Its origins date from the colonial spice trade with the Orient and the sugar producing islands of the Caribbean. It was popular in Britain and its colonies from the 18th century. Other spices were variously added and any alcohol content was limited to 2% by excise tax laws in 1855. Few brewers have maintained an alcoholic product.
Current ginger beers are often manufactured rather than brewed, frequently with flavor and color additives. Ginger ales are not brewed.
As early as 500 BC, ginger was used as a medicine and for flavouring food in Ancient China and India. In the western hemisphere, ginger was used to spice up drinks. During the Victorian era, it was used to brew an alcoholic beverage termed "ginger beer".
Brewed ginger beer originated in Yorkshire in England in the mid-18th century and became popular throughout Britain, the United States, Ireland, South Africa and Canada, reaching a peak of popularity in the early 20th century.
Brewed ginger beer was brought to the United States of the Ionian Islands by the British Army in the 19th century, and is still made as a local specialty known as tsitsibíra (τσιτσιμπίρα) by villagers in rural Corfu.
Alcoholic ginger beer
Brewed ginger beer originated in the UK, but is sold worldwide. Crabbie's is a popular brand in the UK. It is usually labelled "alcoholic ginger beer" to distinguish it from the more established commercial ginger beers, which are not brewed (fermented), but carbonated with pressurized carbon dioxide. Hollows & Fentimans claims its ginger beer to be gluten-free. Crabbie's ginger beer is free from gluten in the UK, but not the US.
Ginger beer plant
The ginger beer plant (GBP), also known as "bees wine", "Palestinian bees", "Californian bees", and "balm of Gilead", is not what is usually considered a plant but a composite organism comprising the yeast Saccharomyces florentinus (formerly S. pyriformis) and the bacterium Lactobacillus hilgardii (formerly Brevibacterium vermiforme), which form a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). It forms a gelatinous substance that allows it to be easily transferred from one fermenting substrate to the next, much like kefir grains, kombucha, and tibicos. The GBP was first described by Harry Marshall Ward in 1892, from samples he received in 1887. Original ginger beer is brewed by leaving water, sugar, ginger, optional ingredients such as lemon juice and cream of tartar, and GBP to ferment for several days, converting some of the sugar into alcohol. GBP may be obtained from several commercial sources. Until about 2008 laboratory-grade GBP was available, only from the yeast bank Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen in Germany (catalogue number DMS 2484), but the item is no longer listed. The National Collection of Yeast Cultures (NCYC) had an old sample of "Bees wine" as of 2008[update], but current staff have not used it, and NCYC are unable to supply it for safety reasons, as the exact composition of the sample is unknown.
In the UK, the origins of the original ginger beer plant is unknown. When a batch of ginger beer was made using some ginger beer plant (GBP), the jelly-like residue was also bottled and became the new GBP. Some of this GBP was kept for making the next batch of ginger beer, and some was given to friends and family, so the 'plant' was passed on through generations. Following Ward's research and experiments, he created his own ginger beer from a new 'plant' that he had made, and he proposed, but did not prove, that the 'plant' was created by contaminants found on the raw materials, with the yeast coming from the raw brown sugar and the bacteria coming from the ginger root.
A form of Ginger beer plant can be made by fermenting a mixture of water, brewer's or baker's yeast (not from SCOBY as described above), ginger, and sugar; this is kept for a week or longer, with sugar regularly added (e.g. daily) to increase alcohol content. More ginger may also be added. When finished, this concentrated mix is strained, diluted with water and lemon juice, and bottled.
Ginger beer soft drink
The ginger beer soft drink may be mixed with beer (usually a British ale of some sort) to make one type of shandy, or with dark rum to make a drink, originally from Bermuda, called a Dark 'N' Stormy. It is the main ingredient in the Moscow Mule cocktail (although in some cases ginger ale is used as an alternative, where ginger beer is not available).
- Ginger ale
- Root beer
- Barritt's Ginger Beer
- Caribbean cuisine
- Ginger wine
- Canton (liqueur)
- List of soft drink flavors
- Donoghue v. Stevenson, legal case involving ginger beer
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- Of the Street Sale of Ginger-Beer, Sherbet, Lemonade,&C., from London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1, Henry Mayhew, 1851; subsequent pages cover the costs and income of street ginger beer sellers.