Ginger beer is one of the upcoming drinks around, both as a refreshing, non-alcoholic beverage by itself or in one of the most popular cocktails currently, the Moscow Mule. Not only did I have a chance to talk to Chris Reed, the man behind Reed’s Ginger Brews and an expert in all things ginger, but in part two of this article I’ll go through my research into the various ginger beers and some taste tests on them, alone as well as in two popular drinks, the Moscow Mule and the Dark and Stormy. So let’s get started with part one, the Chris Reed interview.
Reed’s Ginger Beer has grown from a small Los Angeles company making one type of ginger beer into a large company, making not only several types of Ginger Beer under the Reed’s label, but natural sodas under the Virgil’s sodas label, Culture Club Kombucha teas and coffees, ginger ice creams and energy drinks, ginger chews and many more products.
Q: Chris, why are you so passionate about ginger?
I was becoming vegetarian and getting into yoga and meditation around 1977 and I started getting interested in these folk remedies and I got just was fascinated that you could learn so much and not go to doctors, and you could learn about herbs. I got into Ayurvedic herbology from India, I studied the herbology of China and ginger just stands out in every herbology around the world. Ginger is a revered tonic for general health and improved digestion, so I thought, “What’s the legacy for my life?” I wanted to put ginger into the U.S. diet. I think we’re the Number One proponent of ginger in America.
We’re the biggest proponent and have been for about 25 years. Ginger is in fact a growing spice in America and has been in the commodity data for about 20 years and it’s gone from 14 million pounds to about 130 million pounds a year. We love the research on ginger and cancer because they’ve had five studies in the last few years, university-based studies where they found that ginger just kills cancer cells left and right. We feel vindicated by the folklore.
Q: What’s the difference between Ginger Brew and Ginger Ale?
We wanted to, in the early days to distinguish ourselves from commercial sodas like a ginger ale or any other soda because sodas are made from flavors from chemistry labs or companies that develop fragrances and flavors. That’s mostly how the soda industry started. What we’ve done is gone to the truth that root beers and ginger beers were available before the commercial bottling started in 1830 and they way they were made then was completely different. They would go get roots like sassafras, get some ginger and they would brew them up in these old beer brewing processes. There’s a lot of crafting that goes into it, there are vintages or batch variances because you’re using different raw ingredients for the brewing process.
Sodas are so cheaply made and often times, for example, ginger ale doesn’t have any ginger in it anymore. We wanted to distinguish ourselves—-we use a lot more expensive ingredients, it takes a lot more time and energy and crafting going into it. We like to be associated more with the beer craft brewer or a winery rather than associated with the soda industry.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about Moscow Mules. What Ginger Brew do you think is the best for that, yourself? Do you like Moscow Mules?
Oh yes, I love them! I will lean towards a Dark and Stormy—-there’s nothing like rum, lime and a Ginger Brew. Many people do know that it’s often dangerous to go the way of rum. There are people who say that when you combine it with ginger, that ginger attenuates the negative effects. It keeps that inflammation, those kind of next-day problems a little more easy than you’d expect. I don’t drink much, when I drink, I drink to have fun. I’ll be a little more heavy on the rum but I love a Moscow Mule.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the different Ginger Beer products in your line………
I really like the Original a lot. It has such an amazing flavor to it. The ginger starts to dominate the flavor of Extra, the stronger one before the next level up [Stronger] came out a week or two ago, the ginger starts to dominate the lemon-lime-pineapple-honey composition of the drink. Original, in a lot of ways, is more of a perfect balance of the ingredients. It was magical and there are spices in there too besides ginger, we add some spices that add a lot to it. They aren’t common enough for people to guess what they are. Extra is more of a combination for the ginger lovers to get an extra-heavy hit. I think the Original is our most balanced product out there for sheer flavor.
The Stronger one is just Extra Ginger Brew with 50% more ginger, it’s a very simple formula. There’s a ginger beer out of England called Fever Tree that has made big inroads into the bar scene, and a few of the bartenders after tasting our combination side-by-side said, “I love your flavor but I like their spiciness”, so we figured OK, we’re going to give you a little closer to Blenheim’s fire. We did it, not with cheating, but with pure crushed ginger. Blenheim’s is just pure fire! That’s more of a capsicum thing than a ginger thing. It does get all-over-the-top spicy. We’re purists!
Q: We’re coming into the spring/summer season where people want a refreshing drink to quench their thirst. Which one do you think is best for just sitting around and sipping in the backyard?
I go outside all the time with Original Ginger Brew. We also have these mini’s of Extra, they’re like seven ounce bottles. I really like them because sometimes you don’t need a 12 ounce size. It’s a very strong, satisfying drink and I love the little seven ounce guys. They’re only available now as Extra or Stronger because they’re mainly being used by the bartenders. Those are my preference for sit around drinking. The seven ounce of Extra is probably perfection for me.
Q: So bartenders are an important part of your research?
We decided because we’d heard comments from a few bartenders, so now we have Original, 55 Light, Extra Strong and now we have a brand called Reed’s Stronger Ginger Brew. They have 50% more ginger than the Extra Strong one you probably used. The Original is a little less ginger and it has more pineapple and honey, so they probably appreciated those side flavors showing up, they work very well.
The Ginger Brew for a Moscow Mule—we scour the internet for bartenders to find out how people are mixing it. The Harvard Club on Times Square, bartender Paul Winston makes a Pimm’s Cup, which is normally with ginger ale. Usually, any drink you can make with ginger ale such as Ginger and Jack, Ginger and Maker’s Mark, when you put Ginger Brew in it, or Extra Ginger Brew in it, it takes these drinks to a whole different level. People are discovering it—if you think it’s good in a Moscow Mule, try it with tequila some time!
Or rum, or—-one of my favorites, and trust me on this, is Grand Marnier, Ginger Brew and lime. It is so freakin’ good! That was actually one that Paul came up with at the Harvard Club on Times Square and that a really good drink to sip.It’s a little sweet but when the lime goes in there and you have this orange and ginger and one of the products that we’re introducing is an orange and ginger product, they marry very nicely. Sweet fruits with ginger such as pineapple with ginger are what works. Raspberry is a little less sweet, but cherry ginger, apple ginger—you have to have sweet with ginger, otherwise it’s really intense in flavor, you know any time you combine something sweet…… so Grand Marnier has that orange, lime, ginger……
Q: You’ve really got creative with some of your beverages. What’s with all the flavors?
The first thing I did after starting the company and producing Original was the Spiced Apple Brew. In the Caribbean, what they do, how they looked at ginger beer in the old days, they would start around august and brew up a big ginger brew, add rum to it, put it in these big earthen vessels, dig a hole in the beach and bury them. They’d dig it up around Christmas time and that would be their Christmas celebration drink. So I’m bringing this Christmas celebration drink to the world , and at Christmas time one time I was thinking of making a mulled cider. I did make a mulled cider and it was great, but it just needed one more thing, so when I was done with that recipe I got somewhere, I brewed a bunch of fresh ginger in there and it actually tasted better! I said, “Wait a minute! That’s a great American celebration drink!”. Our spiced cider is Christmas for a lot of people who have enjoyed mulled cider throughout the years.
After that, the other flavors, I think Canada Dry or Schweppes came out with the first flavored ginger ale, a raspberry ginger ale, it had a little bit of pink color and a little bit of raspberry hi-tech commercial flavor. So I thought, “Let me show you how it’s done!”. Instead of using raspberry flavor ten times removed, I used real raspberry juice, I didn’t add color in, it was just the juice color. There was just one other company that had just discontinued his raspberry ginger ale because nobody cared. We we launching just about the day they discontinued it but we did it with such flair and it was such a high-quality product that immediately our Raspberry Ginger Brew did amazingly well. After that we started thinking of other things that could work. We went with cherry and used three different cherry juices, sour, sweet and a morello cherry to make a Cherry Ginger Brew. There are so many ways to go, I have Orange Ginger Brew, Mango, Passionfruit, Guava, Lemon—-there just so many that are kind of in our back pocket that we haven’t launched. Ginger Candy, Ginger Ice Cream, Ginger Cookies, Ginger Cosmetics, so there has been a certain amount of “Hey, Mr. Reed, you have got to just chill!”. But typically, behind the scenes, I say “Ok, you guys play with our SKU’s, but someday I’m going to be doing these other things that I have such a passion for”. So I’ll be indulged later on, I’ve got so many fingers in so many pies.
Q: You make other ginger products besides just the Ginger Brew…….
Well, we’re making ginger consumption fun. I mean, chewing on a root is only so pleasurable! Chewing on a root is pleasurable for only a small group of people, but for us, getting ginger into the diet is important. It helps digestion, it works really well at getting all the nutrition into the body. For seasickness, it’s definitely better than dramamine, in medical studies it’s been found to be better for nausea. The National Cancer Institute found it to as effective or more effective with no side effects for post-chemo nausea. You have chemo lounges buying our product. It turns out that it is anti-inflammatory, that it’s counter-intuitive. You’d think that it increases inflammation but it actually does the opposite. It increases circulation which causes inflammation to be reduced in the body. For hangovers, that’s why it’s great in a Moscow Mule.
Q: Any thoughts on the Light 55?
The most requested thing is that people love our stuff but they want less calories. WE basically took two-thirds of the calories out and used Stevia as a sweetener. It is what it is and there are people who like it, especially people who have found they have a palate for stevia. There’s not much we can do with it and we are playing with some other natural type zero calorie sweeteners that are coming into the marketplace. I think we can improve on it, but I think the only way to really improve on it to say, “OK, there’s some calories in it, now go out and hit some tennis balls!”.
We do have a little tagline, one of our original ones. “We make the best sodas in the world, naturally”. It’s in our nature to really want to craft with that but it’s also the other meaning is that we only use natural things. If there was a root beer and we couldn’t have done it naturally, we wouldn’t have done it if it just tasted bad. The natural foods industry, quite honestly, is full of stuff that’s no where near as good as what you remember. It’s like the 55 Extra. They pale in comparison to the modern version of it, but you do it because it’s healthy. That’s a lot of natural foods, and it was really important to me when I started this business that everything tasted good. At first it was just that it was authentic because we used fresh ginger, but it ended up being that we can actually taste better than modern commercial versions of our stuff. We’ve had a lot of fun being the best! And doing it naturally, they both are equally important.
Q: What is Kombucha and what are you doing with it?
The interesting thing is, we have five flavors of Kombucha. Most of them are ginger brews, but what it is, we started out making ourselves some tea and we happened to use oolong, yerba mate, getting a little eclectic with the teas, so we made the tea, sweetened it and then you add this culture to it and 30 days later you’ve got this big mushroom-like thing on the surface of your tea called a SCOBY. It’s an acronym that stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast. Anyways, it’s a thick layer and once that’s finished fermenting the tea out, a bit of the sugar is gone. The sugar is consumed into first, alcohol and then there’s bacteria in there that eat the alcohol and make vinegar, or acetic acid. It becomes sour, it has all types of B vitamins, organic acids, things that are just very healthy and detoxifying to the body.
There’s a huge health craze around Kombucha fermented teas in America. There’s like 10 billion dollars of fermented teas, Kombucha, sold in America. We started doing it in coffee recently and it’s really good, so that’s an exciting little twist on Kombucha that we’ve just started into. As a matter of fact, we got called up by one of the largest coffee companies in America. Starbucks is planning on introducing Coffee Kombucha to America and it’s very exciting.
Q: Any final thoughts, Chris?
I think that’s the main thing going on with our business now, we’re seeing so much growth just from our Ginger Brews. I don’t know this for certain since it’s hard to track our customers back home and what they do with their drinks, but it sure feels like they’re doing a lot of Moscow Mules right now!
In part two, I’ll be comparing Reed’s with some other ginger beers and mixing up batches of Moscow Mules and Dark and Stormy’s for taste tests. I’ll also be trying the ginger beers by themselves to see how they fare in sipping straight. My thanks to Reeds for providing some ginger beer to try.