Now that Fall is upon us I want to tell you a bit about my go to drink for….last Summer.
Ok, so the timing may be a bit off now that we’re moving more toward hot toddies than pina coladas, but I’ve spent the past couple of months working on variations of a classic summer refresher: the Moscow Mule.
Chances are at some point in your life you’ve had a Moscow Mule or any number of variations using different spirits.
But there’s one thing that consistently makes the difference between a good Mule and a great one.
What is it?
The ginger beer.
You see, not all ginger beer is created equally. And for years I’d wondered “what really is the best ginger beer for a Moscow mule?”
So we finally did something about it.
We did a blind taste test of 7 of the most popular types of ginger beer, to see which one really did come out on top.
But before we reveal the results, we should go over a couple key things about ginger beer you should know.
Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale: What’s the Difference?
Ginger ale and Ginger beer both share the common ingredient of ginger (duh) but the similarities end there.
The primary difference is how they’re made and the corresponding difference in taste that process creates.
Ginger beer is essentially ginger, water and sugar fermented with yeast, and then carbonated. Ginger ale is ginger, water and sugar that’s carbonated without being fermented.
Although ginger beer and ginger ale can both be used as cocktail mixers, ginger beer has more of a “bite” and has a stronger taste that can mask the unpleasant edge in some liquors.
Ginger beer can run the gamut from clear to quite cloudy, depending on the filtering process, although it’s usually darker in color than ginger ale.
In short, ginger ale is a syrupy, sweet, carbonated soda pop whereas ginger beer is a spicy, complex mixer that should burn a little on the way down. No one would ever think to make a Moscow Mule with ginger ale…At least not if they care at all about their cocktails.
Best Ginger Beer: What’s the Best for a Moscow Mule?
Although I spent some time trying different liquors to make variations like the aforementioned Mexican Mule, a Bourbon based Kentucky Mule and even a Rum based Dark and Stormy, I always find my way back to the original…The Moscow (Vodka) version.
But, I wondered, especially with a flavor neutral alcohol like vodka, how much difference the choice of ginger beer might make to the overall flavor of the drink.
In short, are all ginger beers created equal?
As I discovered, not so much.
Now up to a point, the differences may be more akin to the difference between Coke and Pepsi than, say, 7 Up and Orange Crush but after sampling several different varieties I found out that I definitely had a preference.
As I ran through a few of the options out there, I concentrated on some of the most widely available varieties although there are many other local, regional and international variations that I’m sure would be worth a taste. This list is just a way to get you pointed in the right direction.
The Taste Test
This debate has raged in our household and among friends for years: what is the best ginger beer for a Moscow Mule?
Some swear by
So we wanted to put this to rest once and for all.
We assembled the Slightly Pretentious professional (yeah, right) tasting panel and sat down with 7 bottles poured into unmarked glasses for a blind taste test to see if we really liked what we thought we liked.
We each had rating categories that included things like spice, sweet, carbonation and ultimately an overall favorite.
I suppose one thing to keep in mind is that we sampled straight ginger beer. No lime, no liquor, no other additives and I have to say that a solo glass of ginger beer tastes a good bit different than a fully mixed cocktail. But I digress…
So here you go in sort of a “reverse favorite” order, our findings:
#7) Most Overrated: Reeds Strongest
Reeds comes in 3 levels of spice, Original, Extra and Strongest with each adding more ginger to the mix. I wanted to try the Strongest blend because it sounded like it would have the extra kick I’m always looking for. In fact, it didn’t seem to have all that much spice and our team agreed, it had a vaguely unpleasant aftertaste. Our least favorite of the bunch.
#6) Most Disappointing: Trader Joe’s
TJs!! You let us down. You have so many delicious and affordable store brands, we thought for sure that your ginger beer was going to be a hit.
Alas…this wasn’t to be the case.
On the low end of the carbonation scale. Not particularly sweet or spicy TJ’s was just sort of forgettable.
#5) An Australian Blunder? Bundaberg
Bundaberg had a bit of a “cidery” aftertaste that we found was also was a bit on the sweet and syrupy side with a relatively low level of carbonation. Passable, and for cider fans may well be a fine choice – but it wasn’t for us.
4) Best “Burn”: Llanllyr Source Fiery
This one was a bit divisive… Those that liked the burn rated this higher than those that didn’t.
We’re looking at you Tate.
Fiery is the operative word because this one really does bring the heat. For some reason it made me think of Christmas spices with additional notes of Juniper.
And no, I’m not sure how to pronounce the name.
We really think this could go great in other cocktails as well, so if you’re looking for one with the most flavor – this one is for you.
3) Better Than Expected: Cock ‘n Bull
Cock ‘n Bull hits the flavor profile right down the middle and is the go ginger beer at many of your favorite bars.
Kind of on the mild side and edging toward sweet more than spicy, you can’t go wrong here.
Probably the “safest” choice of the bunch if you’re on the fence about how prominent a flavor you’re looking for.
Chances are good that if you’ve had a Mule at any dive bar in America, it was made with Cock ‘n Bull.
2) Most Accessible:
A close second and the one that I originally expected to finish in the top spot. Blended using three types of ginger for their complementary, yet distinctive, flavor profiles it yields a refreshing and clean taste without being overly sweet.
But surprisingly (at least to us), it didn’t take the top spot.
1) Best Ginger Beer For Moscow Mules: Q
Q ginger beer was the hands down favorite. The perfect blend of spicy and sweet that’s intended to be a mixer and a mixer only. A blend that includes organic agave, chili peppers, coriander and cardamom plus extra carbonation that seems to add to that extra “burn” that can add a lot to a ginger beer.
Breaking Down the Ginger Beer Rankings Even More
Our top 7 above were based on the average of our 4 person voting panel. But not all tastes are created equal. So if you’re looking for a second opinion, we wanted to give you the scores from each of us, so you can continue to make the best choice for you.
Sean’s Favorites (Cocktail aficionado with wide ranging tastes)
Sean’s the guy behind this site, and likes cocktails and libations of all types. He’s got an open mind, and is willing to try anything. Here was his take:
Tate’s Favorite Ginger Beers (Likes More Mainstream Flavors)
Tate has been around the world with Sean to far more cocktail bars than most people will ever visit. She likes unique drinks, but usually stays away from anything too strong or spirit forward. Her tastes are a bit more mainstream.
Steve’s Favorite Ginger Beers (The Stronger the Better)
Sean’s dad. Pretty mainstream in terms of cocktail preferences but is a big fan of the “burn”
Julie (Likes Balance Between Spicy and Sweet)
Steve’s significant other. Likes a little spice…but not TOO much.
Looking For More?
For a little more background on the Moscow Mule and it’s variations? Check out How to Make a Moscow Mule: The Ultimate Summer Cocktail
One More Thing…
How could we forget? There’s one thing that is almost as important as the ginger beer when making any kind of Mule cocktail:
The copper mugs.
You’d be amazed how much of a difference this has on how enjoyable a Moscow Mule is to drink. So if you don’t have a set, I highly recommend you pick one up immediately.