Returning to the question of the specific particulars of ginger beer’s origin. Another interesting source offers a provocatively detail-rich but probably unprovable origin story.
In 1885 several American newspapers including the Monmouth (Illinois) Evening Gazette ran a letter by one Dr. J. Hameral. Hameral claimed that the father of an acquaintance invented ginger beer “some eighty years ago.” (Doing the math, this would be 1805).
To hear Hameral tell it, ginger beer was invented by a Frenchman, Louis Carez. Carez reportedly, was the son of a modest country doctor who was sent to study in London. Unfortunately for this young expatriate, his family back home quickly fell on hard times, and their son had to abandon school. Carez boarded with a sympathetic druggist who charged him little rent and offered to help teach him the trade so he could support himself.
According to the story, Carez, at work in the shop, happened to taste some powdered ginger after vending it to a customer as medicine. Taken with the flavor, he added it to some sweetened water. This resulted in a crude ginger beer. (One may note the conspicuous absence of fermentation in this account). Carez was said to have gone on to perfect the flavor, launch a wildly successful bottling and street-vending campaign, sold his recipe to a partner and absconded back to the Continent where he became a wealthy trader in silks.
Now, the French are almost universally known for their gustatory excellence. But we may never know if the French genesis story holds up. It is certain that ginger beer has never come close to captivating the Gallic world the way it once did the Anglo-American-Canadian-Caribbean. However, as anyone reading the ginger beer reviews on this website will put together, many individual ginger beer brands sprang from druggists’ operations.
Here we would be remiss if we did not step back and put ginger beer in the greater context of sodas in general. And believe it or not, for this we will have to briefly return to the social and economic history of the classical period.