Ginger ale is for more than just stomach aches these days.
It's a complex drink that is sweet, gingery and spicy. The ginger makes the drink an alleged cure-all for what ails you.
But it also makes a great addition to mocktails... ginger ale adds body and kick to any non-alcoholic drink. And while it's high in sugar, you can still sub a ginger ale for a beer if you're at a bar without many non-alcoholic options.
But first, let's make something clear... ginger ale isn't ginger beer.
Ginger beer is brewed and fermented. Ginger ale is a carbonated drink made from water and ginger. Ginger beer has a stronger, ginger flavor because it's brewed. But it's also usually less carbonated.
We chose to taste ginger ale because there are way too many options across both genres. And there's one legendary ginger ale brand we couldn't wait to taste against the competition.
You'll find nine ginger ale tasting notes below. We tasted each beverage neat, in a glass.
If you have a favorite brand we left out (and we know we left plenty out - there's A LOT of ginger ale out there), send us a note and we'll update the article.
But, for now, let's get started.
We started our tasting with the old, mainstay Schweppes - which dates back to 1783.
A guy named Jacob Schweppes found a way to manufacture carbonated mineral water over 200 years ago. Then he expanded the brand from Geneva, Switzerland to England where the drink was used to settle upset stomachs.
The brand took a hiatus during World War II when England couldn't manufacture the drink. But the advertising lived on, promising Schweppes would soon return.
The Schweppes brand is so famous, there's even a book about it.
But how does it taste???
Sweet. Very sweet.
Schweppes is very light in color and highly carbonated. But it tastes similar to Sprite (or, said another way, like mass-produced syrupy soda). It's not very gingery. You do get a white grape flavor on the finish.
Schweppes lacks the zing we like in a ginger ale. But it does taste better on the rocks.
Canada Dry was created in 1904, making it a youngster compared to the venerable Schweppes.
Despite being ginger ale, Canada Dry doesn't actually contain ginger... much to the dismay of a woman named Julie Fletcher.
Fletcher sued Canada Dry in 2018 because she didn't believe there was any ginger in the product. It became a major, class-action suit. Amazingly, this isn't the first lawsuit over ginger content Canada Dry has faced.
The company argues it uses ginger to make its "natural flavoring" listed on the packaging. But that wasn't enough. The company settled the ludicrous lawsuit for $11.2 million.
Canada Dry has a similar color and carbonation to Schweppes. It's tangier on the nose.
And you get a slight pineapple/lemon flavor. It's got more structure, fizz and bite (all positives for us) than Schweppes.
It's also got more tannins on the finish (hence the "Dry" in Canada Dry), as opposed to the syrupy, sweet finish of Schweppes.
In short, it's better than Schweppes, but not the best of the bunch.
Buy it on Amazon.
Fever Tree is a premium beverage brand launched in the UK in 2003.
It started with tonic water. The company founder, Charles Rolls, owned a gin company. And he realized it didn't matter how good your gin was, if you mixed it with a subpar tonic, you killed the whole experience.
We wrote a piece on Fever Tree here. Today, the company is worth billions of dollars and it's expanded its lines to include soda waters and ginger ale, ginger beer and others.
But we're here for the ginger ale.
Fever Tree's ginger ale isn't as carbonated as the rest. And it smells like candied ginger (a good sign... it's the first so far to smell anything like ginger).
The drink is relatively low in sugar (7.1 grams for a 6.8 oz bottle). And it stings your tongue a bit when you first sip (it stings the nose, too). Finally, some heat!
Fever Tree has more depth of flavor than the previous two. It's also flatter and has a caramelly finish.
You can find them in most regional grocery stores or grab a 24 pack online for a little over $1 p/bottle.
Boylan is one of the OGs of craft soda.
The company has been making small batch sodas since 1891. And some of them are good. But the ginger ale, unfortunately, is not.
There's no nose and no fizz when you pour it into a glass. And it has almost no ginger flavor.
You get a light caramel flavor and some citrus (there's lemon and lime oil in the soda). It's very sweet and there's no bite.
We frequently see these in smaller grocery chains and bodegas, and have had some luck in the bigger stores as well. If not, you can snag them online here.
Reed's makes a Jamaican Style ginger ale with 17 grams of fresh ginger root (no lawsuits coming Reed's way), spices and tropical fruit.
It's also Kosher!
This is the first ginger ale that made us cough when we went for a sip... finally, some good spice! The Jamaicans would be proud.
The flavor is very tropical. You get lots of citrus and pineapple. And you get lots of honey - it coats your mouth.
This is the first ginger ale that made us feel like we're actually drinking ginger ale. And it tastes like you're drinking something different - an actual, premium beverage.
We found them online, but honestly, the prices are so marked up, you might as well wait until you see them in the grocery aisle.
Q is a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of premium mixers.
And the company takes its ginger ale seriously. As Q's website says, "One hundred years ago, bottlers measured their worth by their ginger ale. Q Ginger Ale is our manifesto. Not too sweet. Clean and crisp with a gingery bite."
We'd like to add, it's hot!
This one had us sneezing when we went for a sip (again, we consider this a great thing!).
Q's ginger ale is almost clear in color. It's not as sweet as most other drinks. It's also more herbaceous (it has rose oil, coriander and cardamom) and interesting.
There's a lot of spice and it sits on your tongue for a while after you take a sip. Q gets that spice from chili. And it's great because it enhances the ginger flavor.
This is the first ginger ale that makes us want to sit down and actually sip a ginger ale.
These brooklyn-born cans and bottles are spreading across the US, but you can also grab them online if necessary. They are competitively priced on Amazon.
BLENHEIM GINGER ALE NOT AS HOT:
Blenheim Ginger Ale is a cult favorite down south.
It's alleged to be one of the first sodas in America (and it's the oldest, continuous independent soda bottler in the world). Its history dates back to the discovery of a natural mineral spring in Blenheim, South Carolina in 1781.
In the late 1800's, a doctor advised his patients to drink the spring water for its high mineral content. But they complained about the iron-like taste, so the doctor added Jamaican Ginger to improve the flavor.
Then, in 1903, the Blenheim Bottling Company was born.
In 1993, the Schafer family (owners of the famed South of the Border tourist complex - anyone who's driven on I-95 knows what I'm talking about) bought Blenheim. Alan Schafer, the patriarch, loved the ginger ale and bought the company to save it from extinction.
He also moved the old production facility from its original location to South of the Border.
Blenheim makes three sodas - Old #3 Hot (Red Cap), #5 Not as Hot (Gold Cap) and #9 Diet (White Cap).
We tasted the Gold Cap first.
This ginger ale is citrusy, sugary, caramelly and spicy (even though it's not the spiciest Blenheim offers). The spice creeps up on you after you drink it and runs up toward your nose.
It's a solid ginger ale. But it's hard not to notice the corn-syrup consistency.
They are pricey because of their limited production, but we found some online for those that must get their hands on them.
Try taking your first sip of Blenheim Hot without coughing.
The spiciness jumps out of the glass at you and gets your eyes watering if you get too close. It is by far the spiciest ginger ale we tasted.
Blenheim Hot has the darkest color (as you can see from the image).
It's very sweet and VERY hot. The spice creeps up your nose and stings the back of your throat on the way down (but it's all good). This ginger ale definitely makes you sip.
You get a burst of flavor up front, but it doesn't taste very natural (despite the ingredients listing natural ginger flavor). Then the heat explodes.
But this ginger ale is unique. It made me sweat and the heat sticks with you.
Every time we open a bottle of Blenheim, it's like a little ceremony... followed by a challenge to hold it together while taking your first few sips.
And with the heat, Blenheim Hot is a great addition to any non-alcoholic cocktail.
Pro tip: Hold your breath while taking the first sip, so you don't have a coughing/sneezing fit.
GINGER'S BUNKHOUSE SPICY GINGER ALE:
The Zero Proof discovered Ginger's Bunkhouse while putting together our Booze-Free Guide to Athens, GA.
This ginger ale comes from the owner of a longstanding, local bar called the Manhattan Cafe. The bar's signature cocktail is a Spicy Ginger Ale and Bourbon... so they decided to make their own spicy ginger ale for the drink.
And Ginger's Bunkhouse is an 11 on the heat scale. It's even hotter than Blenheim Hot. And the heat hits you down in your chest.
It doesn't have as much flavor as Blenheim. It's a bit sweet and artificial tasting (it reminded me of the syrup from a Slush Puppy machine).
But it definitely delivers on the heat... and no doubt achieves its job as a mixer with bourbon (or in The Zero Proof's case, with any mocktail calling for ginger ale).
Ginger's Bunkhouse is fun to try on its own for the extreme heat. But it's definitely better as a mixer.
AND THE WINNER IS...
Blenheim Hot is The Zero Proof's favorite ginger ale.
Full disclosure, we're a sucker for this Southern beverage's weird and storied history.
And while this wouldn't be your go-to ginger ale if you want the most natural flavor, it is the most interesting and fun to drink.
Plus the bottle is beautiful... and a six-pack of Blenheim Hot makes a great gift to drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
You can pick up a case direct from Blenheim, right here. It's also available on Amazon (but the prices are outrageous).