Three years ago, I was a young and naive college freshman who didn't know much about cocktails or making drinks. One night my cool friend suggested that we make Moscow Mules (this was before the Moscow Mule trend hit) and I had no idea what they were. That night I headed over to my friend's place armed with ginger ale, limes, and some vodka. The look on her face when she saw the ingredients I had purchased was nothing short of appalled. Clearly I did NOT know the difference between ginger beer vs ginger ale.

Don't be like freshman Emma, learn the difference between these super similar drinks ASAP.

What is Ginger Beer?

Sarah Wu

Ginger beer is the OG ginger-flavored drink, since it was around long before ginger ale.  It originated in the 1800's as a fizzy, fermented drink made of ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and a bacteria called “ginger beer plant.” The fermenting process gave original ginger beer a small alcohol content.

However, nowadays most ginger beers are sold as non-alcoholic beverages, which makes the name "beer" pretty misleading.

How is Ginger Ale Different?

Chocolate cake, treat, plate and cake HD photo by Anete Lūsiņa (@anete_lusina) on Unsplash

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Ginger Ale was supposedly invented in Ireland in the late 19th century, but the drink that we know and love today was invented in Canada in the 1910's. That's where the name Canada Dry comes from.

Basically, ginger ale is a much less intense version of ginger beer. It isn't fermented and is more like a ginger-flavored soda water than anything else. Ginger ale was never alcoholic, unlike its more intense counterpart.

Also, people tend to drink ginger ale when they have upset stomachs, although there isn't any conclusive evidence that this helps.

Ginger Beer vs Ginger Ale, Which Should You Use?

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Unless you're a cocktail snob (*cough, cough my friend*) you can use these two ginger drinks pretty interchangeably. People tend to use ginger beer in cocktails because the stronger flavor is better for balancing out other flavors like citrus or alcohol. 

I'd suggest trying out your favorite drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) with both options and deciding which one you like better. Ginger ale can provide a light and sweet finish, while ginger beer gives a spicy intensity. Here are some of my favorite recipes that can help you settle the ginger beer vs ginger ale debate for yourself.

Apple Cider Float

apple, cider, juice, sweet
Susanna Mostaghim

Half ginger ale or beer, half apple cider, and one big scoop of ice cream makes this autumnal riff on a root beer float a home run.

Moscow Mules with Summer Produce

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These summery versions of Moscow Mules are sure to cure your ginger craving. You might just find your new favorite drink.

Classic Sangria

juice, ice, cocktail, lemonade, sweet, apple, tea, iced tea
Rebecca Buchanan

If you want mellow sangria, use some ginger ale. If you want to spice things up, replace the ginger ale in this recipe with ginger beer.

Overall, there is no right answer to the question of ginger beer vs ginger ale. It is totally up to your personal preference. Back in the day when ginger beer was more alcoholic this was another story, but now the drinks are pretty damn similar.