Ginger beer (not to be confused with ginger ale) is a soft drink containing fermented ginger spice and sugar. While traditional ginger beers were fizzy and alcoholic as a result of the fermented sugars, modern commercial ginger beers are carbonated with pressurized carbon dioxide and tend not to contain alcohol, unless otherwise specified.
Whether ginger beer is gluten-free depends on the brand, as some brands may include wheat or corn. The key is to check ingredients labels for malt and barley. Ginger ale, on the other hand, never contains gluten.
Gluten-free ginger beers include:
A key difference between ginger beer and ginger ale is that ginger beer involves naturally fermenting actual ginger, while ginger ale is carbonated water flavored with ginger and sweetened. Ginger beer also tends to form a foam on top when poured, giving it a more beer-like aesthetic. But for many large-scale soda manufacturers today, the difference comes down to the intensity of the spicy, gingery taste, as many manufacturers have begun using carbonated water as their base for both ginger beers and ginger ales. Introducing a higher level of spice makes a beverage sellable as a ginger beer, while applying a lighter hint of the ginger flavoring results in a ginger ale.
Ginger beer dates back to Britain's Eastern spice trade and colonial presence in the Carribean. The first form of the drink originated in Yorkshire, England in the mid-1700s, when sugar, ginger, water, and a culture known as ginger beer plant were fermented together over several days, creating an alcoholic version of the drink when the sugar converted to alcohol. It was popular in Britain and Britain's colonies throughout the 1800s, and by the early 20th century, ginger beer had peaked in popularity across Britain, the United States, Ireland, South Africa, and Canada.
While it may be called ginger "beer", the modern day form is technically a soft drink and only certain brands contain alcohol. For the most part, commercial ginger beers tend to be non-alcoholic. Ginger beers vary as far as intensity of spice is concerned, with some containing much more kick than others. Today, ginger beer tends to be manufactured as opposed to brewed, with extra ingredients added for ideal flavor and color. Some popular brands from the US include Rocky's Ginger Beer and Kure's Ginger Beer, while Stoney, a Coca-Cola product, is popular in southern and eastern Africa. In the United Kingdom, alcoholic ginger beer remains popular, with brand's like Crabbie's and Hollows & Fentimans.
These days, ginger beers are being repopularized as a result of their crucial roles in various cocktails.