Let's state the truth to begin with: Ginger Beer is not really beer. The rule for beer is that it has to be brewed with grains, and ginger root does not fall into the category of grain. That all being said, it is a deliciously refreshing beverage! Ginger beer is made by combining ginger, lemon, sugar, water and yeast and then letting the yeast do its work. There are other ingredients that can be added to change the flavour profile of the beverage but brewers don’t give out their secrets that easily ;)
The history of ginger beer is a little blurry but thanks the worldwide web we have still managed to scavenge up many of the facts.
After several crusades Eastwards the medieval Europeans had grown a taste for the exotic spices of Asia, however the journey to bring these flavours back to Europe was treacherous and, as a result, these spices remained in the exotic category for some time. This all changed, at least for ginger, when the Spanish began growing it in Mexico in the mid 1500’s. Ginger was also grown in modern Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Jamaica, and it was the Jamaican faction of these ginger producers which helped give birth to ginger beer; be it indirectly.
In the middle of the 1600’s the English took Jamaica from the Spanish and thus got a hold of the ginger plantations there. Suddenly ginger was accessible to the British in quantities and at prices that they had never been before.
In an opposite fashion to what we’re used to -usually we gain clarity when discussing drunken histories- here the history of ginger beer begins to blur. Some tell that ginger began appearing in salt shakers in British pubs and that patrons began using these to flavour their beers. We know that The Royal Society of London tried to brew beer with ginger instead of hops in 1702, but this doesn’t constitute ginger beer, especially in the way we know it today (either way their experiments never took off). In the late 1800’s The Americans claim to have invented it at the beginning of the century. That wasn’t true but good try guys!
As far as we know, and have evidence for, ginger beer was invented in Britain in the early 1700’s. Ginger, water, sugar, lemon and yeast were added together to create a lightly carbonated and refreshing, low ABV beverage (less than 2%) which was safer to drink than the often contaminated water. From here it was bottled in Stoneware bottles, which were corked to keep the carbonation in and then shipped around the world.
Despite the fact that it’s not really “beer” we have crafted one of our own alcoholic ginger beers -the Ginja Ninja- and you can find this exceptionally refreshing beverage on draft alongside all of our other beers at the Tumut River Brewing Co. Our beers (ginger or otherwise) are made with beautiful Tumut river water, which starts its life in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales.