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Ingredients

Ginger Ale vs. Ginger Beer: What's the Difference?

These seemingly similar beverages have some key differences.
By Published Oct. 21, 2022

They’re both refreshing, bubbly, and pleasantly spicy, but ginger ale and ginger beer are two very different beverages.

Would you be able to tell the difference, though? And what exactly are those differences?

Here’s everything you need to know about ginger ale and ginger beer.

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What Is Ginger Ale?

Ginger ale is a carbonated drink for soda lovers looking for a gingery twist. It’s sweet; nonalcoholic; and has a smooth, mellow flavor. It works well as a mixer for cocktails (usually as a substitute for club soda) and won’t overpower many other flavors you blend it with.

Often a go-to for anyone with an upset stomach, most of the ginger ales you see on the shelves these days have little (if any) actual ginger. That doesn’t stop ginger ale enthusiasts from cracking open a can when feeling under the weather, though. Whether it’s a placebo effect or the carbonation, we’re not knocking it.

What Is Ginger Beer?

As opposed to ginger ale, ginger beer has a bolder flavor, with pronounced sweet-spicy ginger notes. Also unlike the ale, ginger beer is brewed and fermented. 

Ginger beer was once made by fermenting ginger, sugar, water, and occasionally lemon to create a drink with an alcohol content of around 11%. But today, ginger beer can be enjoyed by all ages with no added buzz, as the majority of commercial ginger beers are no longer produced with alcohol.

You’d probably be able to tell the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer on sight: ginger beer usually has a cloudy quality that ginger ale doesn’t.

When to Use Ginger Beer vs. Ginger Ale

Both of these delicious drinks can easily be enjoyed on their own, but they both have a variety of uses. Since their flavors—while similar—have different intensities, you’re not going to want to mix them up in the kitchen.

When it comes to using ginger ale (which you can make at home!) in cocktails, it's best for applications when you're looking for a subtle ginger flavor. It's often used in the eponymous whiskey ginger, as well as Pimm’s Cups (although we preferred seltzer in ours). We also use ginger ale in our gingerbread cake glaze.

Ginger beer, on the other hand, is a strong flavor component in popular cocktails Moscow Mule and the Dark and Stormy. We've also used it in cooking when we're looking for an intense ginger flavor—we've made everything from raspberry sorbet to cranberry sauce with it.