I take a sip from the cup of ginger ale. It tastes of carbonation and sugar, with a faint trail of ginger. I turn to the cup of ginger beer. It already smells of ginger as I bring it to my mouth. The taste is crisp, hot, and strong. This is ginger on steroids, with sugar and carbonation taking a backseat.
These days, the most common iterations of ginger ale and ginger beer are similar. They are made with carbonated water, sugar, and ginger. We tested their pHs, and they were both quite acidic (between 3.0 and 3.5 for both Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer). They are quite popular as mixers for cocktails like the Moscow Mule and the Dark ’n’ Stormy. But how these beverages are made has changed a lot over the years.
Traditionally, ginger ale’s carbonation used to come from fermentation. A yeast would be put into contact with sugar, water, ginger root and any additional flavouring required. The yeast, a fungus consisting of a single cell and invisible to the human eye, would convert the sugar into carbon dioxide—AKA the fizz in the drink—and ethanol, a form of alcohol. The fermentation time could be monitored so as to reduce the amount of alcohol created in this way.
Meanwhile, ginger beer, which used to contain 11% alcohol, used to be fermented in a similar way, but the yeast worked together with a bacterium of the Lactobacillus genus.
Today, ginger ale and ginger beer are siblings. They are soft drinks made by adding carbon dioxide to ginger-flavoured sugar water. So which one to choose? If you want a hint of ginger, go for the ginger ale. If you want a full-bodied, heated assault on your throat, reach for the ginger beer. But either way, check the sugar content on the bottle and use sparingly.
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