Ginger Beer Review: Idris “Fiery” Ginger Beer


That was the first, most prevalent (and among the lesser most expected) flavor notes that accosted my senses when I first tried Idris.

idris_recroppedMaybe that’s because this ginger beer is sweetened not only with sugar, but with two doggone synthetic sweeteners as well. Idris’s candy wallop is additionally brought to you by aspartame — a controversial sweetener that was accidentally discovered by a chemist working on an anti-ulcer medication. As if that weren’t enough, they also threw acesulfame potassium into the mix. And how, you may ask, was acesulfame potassium first developed? Also by accident. And also in the mid 1960s, which was apparently a golden age from chemical food additive tinkering.

Do artificial sweeteners ever happen on purpose?


Idris is manufactured by Britvic. Britvic started in its more rustic, non-corporate, early years of the 1800s, was spun off from a Chelmsford, UK, chemist who started experimenting with soft drinks. The smart money says said chemist was probably a member of the Temperance Movement: a virtuous, civic-minded gentleman on a quest for non-alcoholic alternatives with which to tempt his famously tippling countrymen. The company’s focus went on to be health-related. The name “Britvic” comes from “British Vitamin Products.” And it had a mission to create affordable, beverage-based dietary supplements for the jolly olde dwellers north of the Channel.

But when you look at Britvic’s subsequent history — one of rampant mergers and acquisitions, which includes acquiring the license to make and distribute Pepsi and 7 Up in the UK — the precipitous decline in natural ingredients and the tongue-numbing influx of sweetness is no real surprise.

Interestingly, though, Britvic puts out a line of fruit drinks known as Robinson’s which combine fruit flavors like lemon, orange, and apple & black currant that are combined with barley flour.

If I know my history of British beverages, I’m betting that the additive that makes these “barley water” drinks what they are was first put forth as a would-be nutrition booth. Fun fact? As you can read in my upcoming The Comic Book Story of Beer, back in the 19th century and earlier, most people did not realize that there was actually alcohol in beer. Believe it or not, drinkers assumed that the intoxicant was only to be found in hard liquors like gin and whiskey. The pleasant sensations that accompany a couple of beers were instead thought to derive from the malt — and the supposed boost or pure nutrition that redounds from the grains from which beer is made. That misguided notion is behind the famous “Guinness is Good For You” ads that for many years promoted Guiness Irish Stout.

So if the barley in beer can be a healthful pick-me-up, why not splash it into fruit juice? I wonder. Would that fly in the United States? I don’t think we’ve had anything like “barley water.” Beverage entrepreneurs, take note. Or maybe don’t.


Idris came my way — surprisingly — by virtue of a small, Mom & Pop, slightly cluttered British imports shop in Plymouth, MA. That particular town is quite near and dear to my heart. So I would have liked to be more positive in this here review.

But the caramel-y, artificial-tasting candy flavor of Idris just didn’t ring my bell. (And all apologies to Jevon, a new friend, who would not agree). I am not ashamed to admit I have a sweet tooth. But this sweetness was cloying.

Additionally, I have one last bone to pick with Idris “Fiery” ginger beer.

That devil tail on the label sure is alluring. But this devil must dwell in Dante’s version of Hell, whose Ninth Circle is counterintuitively composed of ice. There is hardly any spice to this at all. The “try me if you dare” come on is farcical. Canada Dry sports more heat than this.

Idris Elba, you’re a hell of an actor. Please, if these guys come knocking on your door looking to make an endorsement deal with you, stick to the Toyota Avalon, CoverGirl cosmetics, and your vanity brand of vodka. This namesake is a toothless, lowest-common-denominator ginger beer also-ran.


Ginger Beer Review: Barritt’s “Bermuda Stone” Ginger Beer

Remember in a recent review when we discussed how Gosling’s trademarked the name of the “Dark ‘n’ Stormy” cocktail in an attempt to obligate anyone mixing the drink to use Gosling’s proprietary ginger beer — and their (relatively new) proprietary ginger beer alone?


Well, not too long ago Barritt’s Ginger Beer was as close to the official Dark ‘N’ Stormy mixer as you could possibly get. As recently as 9 years ago (according to a 2005 article published in PR Newswire), 99.9% of all Dark ‘N’ Stormies consumed in Bermuda embraced Barritt’s as the liquid companion to Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. What’s more, Barritt’s was so thoroughly endorsed by Gosling’s that Gosling’s for a time marketed and distributed the two products together. They were made available in certain parts of the U.S. in a combo-pack that retailed for roughly $18.

So it seems at some point that the Gosling’s and Barritt’s companies got along famously. Well, that definitely is not the case anymore. From what I’m seeing from my admittedly less-than-ringside seats in Los Angeles, USA, an entrenched rivalry between Gosling’s and Barritt’s has dug itself in. In 2012, Barritt’s Bermuda operation ran out of ginger beer for the first time in its company history. And this shortfall, unfortunately, aligned with the Easter holiday that year. Islanders were left without their Barritt’s. But Gosling’s local distributor was quick to point out that Gosling’s “had Bermuda’s back” during the horrid “ginger beer drought.”


Barritt’s is another product that highlights its “heritage” status in the marketplace, consistently pointing out that it has been continuously produced and bottled since 1874. And I’m not quibbling with the legitimacy of that as a promotional strategy: it’s one that works for me — both for reasons I can soundly defend on the one hand but also for reasons that I will confess to being superficial on the other. Additionally, Bermudans definitely seem to put a lot of store in Barritt’s as a hometown drink that has been enjoyed for generations.

In 1993, Bermuda’s capital, Hamilton, celebrated its bicentennial. As part of the happy proceedings, a time capsule was placed side the walls of the city hall building. And within this time capsule was a can of Barritt’s Ginger beer.

The Barritt’s dynasty began with an immigrant from England, William John Barritt. Barritt made the journey to look for better employment prospects in the colonies. He went on to become the head jailer in Hamilton — a humid subtropical hoosegow described in an 1879 book as “old, ill-constructed, ill-arranged, and in every way ill-adapted to its uses.”

It’s unlikely we can fault old Barritt for that. And what’s more, after being passed over for a raise, the eventual founder of the island’s most precious ginger beer brand quit and opened a dry goods store. Among the store’s amenities was a small mineral water carbonating and bottling operation. And in due time the creation of beverages eclipsed the family dry goods business. The company passed into the hands of Barritt’s son. Today, it remains — like so many other ginger beer producers — a family company, with management in its fifth generation. Key to their continued success is that Barritt’s is the sole licenser of Coca-Cola products for the entirety of its legal status as an “overseas territory” of the U.K.

As we peek under the covers of the MBA-speak of corporate positioning and brand identity, however, we discover that Barritt’s is actually made these days in Florida. A concentrate imported from a Buckinghamshire, England, company serves as Barritt’s principal flavoring, and the ginger used in this is sourced from both Jamaica and Africa. (The 2012 Bermuda Ginger Beer drought was effectively caused by a kinks in the supply chain of this concentrate).


Barritt’s has an eye-catching, whitish hue and a medium, highly effervescent body. The carbonation was aggressive — just a tick more would have been too much. Barritt’s coloring led me to expect a sweetness from the drink. But it didn’t play out quite that way. Barritt’s was dryer than I anticipated, and quite a bit more complex at that. But while I appreciated the complexity, I didn’t find it completely appealing. (It’s possible, however, that that grassiness would make a nice complement with rum; but I’m not reviewing ginger beers as cocktail mixers, at least not yet).

Barritt’s had a nice, strong, citrus-y zest to the flavor, but also a grassiness that struck me as harsh.

What I liked best about Barritt’s was the level of ginger heat. This didn’t come forward in the initial sips, but increased towards the bottom of the bottle (which I had probably allowed to settle too long). The aforementioned spice was much more lively and intense than Barritt’s rival, Gosling’s. But when it comes right down to it, most often I would pick the newcomer over the old standby.

Barritt’s is definitely worth the ginger beer lover’s time and attention. If you find it available in a store near you, I strongly urge you to sample it.



Ginger Beer Review: Gosling’s

If nothing else, Gosling’s is exceptional — at least in my survey thus far — in that it is available in a 1 liter plastic bottle. I came across this long, tall candidate for bubbly ginger greatness at a not-too-far-away Bevmo late one Sunday afternoon.

goslings_croppedGoslings is also exceptional in another way. It (and its diet iteration) are, to date, the only ginger soft drinks under consideration here to be brought to the marketplace by a decided purveyor of “hard” adult beverages. Or to put it more eloquently, hooch.


Gosling’s is no boutique craft brewery dipping its toes in the soft drink category for kicks. Gosling’s is a Bermuda-based distiller of rum. Purportedly, the company has its roots in an ill-fated merchant expedition carrying wines and spirits from England to the newbie republic of the United States in 1806. (That was the same year Lewis and Clark returned from their exploration of the Louisiana Territory.)

Luck was not with the ship carrying James Gosling and his tippler’s cargo. The vessel never reached America. Instead, uncooperative winds forced it to seek port in Bermuda. And from that, the Gosling’s marketing people would have us know, a rum-making and rum-selling dynasty was born. Gosling’s rum, in fact, is one of Bermuda’s largest exports.

Why would a rum distiller throw its hat into the ring with a ginger beer? Answer: because of a signature cocktail whose centenary is probably coming up right about now.

“The” cocktail to linger over in Bermuda — so I hear (my parents honeymooned there but I have never been) — is a rum and ginger beer concoction called the “Dark ’n’ Stormy.” The Dark ‘n’ Stormy was first constituted just after World War I. And Gosling’s has its sights set on locking up exclusive rights to the drink. In fact, Goslings really doesn’t want anyone sipping a Dark ’n’ Stormy formulated with any rum other than their own brand. They have gone so far as to trademark the cocktail in an effort to prevent any barkeep from serving one up with, say, Bacardi. Or Captain Morgan’s. (Those two brands are, globally, #1 and #2 in terms of rum’s market share).

While they’re at it, Gosling’s is also taking pains to secure a monopoly on the other Dark ’n’ Stormy ingredient: the ginger beer.

From what I understand, building consensus among trans-Caribbean mixologists on what kind of ginger beer makes the best Dark ’N Stormy was also a process fraught with controversy. So Gosling’s put their own recipe out there. (That explains the “stormy” notation on the inner tube worn by the sea lion on the Gosling’s label. One can only deduce that the ginger beer is the “stormy” part and the “black label” rum is the “dark” part.)

Helping produce Gosling’s Ginger beer is another multigenerational family company: Polar Beverages of Worcester, MA. Polar Beverages also makes their own “extra bold” Golden Ginger Ale — which I wouldn’t mind trying.

Gosling’s touts their creation as the “definitive” ginger beer. I don’t know that I would agree on that part.

But this entry is solid, baby, solid.


Gosling’s has an inviting color. It’s neither too flat nor too fizzy. And it offers a respectable balance of sweet and dry.

Spicy, though, this ginger beer is not. It gives off only a hint of heat — and this is right before the slightly woody aftertaste with which it leaves the tongue. I did not find the woody aftertaste so appealing straight away. But since I was blessed with a 1 liter bottle, it was easy to return to Gosling’s quite a few times after that first glassful. The woodiness grew on me.

Gosling’s is refreshing and drinkable. I would drink it even on a light ‘n’ clement day. But given the spicy intensity and boldness of some of other ginger beers out there, I wouldn’t necessarily make it my first pick.