some unexpected floral notes. Another sip, and it’s growing on me. Though it’s not quite perfect, it does let some of the rum tastes out without them obliterating the ginger like the Appleton Extra did.

I came back to this a few more times while tasting the mixtures below. In the end, this combination doesn’t work. Near the end of the glass, after some ice melt, this tastes more and more odd.

Flor De Caña 18-year-old and Boylan’s
There’s a nagging little voice that is telling me that mixing an 18-year-old rum with anything is a sin. But I’ve been known to sin, and have thus discovered some of the better things in life. This drink is pretty darned good, and a nice balance of all flavors involved. The rum comes through a bit, as does the ginger, and everyone plays together nicely. But it’s a bit too plain, though luckily not boring. The Vizcaya mix is certainly more interesting, but maybe a little too different, while the Flor De Caña is good in a somewhat plain way. Good, not great. Entertaining, but not enthralling. Attractive, but not quite beautiful. This is a safe mix.

Appleton Extra and 365
Since I’m not quite done yet, I thought I’d try one more. I sipped through the ginger ales again, and felt that the 365 deserved a quick test. In ways, the flavors in the 365 remind me of the Appleton Extra, so I thought that I’d give that a try. I came close to trying the 365 and Vizcaya, but as I kept sipping the 365 the Appleton kept coming into my head.

A quick sip shows that the Appleton is too powerful for this ginger ale, so I added some more bring it up to a 2½-to-1 ratio. This is more drinkable, but again not very exciting. Well, a couple more sips prove that it is quite drinkable, and has a nice balance. I’m just not excited about it.

Boylan’s is a good ginger ale in a style close to the more typical mass-market brands like Canada Dry. It is, however, made of quality ingredients and is certainly better than these HFCS concoctions.

None of the Rum & Gingers did much for me tonight. None were bad, but none were great. The Vizcaya is the only that I would not recommend, since it just came off too odd. The Flor De Caña was probably the best of the night, but not worth such a fine rum. And it’s not a contender when compared against mixing Stirrings’ with either Mount Gay Eclipse or El Dorado 12.

I am enjoying finding all these differences, and particularly pleased finding out how the ginger ale brings out flavors that are otherwise subtle, or even non-existent. Those odds taste with the Vizcaya simply do not exist without ginger ale – much like the agricole flavors that came out last night with the J.M. VSOP. The simple act of mixing ginger ale and rum is not as simple as it might seem.


HFCS & Ginger

Intermission time…

My distaste of High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS, was the original reason for starting my exploration of sodas made with sugar cane. Then I got involved in a series of emails with Robert about the Cuba Libre using sugar-based Coca-Cola. This got me searching for Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar rather than the US version using HFCS. I had planned to blog about the Cuba Libre, but Darcy at The Art Of Drink beat me to it by posting about the Rum & Coke. This sparked even more interest in sugar cane Coke, and I managed to find some Mexican Coke (and Pepsi) so I planned on doing a comparison of Rum & Cokes. And then Darcy posted a Rum & Coke taste test. I was beaten to the topic by Darcy, twice, but I certainly enjoyed his posts so I forgive him for thinking about things before I did.

Over on on The Ministry Of Rum’s forums, a post from Hank about Rum & Ginger had thinking about this simple but tasty drink. My searches for Mexican Coke and sugar cane sodas led me to find several ginger ales made with cane sugar. I decided that this was worthy of some exploration, so I broke out 11 ginger sodas and compared them all. This, of course, led to the last two posts about comparing various Rum & Ginger lowballs made with Stirrings’ ginger ale.

I wanted to take a break from the ginger ales tonight and talk about HFCS, but Darcy beat me to it, again! I don’t mind this at all, really, I just find it curious that he keeps posting on subjects that I was just about to talk about.

This was getting seriously weird… But this coincidence is great for all of us, since this chemist-turned-scientist will certainly do a more interesting job on HFCS than I would.

Instead, I did some research about Ginger and compiled a bunch of interesting factoids. (These are cut & pasted from a number of sites listed at the end of this post.)


Ginger became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper. A common article of medieval and Renaissance trade, it was one of the spices used against the plague. In English pubs and taverns in the nineteenth century, barkeepers put out small containers of ground ginger, for people to sprinkle into their beer – the origin of ginger ale.

Although often called “ginger root” it is actually a rhizome (a rhizome is a horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground and often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes.)

Ginger is a known diaphoretic, meaning it causes one to sweat.

Ginger is most commonly known for its effectiveness as a digestive aid. By increasing the production of digestive fluids and saliva, Ginger helps relieve indigestion, gas pains, diarrhea and stomach cramping.

Ginger root is also used to treat nausea related to both motion sickness and morning sickness. Ginger has been found to be even more effective than Dramaminer in curbing motion sickness, without causing drowsiness.

When shopping for fresh ginger, look for pieces with a plump, smooth, somewhat shiny skin. If its wrinkled or cracked, the ginger is drying and past its prime.

Fresh ginger will get moldy in the refrigerator. It’s best to store it at room temperature much like you would potatoes.

Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man, which became a popular Christmas treat.
A Greek baker on the Isle of Rhodes is credited with introducing gingerbread in 2800BC.
(I’ve found several references to both “inventors” of gingerbread… I don’t know which to believe, really.)

Ginger is thought to have been introduced into Jamaica about 1525. By 1547 though, it is reported that the export of ginger amounted to over 22,000 quintals (1.2 million Kg). Between the 1930’s and 1960’s, Jamaica was listed as one of the three largest producers of ginger in the world, along with India and Sierra Leone. A 10-mile radius around Christiana was identified as the region which grew the finest ginger in the world. Since then the production has fallen significantly, from close to 2 million kilogram of ginger in 1953 to around 0.4 million kilos in 1995.

Fifty percent of the world’s harvest is produced in India. The other major producers in the world include Brazil, Jamaica (whence the best quality is exported) and Nigeria–whose ginger is rather pungent, but lacks the fine aroma of other regions.

Ginger ale was the No. 1 soft drink in America for over seventy years, beginning its vast popularity around 1860. Early ginger ales would not be recognizable to modem palates. By most descriptions, few bottlers made ginger ale worth drinking by today’s standards.

1936 – The first soda in a can, CLIQUOT CLUB Ginger Ale, was test marketed in a Continental low profile cone top can. Leakage, flavor absorption problems, and difficulty in stacking and handling spelled failure for the initial introduction.

Ginger takes about nine months to reach maturity.

When buying, look for ginger root with the least amount of knots and/or branching.

Ginger root should be kept in a cool, dry place, usually at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. After purchasing, ginger may be refrigerated in plastic wrap for up to one week. Freezing for up to three months is also an option.

Ginger was used in ancient times as a food preservative.

Peel skin from the root and gently peel the skin beneath (that closest to the root is the most flavorful).

Ginger was cultivated in China up to 5000 years ago.


Rum & Ginger, Part 2

Yep, I figured there would be a part 2. I did not figure that I would continue with the Stirrings’ ginger ale. But there’s still a little bit of exploring to do. As I mentioned yesterday in Rum & Ginger Part 1, the Stirrings’ is pretty potent in ginger, and somewhat sweet. Tonight the plan is to try some rums that balance these points. Alas, I have one small bottle of Stirrings’ left, and it’s only enough for 3 “lowballs” so I hope that I planned my choice of rums well. We’ll see.

The rums planned for tonight are:

Mount Gay Eclipse – Chosen for its spiciness with a hope that this balances the ginger and keeps up with the sweetness.

Clément VSOP – Chosen for its dryness and bold taste. I actually don’t expect this to deal with the ginger as well as the Mount Gay should, but I’m hoping that the dryness does balance the sweetness of the Stirrings’.

Rhum J.M. VSOP – I haven’t tried this rum yet, but I’ve been looking for a reason to crack the bottle anyway. I’m expecting this to be a little bit dry like an aged agricole should be, but I’m also expecting a lot of flavors from this rhum. Given how the El Dorado 12 worked last night, I’m hoping that the J.M. will have enough complexity to work in a similar way. I am, of course, guessing at some of the aspects of the J.M. VSOP.

Another change planned for tonight is to reduce the lime. I think that some lime will be appropriate in this simple drink, but I think that I used too much last night. So I plan to reduce substantially, from 1/4 of a lime to a slice squeezed on top.

I cracked the bottle, so I had to try it, right? This rum smells a tiny bit of sweet, with some fruitiness, and some dark honey smells and a bit of barrel. I want to say that I smell some molasses, but since this is an agricole I just have to say that it has a great rum smell. The taste is certainly dry, even with all the sweet smells, with a good amount of barrel tastes mid-stream, and a fairly long, spicy finish with a mild burn. This has all the indications that this will be much better in 5 or 10 minutes, but I have no patience so I’m going to move on to the Rum & Gingers…

By the way, I’m a little worried that the barrel taste will conflict with the Stirrings’ in the same way the Cruzan did last night, but my initial expectations of this rhum as close to the experience. I’m not going to change my mind on this rum.

Mount Gay Eclipe & Stirrings’
Well, the Eclipse isn’t strong enough to overcome the Stirrings’, but it does balance it decently. This is a somewhat plain, but very refreshing, summertime drink that would disappear quickly on a hot day. It’s quite enjoyable, but not quite the taste I was looking for in this run of comparisons. It’s a bit too light, and the rum really doesn’t come through. I may, however, have found a new favorite for those nights where I feel like going beyond the rum and diving straight into the alcohol. Hey, it happens.

Clément VSOP and Stirrings’
The dryiness of the agricole balances the sweetness of the ginger ale, but those typical agricole tastes and smells come right through. Well this isn’t bad, it’s not a match, and the ginger ale does not suit the agricole tones of this rhum. A failure of my own making. But this failure taught me something, so it was not a failed experiment in that sense. And it taught me that a dry rum was a good idea, but something in the line of Flor De Cana rums might be a better choice. Dry, with a taste powerful enough to come through, but one without the distinct tastes of the agricole which clash.

Rhum J.M VSOP and Stirrings’
As I feared, the barrel does not match the ginger ale, and this, too, is a flop. I am, however, amazed at how much the ginger ale brings out those agricole flavors – which were not very apparent in the straight sipping of the J.M. The agricole doesn’t clash as much as the Clément, but that’s not surprisingly since the older J.M. is a bit subdued in these flavors. Instead, the ginger clashes with the barrel and the agricole tastes. This remains a better drink than the Clément, but it’s still not good enough to drink.

OK, I went to the opposite extreme with the lime tonight, mostly because of the fear of having my mouth pucker up like it did last night. The lime should be there, should be noticeable, but it should lie in the background complementing the rum and not be forceful enough to clash with the ginger ale. It does help the drink, but should be used in moderation here.

Coming back to this paragraph after a while, I have noticed that my mouth has that “puckered” feeling again. It was not the lime that did this last night, but must be the ginger – or the Stirrings’ type of ginger. I should find out more about this tomorrow night, or whenever I get to Part 3.

Update: I found a possible reason for this. According to Stirrings’ web site, “Our Ginger Ale is made with triple purified water, real ginger, Mexican lime and cane sugar.”

Eclipse, with it’s fairly strong rum tastes and somewhat excessive spiceness, was still not enough to stand up to the Stirrings’. I’m somewhat surprised that I have now tried 7 rums with this ginger ale and can’t find a match. Well, that’s a bit harsh, and I should say that I did not find a *perfect* match. The El Dorado made for a very interesting drink, and the Eclipse definitely makes for a nice summertime cooler. I guess that I was just hoping for more, like I always do.

The agricoles I chose were not very good matches. Now that the Eclipse Rum & Ginger is gone I’ve been sipping on the J.M. version. Even with all the ice melt it still doesn’t work too well, but it’s drinkable. The Clément just clashed. Chalk this lesson up to my needing more experience with agricoles.

The most obvious point of the night was that I am out of Stirrings’ Ginger Ale and must move on to another brand. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing because – as good as the Stirrings’ is, it’s a bit odd with its sweetness and unique ginger tastes. I did find yet another giner ale made with sugar cane, Boylan’s, which I got at Trader Joe’s. I drank a bottle today and have high hopes for it, since it seems to have more ginger taste than the Whole Foods 365 and certainly more than the Schweppes and Canda Dry. I say “seems” because I did not compare it directly to the others. Tomorrow night I plan to try the Boylan’s and 365 using some of the more standard gold rums. The Eclipse might be good with either of these, as might the Appleton V/X again. I’ll have to think a bit on this and make some decisions.

Rum & Ginger, Part 1

For some reason I don’t think I’ll make it through all the combinations in a single night, so I’m calling this “Part 1” in anticipation…

After tasting a bunch of ginger ales a few days ago I sat down tonight to make some Rum & Ginger “cocktails.” Is this really a cocktail? No. I guess this is a highball – rum, ginger ale, and a squeeze of lime. Some mixologist will set me right I’m sure.

My favorite of the comparison from the other night was the Stirrings’ Ginger Ale, though this statement has to be taken with some consideration. Not all of the sodas were strictly ginger ales, and some where quite atypical. Reed’s Jamaican style ginger ale was excellent, but I can’t bundle it with a “typical” ginger ale like Schweppes. The Ginger People’s ginger beer was fantastic – again not very typical of a ginger ale. Stirrings’ had the greatest ginger taste of the ales but still wasn’t perfect. I like it a lot, and it’s a high-quality product, but it may prove to still be too extreme in ginger and sweetness to be considered a typical ginger ale…

Over-analyzing and pondering are just my way of procrastinating…

I grabbed 4 rums somewhat at random, and proceeded to mix up some Rum & Ginger highballs. I made them small (does that make them a lowball?) with 1 ounce of rum, 2 ounces of ginger ale, and the closest I could come to 1/8 of a lime, squeezed. Ice, then rum, then lime, finally the ginger ale poured gently to keep the bubbles that I love, and a mild stir. Here we have them:

Appleton V/X & Stirrings’
Good, with a lot of ginger coming through – too much really. The rum is gone in the background. On the second round through these drinks this is still boring. Will the Appleton Extra work, or will that be a bit too smoky or rich, rather than complex?

Cockspur Fine Rum & Stirrings’
The rum comes through a little better, but it’s kinda flat and boring. The tastes aren’t complementing each other, but conflicting in a way that almost balances out. Back for another taste and the rum has receded even more into the background. I was expecting more from this combination, expecting the spice to come through, but it’s too mild. This makes me think that the extra spiciness of the Mount Gay Eclipse or Gosling’s Gold would have been a better choice.

Cruzan Single Barrel & Stirrings’
This works fairly well, with nice flavors coming through from both products, but the Cruzan is a little weak. A little more Cruzan would make this work quite well I’d think. I still agree with this thought on the second round, so I added another 1/2oz of Cruzan. This works fairly well, but not ideal. They don’t really complement each other after all, but rather compete a bit. The barrel doesn’t agree with the ginger.

El Dorado 12 & Stirrings’
This has turned into a different drink. There’s no real experience of ginger, no real experience of rum. Oh, they’re both there underneath, but the tastes have merged into something which simply reminds me of rum and reminds me of ginger.
On the second round through, this is working quite well. Some of the sweetness of the rum is coming out. I’m surprised that the barrel doesn’t compete like the Cruzan does. Everything works together to form a completely new “third” taste. While I like this, I’m fairly surprised by it and I’m not sure what to make of it. I was expecting rum & ginger, and got something new. Interesting…

I’m limed out. My tongue is puckered from less than half a lime. Next time they get barely squeezed, or I just do wedges – or I use fresher limes. I suddenly remember why my days of gin & tonics were short-lived.

The Stirrings’ is a fairly powerful ginger taste – it’s strength make me almost afraid to mix with the Ginger People’s ginger beer. I’m noticing that the Stirrings’ is also fairly sweet. This is not be the best choice for a rum & ginger using lighter rums. It works well with the El Dorado, which is by far the heaviest and richest rum laid out. The other rums are probably better suited to a lighter, dryer ginger ale like the Whole Foods’ 365.

In the end, I finished only the El Dorado mixture. Which is a good thing because pounding down 4 ounces of rum on a work night would not be an intelligent thing to do. But the fact that this one is gone kinda proves the thought that the Stirrings’ need a more powerful rum. I would not think it would go well with dark or extensively aged rums, but rather one from the more powerful golds. The ones that come to mind are Mount Gay Eclipse, Gosling’s Gold, some of the Plantations… Something in that range. The sweetness probably needs to be balanced by a dry rum, so I’d also think about the Kaniche Martinique or Clement VSOP.

This may be premature, but I am debating the thought of removing Stirrings’ ginger ale from my list. Yes, this *is* premature – it just needs the right rum.

More experimentation is needed…

A Bunch Of Ginger Ales

I have been on a bit of a rant against High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) lately. It started some time ago when I made my first batch of orgeat and compared it to the Fee Brothers’ Orgeat. The Fee’s was foul stuff, and I dumped the entire bottle down the drain. Since then I’ve been occasionally destroying the kitchen making a number of homemade ingredients like orgeat, more orgeat, passionfruit syrup, grenadine, and rock candy syrup. In all cases I’ve been using organic cane sugar, and have seriously begun to appreciate the taste of a quality sugar in a beverage.

I began to notice some of those “artisanal” sodas, like Jones Soda and Stirrings Ginger Ale, and have been checking the ingredients. If it was a flavor that sounded interesting – and it contained cane sugar – I bought a bottle. My wife has been going crazy since I’ve been packing the fridge with this stuff lately. Sheesh. I could have worse habits.

Some of these sodas have been quite good, and some mediocre. The Jones Sodas are simply fantastic. If you have not tried one yet, please do so. I love vanilla cream soda, and Jones is one of the best, along with Polar Premium Classic – or something like that. The Polar website does not list this exact soda, though it does list the typical version with HFCS. They are not the same, not in the slightest. Many of the others I’ve tried – like Boylans, Mercury, and a few others from the local Whole Foods Market – have been decent but I haven’t found anything that comes close to the Jones. Yet. I’ll keep looking.

Until then, I’ve been exploring making my own sodas. I’ve got a little studying to do, since most of the information out there has to do with fermented sodas and I’d prefer to have more control over the carbonation. I love carbonation. I love those big fat sharp bubbles that almost cut my tongue. So I’d prefer to carbonate by forcing carbon dioxide into the soda rather than experimenting with yeasts and temperatures until I get it right. Maybe I’m fussing for nothing, but I have a habit of over-studying a subject before starting something. Oh well, I do enjoy the knowledge-gain.

Ginger Ales
While these sodas are good or great, none have sounded too appetizing if mixed with rum. And it’s all about the rum, and a rum & ginger with a squeeze of lime is a simple, quick, enjoyable mix. So I went out looking for ginger ales made with cane sugar, and managed to find just a few. I decided to compare these against some of the typical ginger ales, and some of the not so typical ones.

Alas, so many ginger ales are regional. I seriously wish that I could find Vernors around Boston, or Blenheim’s.

The High Fructose Corn Syrup Selection
Oh, boy. I get to swig down some HFCS. And I do it willingly! All in the name of science…

(I’m not going to mention prices on these HFCS ones since they’re fairly typical prices.)

Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium benzoate, caramel color.

Sweet, tiny sharp bubbles, small amount of ginger, very crisp feeling but a mild taste. HFCS isn’t too noticeable – at least it’s not horrid. Overall, not bad, but definitely not enough ginger by a long shot.

Canada Dry
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium benzoate, caramel color.

Much softer than Schweppes in the bubble department. Drier, but not by much. The ginger amount is about the same, but the ginger seems a tiny bit sweeter.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, citric acid, sodium benzoate, caramel color, and natural flavoring.

Bubbles are almost as sharp as the Schweppes, but there’s very little taste. Really, why bother? This is a waste of good carbonation, and I’m left feeling sorry for a bunch of ginger plants that gave up their existence for nothing. It’s sad that this contains more preservative than natural flavor.

Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavoring, and caramel color.

Not a lot of taste here. Bubbles are mediocre – smooth and tiny. Somewhat sweet. Pretty much a waste of time though. No sodium benzoate though, which has got to be better for the taste – if there was more taste…

The HFCS isn’t so terrible is all of these. Granted, none are as sweet as a Coke or a typical Cream Soda, so maybe I was afraid for no reason. But none have much taste, in my opinion. The ginger is quite mild in all of them, like an afterthought – or an active thought that this stuff needed to taste different when compared to seltzer. My pick is the Schweppes, but I primarily chose that because I love the bubbles. They are all equally boring in taste, so I have to pick for some reason, right?

The Cane Sugar Selection
As I mentioned, I was not able to find too many ginger ales made with cane sugar. Well, not “pure” ones at least – I did find some Jamaican-style ginger ale, some ginger beers, and a ginger ale seltzer. I’ll get to these “oddball” ginger ales after I go through the “typical” ginger ales.

Outrageous Ginger Ale from Natural Brew
Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, evaporated cane juice, brewed ginger, natural flavors, citric acid.

I bought a single 12oz bottle of this, but I seem to remember that a 4-pack was about $4.50. Don’t quote me on that though. Natural Brew is a division of Smucker’s –

This stuff has lots of ginger taste, is fairly sweet, with very smooth carbonation. It’s got a hint of oddness to it, not unpleasant at all, just different. I’m going to take a wild stab and guess that this might be from the use of Jamaican ginger. (Note: After tasting the Reed’s below, this guess is more of a hypothesis.) It is very good, but I can imagine better. And the carbonation is too soft for me.

Stirrings’ Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Triple filtered carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, ginger extract and other natural flavors.

Update: Interestingly enough, the Stirrings’ website says “Our Ginger Ale is made with triple purified water, real ginger, Mexican lime and cane sugar. ” Lime?

This soda comes in a 4-pack of 6.3oz bottles, for about $5. That’s quite expensive for a ginger ale, but if it’s worth it…

This has an incredible punch of ginger, far more than the Outrageous above. The ginger is mildy sweet in itself – perhaps because they use ginger extract? Beyond the ginger itself this is a bit sweet – sweeter than the HFCS ones above but still far from a Coke. The bubbles are tiny, but still a bit sharp. (The bottle calls the “Champagne bubbles.”) This is very good, though the ginger itself is slightly imperfect.

365 Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Filtered carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural ginger flavor, citric acid, and caramel color.

This is Whole Foods Market store brand, and is priced quite aggressively at $2.29 for a 6-pack of 12oz cans.

This has a decent amount of ginger flavor, but it seriously comes across as the quality of a store brand. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just that it not quite as refined as the two above. It’s a little sweet, and the bubbles are very smooth – barely above the Outrageous. Chances are good that I’d grab this if I were throwing a party – it’s about 1/6 the price of the Stirrings’.

Boylan’s Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, citrus oils, natural ginger flavors, citric acid, caramel color, sodium benzoate

I bought a 4-pack at Trader Joe’s and seem to remember it being about $4, though it could have been $4.50. This is in line with most others in this area, like the Outrageous. This company from New Jersey makes a number of sodas made with cane sugar, and also produces a small line called “The Natural Kind” without artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives. Alas, no ginger ale in this line.

Small bubbles, but crisp. A bit sweet but not too far at all. Decent ginger taste, but still milder than I’d like. It has a much milder taste than the Whole Foods’ 365, but the Boylan’s does taste a bit more natural. The bubbles in the Boylan’s are much better though, which isn’t too difficult against the 365. The Boylan’s has noticeably more taste than the Schweppes, and actually has better bubbles, too.

Though none of these are perfect, they are all above the HFCS selection. They have more natural tastes, far more ginger taste, and are simple better tasting all around. Stirrings’ wins this round easily. The Boylan’s comes in second, but it might actually be preferred by many since it tastes more like a typical ginger ale than the others. The 365’s bargain price is not to be missed at the right times though. And if you might prefer the Outrageous, if you happen to like its slight oddness that I guessed was Jamaican ginger.

The “Atypical” Selection
These are not what I consider to be typical ginger ales in the style that I grew up with, so I call them “atypical.” They certainly have their own categories, so categorize them how you like. One is made with 80% fruit juice and I just can’t call that typical. Another is a Jamaican ginger ale, and having tasted it in the past I can not file this along with Schweppes or even Stirrings’. The last two are ginger beers, which are typical less sweet than ginger ales and pack more ginger flavor.

Knudsen Ginger Ale Spritzer
Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, white grape and apple juice concentrates, ginger root, natural flavors.

I got this at Whole Foods Market. A 6-pack of 12oz cans was $4.69, so it’s about in the middle of the cane sugar ale pricing. This one is certainly unusual because it contains 80% fruit juice. Yet they call it ginger ale. And the can also says its a “flavored sparkling beverage from juice concentrate.” How typical is that? Even though it doesn’t contain cane sugar at least it has natural sweetening from the fruit juices.

The smell of the pear juice hits as the can nears my mouth. It’s sweet, and there is ginger in it. The bubbles are very small and far between so I’m not a fan of the carbonation. If you wanted a different taste to your fruit juice this is the way to go. It is quite good but it’s just not a ginger ale, and I would be hard-pressed to use this in for mixing. (Though some mixologist might put this to good use in a cocktail.)

Reed’s Premium Ginger Brew
Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, sweetened by a blend of Canadian white water clover honey and pineapple juice from concentrate, fresh ginger root, lemon and lime juices from concentrate, and spices

A 4-pack of 12oz bottles was $4. This bottles uses the phrases “ginger brew” and “Jamaican style ginger ale” so categorize it however you like, but I can’t directly compare this to Canada Dry. Also, it’s sweetened with honey and pineapple juice, so it doesn’t really fall in with the sugar cane drinks.

This packs some strong ginger tastes, but not the same type of ginger as those above.Between the Outrageous above and this bottle I will attribute this difference in taste to the use of Jamaican ginger. Then again, this contains a whole bunch of ingredients that aren’t in the other ginger ales, so I can’t be too sure. This is fairly sweet, with tiny smooth bubbles. Luckily there’s a good deal of those bubbles so my desire for carbonation is satisfied. Overall, this is a very good drink, and the taste difference will probably grow on me and I’ll like it a lot more. There’s no doubt of the quality in this one, it’s just that the taste is a little different right now.

Reed’s makes several variations of this ginger ale. I’ll have to try some of the others.

The Ginger People’s Ginger Beer
Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, naturally pressed ginger juice, natural ginger extract, citric acid, natural flavor.

Another Whole Foods Market purchase, a 4-pack of 12oz bottles was $5.50 putting it at the high end of these sodas, though still far cheaper than the Stirrings’. Apparently this won an award – Most Outstanding Beverage – from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. The Ginger People make a whole slew of ginger products – I even purchased some of their ginger extract today.

There is quite a bit of ginger in this, by far the most so far. The aroma hits before the bottle touches my lips. This has so much ginger that it gives a bit of a spicy burn at the back of the throat. And this stuff kinda tastes like they roasted the ginger – though this isn’t possible given the ingredients. Perhaps they age it? Vernors ages some (or all?) of their ginger drinks.

This is not very sweet, very tiny bubbles and a decent amount though I’d wish for more. Very high quality. I’m not sure what else I can say about it other than I simply *must* try a “Darkn Stormy” with this ginger beer. Outstanding.

Barritt’s Ginger Beer
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavoring, citric acid, sodium benzoate, gum arabic, caramel color, guar gum.

This seems to be available at most good liquor stores around me. I have no idea how much I paid for it. Let me be upfront by stating that I am *very* depressed that the beer I got was made with high fructose corn syrup, not sugar. And canned in Florida. And look at those other ingredients – guar gum? I did not get the real thing. I’m very depressed.

This has a very good amount of ginger in it. Not as much as Stirrings’ or The Ginger People’s, but more than the Reed’s. So for ginger strength, this comes in third. It’s fairly sweet, but does have the tinge and burning sensation of HFCS. The bubbles are very good – medium seized, slightly sharp, and plenty of them. It is quite good. I can only imagine how good the sugar version is. Even still, this is good enough to continue buying.

This is an easy decision – The Ginger People’s Ginger Beer is outstanding. Simply fantastic. The Reed’s is very good, too, though it has that blend of ingredients that make it quite unique. The Barritts, despite the HFCS, is quite good and comes in a close third. The Knudsen’s fruit juice stuff is simply out of the running. Though it’s very good and high quality, it just does not belong here amongst the others.

Overall Summary
Well I’ve spent almost 3 hours now sampling 11 carbonated ginger beverages and I’m not quite burnt out yet. But I’m tired as hell, so I certainly can’t continue.

This entire comparison was intended to pick a ginger ale suited for mixing in a Rum & Ginger. To that end, the Stirrings’ is probably my first choice. I’d probably pick the Whole Foods 365 next, unless I wanted some powerful bubbles and then I’d grab the Schweppes. Go figure on that last one. But this choice for mixing is a bit of a guess at this point, and I’ll have to do some comparisons with rum. Hopefully very soon.

But another wildly different cocktail is the Dark n Stormy, traditionally made with Barritt’s and Gosling’s Black Seal. The ingredients are almost identical to a Rum & Ginger – rum, lime, and ginger beer instead of ginger ale. I can’t help but think about a Dark & Stormy made with The Ginger People’s brew, and I’ll get right on that as soon as possible. I’m curious too, about making one using Gosling’s Old Rum. Hell, it’s the same rum as the Black Seal – just aged longer. Will a Ginger People and Gosling’s Old make for an upper-crust Dark n Stormy?

Not to skip it in the end, I have to mention the Reed’s again. This stuff is very good, but a bit unique for mixing. For me. One of the talented mixologists out there should be able to create something using this ginger ale.

Edited 11/16/07 – Added Boylan’s Ginger Ale.

Forum Love

I spend a decent amount of my free time perusing several forums, chatting with others and posting occasional experiments and comparisons that don’t make it here. Of course, I get a lot of info and insight from other posters in these forums. And they’re often used for research when I desire info beyond a single person’s opinion. Google, including its Blog Search, is great to find an opinion or recipe or a point of info, but generally such a search yields information from one person’s point of view. Forums, on the other hand, can contains discussions between many people, and this set of opinions and info will often produce much more insight into the subject at hand. This is balanced – sometimes – by what might seem to be a lack of “expertise” of the posters. Not all experts write books or blogs though, and I’ve often been astounded by the knowledge found.

Though I do frequent a number of forums, I’ll present the spirit- and cocktail-related ones here.

Rum Lovers @ the Ministry of Rum
Started by the Minister of Rum, Ed Hamilton, this site is the preeminent site for the discussion of my favorite spirit, rum. For many years Ed posted in a rum-dedicated subforum on eGullet, but a recent change merged the Rum subforum into the Spirits & Cocktails subforum. This sparked Ed to create an entire site to the discussion of rum. Quite a few folks – experts & enthusiast alike – frequent this site now, covering all aspects of rum and types of rum. The passion for rum is quite palpable at all times.

Refined Vices
These forums lie behind the rum review blog of a gentleman who calls himself Count Silvio, and delves into the finer spirits in the whiskey and rum world, with some emphasis placed on brandy and cigars, too. Though quite new at the time of this writing this site has already attracted a number of rum enthusiasts from all over the world. Of particular interest are the opinions of others concerning the pairing of cigars with both rums and whiskeys.

Tiki Central
This is a site for all things Tiki, from the lifestyle and restaurants and music and crafts. But this place holds another special place for me, since their Food and Drinks subforum contains not only info about rum but also a wealth of details on some of the more exotic ingredients that can be found in tiki drinks and other cocktails. Discussions of orgeat, passionfruit syrup, pimento liquer and falernum abound, and many of these discuss homemade versions. These threads can get quite long as many folks here dive deep into such ingredients and all their aspects. Many discussions about liqueurs exist here, too. There are numerous posts comparing cordials such as Curacao and Triple Sec, and even details about subjects like simple syrups with details on the various types of sugar. There is a ton of expertise within this forum, and detailed explanations of the homemade experiments provide a wealth of information and insight.

eGullet’s Spirits & Cocktails
This subforum within the eGullet umbrella covers all aspects of spirits, from the liquors themselves to cocktails and all the possible ingredients. The forum is visited by a slew of true experts – mixologists, cocktailians, bartenders and enthusiasts – and the discussions can dive quite deep into any given subject revolving around spirits. This is a great site for researching vintage cocktails and ingredients, or digging into a particular spirit. One thread about absinthe has been going for over 5 years, with more than 350 posts. This is the ultimate discussion place for all spirits.

Chowhounds Spirits Forum
Though a bit slow with new threads – less than 10 day on average – I appreciate this site because it often gets into local details due its large number of regionalized forums. Looking for an odd liquor in Seattle or Texas? You’ll probably get a few locations in reply. These localized discussion groups are also a great place to find the great bars in your area, or even the gourmet found stores which might stock a particular ingredient.

Drinkboy’s Community at MSN Groups
This is a collection of forums started by Robert Hess. Compared to eGullet’s forums, this site is much slower getting posts but contains much of the same type of info. Subforums break up the information into a variety of subjects, from bar equipment to bitters to spirits and cocktails. While this site is not frequented as often as the eGullet, note that the Bitters forum has over 400 posts discussing various types of bitters. This yields a great deal of information about a specific subject.

Am I Missing Any?
Do you know of any other spirits-related discussion forums that I’m missing? If so, please let me know! Leave a comment with a link with some info. I’m always looking for more good discussion groups.

Reminder – Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival (with rum, too)

Just a reminder that the Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival is tomorrow night, from 6:00 to 9:00 in the West Club Lounge at Heinz Field.

They say there will be rums. That’s a good thing.

I know that Clement and J. M. Rhums will be there. Say hello to Ben (he’s the tall fellow) and ask for a Ti Punch if he’s making them. A bit of simple syrup, a lime wedge, some ice and a healthy splash of agricole. Simple, but a fantastic way to enjoy agricole, and an absolute must if you’ve never had agricole. If you’re lucky, they’ll have the Rhum J. M. 1997, an aged agricole that rivals the finest cognacs in complexity. This rhum was one of the hits at the Rum Fest in New York City a couple weeks ago. Very highly recommended.

Zaya will be there also. This is one of my favorite rums and is simply fantastic. This Guatemalan rum is slightly sweet, rich with flavor, and aged 12 years. Delicious.

The festival will also include a boatload of whiskeys, along with a smattering of bourbons, ryes, brandies, and vodka. The food menu looks quite nice, too.

It looks like quite a shindig. I just wish it wasn’t a 10-hour drive…