If you've enjoyed a moscow mule or a dark and stormy, then chances are that you've heard of ginger beer, the ideal Summer cocktail mixer for lovers of all things fermented and bubbly. But despite its popularity, most people have no idea what the heck ginger beer even is. Unlike its cousin ginger ale (a drink better known for taming upset stomachs than mixing with cocktails, though it can definitely be used for both), ginger beer has much more of a "gingery" flavor because it's naturally fermented rather than simply carbonated. It's also actually made with ginger root.
But the question remains: is ginger beer actually beer? The drink, which originated in the mid-1700s in England, was first known as an alcoholic beverage made from sugar, ginger, water, and a starter culture known as the ginger beer plant. Today, the name ginger beer is bit of a misnomer. Almost all brands (save for a few, such as Crabbie's, a popular UK brand) sell ginger beer as a soft drink, meaning it doesn't contain any alcohol. Ginger beer has never even been made with hops or grains, so alcoholic ginger beer is actually closer to a hard cider or wine because of the fermentation process and sugar levels. But fear not — if you're tired of ordering vodka sodas at the bar, there's plenty of ways to add alcohol to ginger beer and make it your new go-to mixer of choice.