Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I am the champion of the underrated.

Attack of the Clones. The Wallflowers. Ties and dress shirts paired with ripped jeans. Ben Affleck. The world has passed these things by, but I stand up and state the facts that no one wants to admit: Hey, these things have some life left in them! These things have some value! That they may not be seen as hip or likable as a Ryan Gosling or a Timbaland, but when you look at these things with fresh eyes, you start to really see that there's a lot of depth there you had no idea existed. And today I have a new dark horse to champion.

Ginger ale.

You might know I'm a bit of a soda junkie, but there's more to it than that. I'm a seasoned critic, a connoisseur, a man with a knowledgeable palette. I can tell you twenty different brands of root beer and rank them all according to taste, kick, sweetness, richness, and ice cream float potential. I spent a brief period of my life calibrating soda, and can tell you instantly if a soda fountain's syrup-to-carbonation is too high or too low. I know my stuff.

And I know that ginger ale is some of the good stuff - a clean, sophisticated soda, the sort of soda you can classily order in any restaurant, even a really ritzy one. Because ginger ale has that sort of clout. It feels like the drink of a man who's tried every drink known to man, but still falls back on his old workhorse. It's suitable for every occasion. It summons up images of summer evenings on the back porch, and dancing at fancy weddings, and digging in to big steak dinners, all at the same time. This is not a drink to be trifled with.

Yet ginger ale has disappeared from our lives. You can't order it in any restaurant anymore, classy or classless. Even giant soda dispensing displays at Burger King or Taco Bell don't offer it anymore, and those are machines that have been known to offer three different varieties of Mountain Dew, which isn't a drink that needs any expansion.

Even in supermarkets, ginger ale is lucky if it gets any play. Usually it's hidden between the sodas and the sparkling water, as if it was some sort of disgusting corporate invention that combined the two. The best it gets is that it's one of two dozen different varieties of generic brand soda, hidden behind Diet Cherry Vanilla Mr. Pibb, or that one that announces "Taste just like an Ice Cream Float!" Why yes, thank you, I've always wanted to.*

I bought a 12-pack of ginger ale the other day and cracked open a can on the couch as the day wound down. I savored that slightly bitter yet somehow sweet golden elixer - it's not a chugger, it's something you hang on to - and let the worries of my day slide away, enjoying the moment, and trying to figure out just what that beverage reminded me of. And then I remembered. I tell you the truth, it tasted like freedom.

* Personal note: do not ever try this soda. Even if you're incredibly curious. Even if you have in fact always wanted to taste like an ice cream float. Even if you lost a bet and will lose a testicle if you don't drink the soda. It's not worth it.

I once bought a case on a dare, and brought it back to the apartment. I opened one, tried to drink it and utterly failed in that spewing-soda-everywhere-trying-to-wash-out-the-taste-
by-sticking-one's-head-under-the-kitchen-sink-even-though-the-sink's-full-of-dishes sort of way. We passed the can around for everyone to try, and two of my apartment mates ended up puking in the bathroom an hour later after just a few sips. And it wasn't just that we got a bad can. It's just really that bad a soda.

We tried for weeks to get people to try a can when they came over to visit, but there isn't a person on this earth who sees a can that says "Taste just like an Ice Cream Float!" and says "yeah, I think I'll try that." Or at least, nobody who sees our expressions after they pick up a can.

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At April 17, 2007 5:11 PM, Blogger Dubbahdee said...

I do appreciate a good ginger ale. I will note however that not all GAs are alike. My preference among the mass market is for Canada Dry, but Schweppes will do. CD is like Coke - a bit of a bite to it. Schweppes is like Pepsi - sweeter and with smaller more delicate carbonation. Note that you still CAN get GA on airplanes and in bars.
Given my druthers, however, I much prefer the Ginger Beer you find in natural food stores or the organic sections of your local supermarket. These are not the same drink as the GA you speak of. These place a strong (I mean nose clearingly strong) emphasis on the ginger. They are not for the faint of heart or of palate. They are to GA what Gin is to a wine cooler.
Then there's Moxie....!!!!

At April 17, 2007 10:41 PM, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Don't get him started on Moxie...

Of the root beers, is A&W indeed the best? I can imagine the premixed root-beer float would indeed be problematic. Sort of like those jars of peanut butter and jelly together. It's unnatural.

At April 18, 2007 1:50 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Speaking of good ginger ale, I just had a bottle of Reed's Naturally Brewed Jamaican Style Ginger Ale....AMAZING! The ginger certainly has a strong bite, but I think that may have to do with Jamaican taste. All in all, I think it's the best ginger ale I've ever had.

At April 18, 2007 6:01 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Never tried ginger beer, but I did try birch beer once, which sounds like a very similar experience.

Root beer float flavored drinks belong in the same dark corner of the supermarket as abnormal yogurt flavors (banana creme pie or creme brulle), squeeze bottles of peanut butter jelly hybrid, and spam. Sadly, the first two have been known to be spotted in my house.

At April 18, 2007 6:10 PM, Blogger Wyman said...

Oh, it doesn't taste like a Root Beer Float - it tastes like an "Ice Cream Float." It's Red Soda, which is a flavor that defies description, with the addition of something that tastes sort of like ice cream that's been left outside on a summer afternoon. Possibly several summer afternoons in a row.

To describe it as "root beer float flavored soda" makes it sound so much better than it actually is.

At April 18, 2007 6:12 PM, Blogger Wyman said...

Oh, and A& W is not the best. But it is the finest cost-conscious option for making a root beer float. It has just the right amount of richness to it.

At April 21, 2007 9:37 PM, Blogger Dubbahdee said...

Just for the record, ginger beer are not anything alike. Birch beer is like a vanilla root beer, light in color, sweet vanilla flavor. Ginger beer, properly done as with Reed's Naturally Brewed mentioned by Kate, is more like drinking ginger essence right up your nose, with just a dash of lime zest and real cane sugar. Oooohhh yes. It is good.
If you don't quite understand what I mean by "up your nose" then you will just have to try it. Or...you can get a similar effect from a big glob of undiluted horseradish. Clears the sinuses, Clears the mind, maybe even cleanses the soul on a good day.

At April 22, 2007 4:08 PM, Blogger Kate said...

Ever had the "holiday dinner" drink collection put out by Jones sodas? Soda that tastes like asparagus...


At April 27, 2007 5:38 PM, Blogger Wyman said...

Last Christmas, we had an Office Chug-Off with those awful Jones Soda flavors. I was a reluctant add-on as a fifth, I drew "Antacid" flavor. I never came close to finishing.

Ginger beer is fun and quaint - I used to drink it at my Grandpa Wyman's house. We would come over, and he would send us down to the cellar to get a drink. There would be loads of strange-looking bottles of sodas and juices, all covered lightly with dust. I loved drinking ginger beer because it was fun and had such a strange kick to it. But who would drink something like that consistently?

And of course, Dennis, I love Moxie.


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