Occasionally I’m compelled to review something not of the Trader Joe’s brand. Why? Am I crazy? Am I trying to sabotage the accuracy of my own blog’s name. Far from it! Every now and then, Trader Joe’s simply finds a product that, for one byzantine, boring reason or another, they choose to bring in under its original brand name instead of using the TJ label.
|What it is:||Very sweet, alcoholic ginger ale.|
|Costs:||$4.99 a bottle.|
|Worth it:||Nope, too expensive.|
To that we can add Hollows and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Yes, you all know that I’m a sucker for those potent ginger brews – case in point, Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer, Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew, etc. What makes Hollows and Fentimans’ Ginger Beer any different from the others crowding the shelves? 4% alcohol by volume, as fact would have it.
Yup, this is the first actually alcoholic ginger beer available from Trader Joe’s. And as exciting as that prospect is, it’s actually kind of a let down.
After so many delicious ginger drinks – in particular the recently released, cloudy and complex Brewed Ginger Beer – Trader Joe’s has set the bar quite high when it comes to spicy root-based beverages. Given that Hollow and Fentimans’ offering is billed as “all natural”, and comes from a British company with a 110 year history of brewing the stuff, I was expecting something equally flavorful, nuanced, and ginger-tastic. And while it certainly isn’t swill, this ginger beer is more like a syrupy ginger ale than a spicy taste bud tingler.
The contents of the bottle are golden-yellow, non-carbonated, and very sweet – sweeter than any can of regular ginger ale you can find on the shelf. This is actually a mark of its pedigree. The very first ginger ale ever sold, dating back to one Dr. Thomas Cantrell in Belfast in 1851, was also golden-yellow in color and sweet as the dickens. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that Canadian John McLaughlin developed “Canadian Dry” ginger ale – the more common, paler variety found in North America under big names like Schweppes, Seagrams and, yes, Canada Dry.
While that shows excellent adherence to tradition, it doesn’t really make Hollow and Fentimans Ginger Beer all that pleasant to drink. At the quite low 4% alcohol by volume, you don’ taste the beer in this ginger beer, just the sugar. The ginger part isn’t all that impressive either. After getting zazzed up by Trader Joe’s more sophisticated and intense ginger offerings, this ginger beer tastes positively juvenile – flat and one-note, with an unremarkable ginger taste dominated by cloying sweetness.
So if neither the “Ginger” part, or the “Beer” part are particularly appealing, what is there to draw you to this ginger beer? Certainly not the price, which comes at an outright expensive $5.99 per 12 oz bottle.
If you could get a six-pack for six bucks, this ginger beer might be worth it. As it stands, it would be easier, cheaper and tastier to mix a boozed up ginger drink yourself with Trader Joe’s own excellent offerings and a little bit of imagination.
Would I Recommend It: No, too expensive for such an average a drink.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope – see above.
Final Synopsis: A very sweet ginger ale, with little alcohol and not much kick.
There’re ginger ales, then there’re ginger beers, and then there’s this. Trader Joe’s Ginger Brew is an intense, carbonated ginger drink unlike anything else I’ve ever had – and I’ve drunk a liter of Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew.
There are a lot of types of ginger drinks in the world – ginger ale, ginger beer, this stuff, each one offering its own take on the complex, nuanced spice of ginger. Growing up on the ubiquitous Royal Canadian brand of ginger ale, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked the first time I tried a bottle of Reed’s Jamaican Style Ginger Beer. Never had I suspected that ginger soda could be so intense – never had I dreamed that someone would dare!
Since then I’ve warmed up to the idea of extremely gingery soda. Not a beverage you enjoy so much as explore – a sippin’ drink. The whiskey of the soda world. But even I was taken aback by Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer – a real ass kicker of a ginger soda that doesn’t let you off the hook just because you wanted to drink something sweet.
TJ’s Brewed Ginger Beer has the same intense ginger flavor of the seasonal Triple Ginger Brew, but adds in a mixture of lemon and lime, as well as a proprietary mix of natural flavorings and extracts – additions that are quite visible in the sediment that settles onto the bottom of the bottle. Not that you’ll be able to pick these flavors out from behind the fierce wall of extra ginger gingeriness that blasts you in the mouth.
However, it’s not just the ginger that makes this drink so unique, it’s the bitterness. Lurking behind the first blush of sweetness and the sharp slap of ginger there is a hard, bitter burn – like a hint of tonic water. That shocker is what sets this brewed ginger beer apart from other’s of it’s ilk. Of course bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, in this case I actually think it’s a nice touch, adding an extra dimension to the already complex play of flavors without being unpleasant to drink..
Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer certainly feels like a manly ginger ale, earning the bold nautical imagery TJ’s throws on the label. It’s so manly, in fact, that I can’t help but think about using it as a mixer in alcoholic drinks. Any ginger soda will work for your Dark and Stormy (dark rum and ginger ale), Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger ale) Horsefeather (whiskey and ginger ale) or Ginger Shandy (beer and ginger ale), however Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer’s complexity and not-too-sweet delivery is a natural choice for adding extra depth to your drink.
This may not be the most quaffable ginger soda in the world, but if you’re looking for a good ginger beer to savor, or an high-class mixer for your cocktails, it’s tailor made for you.
Would I Recommend It: To certain refined palettes, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Would I Buy It Again: Yeah, along with some more dark rum.
Final Synopsis: A strong, slightly bitter ginger beer with a lot of complexity.