What's the Difference Between Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer?

Getty Ginger Ale Ginger Beer 8/22/19

Are ginger beer and ginger ale the same thing—and can you substitute one for the other? Here’s what you need to know before you make that Moscow mule with Canada Dry. 

Ginger Beer vs. Ginger Ale

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Ginger Beer is a (usually) non-alcoholic, brewed, and fermented beverage. Ginger ale, meanwhile, is a carbonated beverage made with water and flavored with ginger. 

Both are ginger-flavored, but ginger beer is much strong-tasting and spicier. Since it’s fermented, ginger beer is less fizzy than the carbonated ginger beverage. Today’s ginger beer alcohol content is usually less than 0.5 percent, which means it meets the FDA’s requirements for a non-alcoholic beverage. 

Some small soda companies brew both their ginger beers and their ginger ales these days, which leads to some overlap. 

Ginger Beer 101

Dating back more than 5,000 years, ginger is one of the oldest spices that we know about. Ginger has long been used medicinally or to amp up drinks. Brewed ginger beer, as we know it, came to be in 18th-century England. The earliest ginger beer was made as a fermented alcoholic beverage using ginger, yeast, sugar, and water.

Most modern varieties are non-alcoholic, but you can still buy ginger beers with upwards of 8% ABV. 

Ginger beer can be enjoyed alone or as a mixer. The Dark ‘n’ Stormy (made with rum and ginger beer) and the Moscow mule (made with vodka and ginger beer) both rely on the beverage as a main ingredient. 

Popular ginger beer brands are Fever Tree, Cock ‘n’ Bull, Bundaberg, and Reed’s. 

Read more: How to Make DIY Ginger Beer

Ginger Ale 101

Ginger ale is often used as a tonic to help soothe an upset stomach. There are two types of ginger ale: golden and dry. 

Thomas Joseph Cantrell, an Irish apothecary and surgeon, claimed to have invented golden ginger ale in the 1800s. The golden style is sweeter, spicier, and has a stronger ginger taste than the dry style. 

Dry ginger ale is credited to John J. McLaughlin, a Canadian chemist and pharmacist who added ginger and other flavor extracts to soda water in 1904. His concoction was patented in 1907 as Canada Dry Ginger Ale. 

Canada Dry is still an incredibly popular brand, but whether or not it actually contains ginger anymore is a point of contention. The soda company has faced lawsuits, most recently in 2018, that allege the drink is not made using ginger root. However, Canada Dry disputes these claims, saying that ginger is used to make the “natural flavoring” in the ingredients list found on the label. 

Other popular ginger ale brands include Buffalo Rock, Schweppes, Vernors, and Seagram’s.

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