Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Reviewer’s Note: Sample of the product discussed here was provided to me for reviewing purposes at no cost.

Made with fermented ginger that gets steeped for up to 6 weeks before blending with secret spices, this Scottish brand produced in Liverpool, England sent me multiple varieties of its popular alcoholic ginger beer. When three 500-ml bottles of its Spiced Orange, Scottish Raspberry, and Original alcoholic ginger beer (4.8% abv) arrived on our doorstep, the opportunity presented by this sampling loomed large.

You see, my historical opinion of commercial alcohol-spiked soft drinks hasn’t always held them in high regard. Most often, I’ve found them too thick and their sweetness too syrupy. I’ve found their alcohols to contribute weight and little else to the beverage beyond a distracting fiery element too coarse to feel altogether welcome in the throat or on the tongue, particularly when paired with the overt acidity typical of carbonated beverages. Marry that stance with a lifelong general sense of “meh” when it comes to ginger beers, and it might sound like I was unexcited by this sampling prospect. Nothing could be more untrue, though. When it comes to foods and beverages that I have a less-than-favorable notion about, I’m always delighted for any chance to have my opinion adjusted for the better.

So, after chilling the bottles overnight and slicing limes, I began with the Original flavor, and determined to progress from that to the Raspberry, then to the Spiced Orange. This, because when offered a range of flavors of any product, I always begin with its original form—doing so better acquaints me with what its makers seek to express—before moving on to varietals.  The latter, I tend to arrange in ascending order from that which I estimate to be the least pronounced to that which is likely to be strongest.

The Original variety offered me subdued sugar that imparted necessary sweetness without seeming excessive. Modulating the fiery ginger heat with enough alcohol to warm the palate without scorching it, this beverage did a good enough job of avoiding the off-putting saccharine quality I’ve taken such exception to in the past. This encouraged me as I poured a sample of the Raspberry ginger beer.

What impressed me most with that sample is that whereas I expected it to taste primarily of ginger flavored with raspberry, it instead tasted of vibrant raspberry that had been laced with candied ginger root. The same was true of the Orange variety, which led with refreshing citrus fruit while the ginger followed a beat behind.

In each Crabbie’s variety sampled, the ginger brings enough fire with it to keep the sugary and fruity aspects from being too cloying. The alcohol melts into that smoldering sensation in a subtle, seamless manner that feels uncharacteristic of like brands, in a good way. It would have been easy for the alcohol, acidity, and the natural spiciness of ginger (all of which contribute in various ways to making a chilled beverage feel “hot” on the tongue) to taste unsynchronized, as though they were jostling for dominance. This beverage line, however, has found a way to make them harmonize and play nicely together. I’m excited to see more from Crabbie’s (and perhaps to revisit alcoholic soft drinks in general.)

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