The Difference Between Ginger Ale And Ginger Beer (& Which Is Spicier)

Ginger ale and ginger beer are both popular beverages known for their spicy and refreshing taste, but just because they share a single ingredient doesn't mean they are the same. In fact, they are actually different in several ways. 

Ginger ale is a carbonated soft drink that is flavored like ginger but tends to have a relatively mild flavor. On the other hand, ginger beer is a fermented drink that is brewed from ginger, sugar, yeast, and water. While ginger ale is milder in flavor, ginger beer has a stronger and more pronounced ginger taste. Though not all ginger beer has alcohol, some can have up to 11% alcohol according to America's Test Kitchen.

Though the two types of ginger drinks can sometimes be confused with each other, once you understand the key difference between them, knowing when and how to use each is easy. 

What is ginger ale?

Ginger ale is a carbonated soft drink that was originally created as a remedy for nausea and upset stomachs in the 19th century (via Detroit Historical). At that time, ginger was widely recognized for its digestive benefits, and ginger ale was created as a way to make these benefits more accessible and palatable. Over time, ginger ale evolved into a popular, refreshing flavor of soda. Even today, ginger ale is one of the most popular soft drinks in the world, enjoyed as a mixer for cocktails or on its own.

Made with ginger extract, sugar, and carbonated water, ginger ale is typically sweeter and lighter in taste and color than ginger beer. Some of the most popular brands of ginger ale include Canada Dry, Schweppes, and Vernors. Ginger ale is a staple mixer for cocktails such as a Whisky Ginger or a Pimm's Cup and is also a popular drink on its own, enjoyed for its crisp, light, and refreshing flavor according to America's Test Kitchen.

What is ginger beer?

While both drinks have been enjoyed for centuries and have evolved over time to become the drinks we know and love today, ginger beer pre-dates ginger ale. According to Oliko Ginger Beer, ginger beer originated during the colonial spice trade and was first created in Yorkshire, England during the 1700s. Unlike ginger ale, ginger beer is brewed and fermented, giving it a unique flavor profile that is more robust and spicy than ginger ale.

Today, ginger beer is enjoyed all over the world, with many different brands and flavor profiles available. Some of the most popular brands of ginger beer include Reed's, Fever-Tree, and Gosling's. Like ginger ale, ginger beer is also used as a mixer for cocktails, with the Moscow Mule and Dark 'n' Stormy cocktails becoming two of its most well-known uses.

How to cook with ginger ale and ginger beer

So, what happens if you're in the middle of a recipe that calls for ginger ale, but you only have ginger beer on hand? Or vice versa? Fortunately, these two drinks can be substituted for each other in most cases. If you're using ginger ale in place of ginger beer, you may need to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe, as ginger ale is typically sweeter. If you're using ginger beer in place of ginger ale, the flavor profile of the finished dish may be stronger and more robust.

When it comes to which recipes are best suited for ginger ale or ginger beer, it really depends on the desired flavor profile. Ginger ale works best in lighter cocktails and recipes where a subtle hint of ginger flavor is desired. For example, ginger ale is a great mixer for fruity cocktails such as a Pina Colada or a strawberry daiquiri. On the other hand, ginger beer is best used in more robust cocktails and recipes where a stronger ginger flavor is desired. Ginger beer works particularly well in spicy dishes such as curries and stir-fries.

Whether you prefer the crisp, light flavor of ginger ale or the robust, spicy flavor of ginger beer, both drinks are versatile mixers that can add depth and complexity to a variety of cocktails and recipes. Understanding the differences between these two drinks and how to substitute them in recipes will help you take your cooking and mixology skills to the next level.