There was a time when you had only two choices in the tonic-and-soda arena. You’d walk into your local grocery and be faced with Schweppes or Canada Dry and that was the end of it. These days, thanks to the cocktail renaissance, the success of specialty brands like Jones Soda and the increasing number of imports from outside the States, there are a bevy of mixers that make those Canada Dry days of yore seem pale and wan by comparison. Tonic, soda, lemon, ginger beer…you name it, an ocean of choices await you.
And since there are so many choices out there, I took it upon myself to test some of the options that are available these days. I wandered into the local BevMo and picked off one of every kind of alternative tonic water, club soda, bitter lemon, ginger ale and ginger beer that was available. I omitted the old standbys, as I figure we all know what those taste like and I might as well document some uncharted mixological waters.
Fever Tree | Surrey, UK | cane sugar – 18g – 2% juice with quinine
Nearly clear with faint yellow tinge and obvious pulp. Larger, tonic-style bubbles with pleasant effervescence. Fresh, crisp lemon flavor with definite bitter notes akin to the tonic flavor and light body. Category champion!
Stirrings | Massachusetts, US | sugar – 13g – “natural lemon essence”
Distinct yellow color, close to brut champagne. Smaller bubbles with more effervescence. Very, very sweet with an artificial tart-lemon flavor, akin to Sweettarts candy. Cola-like thickness of body.
Fever Tree | Surrey, UK | cane sugar – 17g
Tart, with a tangy, crisp flavor. Very effervescent with large bubbles. Category champion!
Stirrings | Massachusetts, US | sugar – 19g
Very mild with sweet notes and distinct lemon/citrus flavor. Champagne-esque small bubbles and quite effervescent.
Fever Tree | Surrey, UK | 0g sugar
Very mild, smooth flavor with general crispness. Very effervescent with large bubbles. Category champion!
Stirrings | Massachusetts, US | 0g sugar
Salty, drier flavor without crispness. Much larger bubbles than other Stirrings products, though with a good amount of effervescence.
Blenheim | South Carolina, US | sucrose – 41g – natural ginger flavor
Deep gold color, similar to sparkling apple juice, with large bubbles. Very sweet up front with a heavy, fiery spiciness on the finish. The spice lingers at the back of the throat long after you’re done drinking. Almost too overpowering when mixed. Much better for drinking by itself.
Fever Tree | Surrey, UK | cane sugar – 17g – natural ginger
Straw color, akin to chardonnay. Smaller bubbles, though with equal effervescence. Clean, fresh ginger flavor; slightly tangy but subtle enough to mix with. Category champion!
A.J. Stephans Jamaican Style Ginger Beer | Massachusetts, US | cane sugar – 43g – ginger flavor
Cloudy, pale yellow with a strong, spicy ginger flavor and a very sweet, spicy finish. Category runner-up!
Buderim Yank Style Ginger Brew | Queensland, AUS | cane sugar – 29g – ginger
Cloudy with a distinctly yellow color, akin to lemonade. Very little carbonation. Strong, earthy fresh ginger flavor lacking overt spiciness and overpowering sweetness. Category champion!
Bundaberg Ginger Beer | Queensland, AUS | cane sugar – 40g – ginger
Moderately cloudy, much like lemonade VitaminWater, with flecks of ginger and good carbonation. A moderate ginger flavor with pronounced sweetness.
Captain Eli’s Ginger Brew | Maine, US | cane sugar – 49g – ginger flavor
Clear, light gold color with moderate carbonation. Distinct ginger flavor with lots of sweetness, spicy finish.
Cock ‘n’ Bull Ginger Beer | Minnesota, US | cane sugar, corn syrup – 35g – ginger flavor
Completely clear with moderate carbonation. Very light ginger flavor, more like ginger ale than ginger beer.
Ed & Pete’s Ginger Beer | Rhode Island, US | cane sugar – 27g – ginger flavor
Cloudy, pale yellow lemonade color with flecks of ginger. Strong, earth flavor with definite spicy ginger notes. Category runner-up!
Reed’s Jamaican Style Ginger Brew | California, US | fructose, pineapple juice, honey – 37.4g – ginger
Clear, light gold color with moderate carbonation. Light ginger flavor with intense sweetness and definite notes of pineapple.