Last week was Crabbie's Week in Houston. I'd never heard of Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer until recently, but I was invited to the media event recently at the Railyard (4206 San Felipe; 713-621-4000) and thought I'd try it out and report back what I found.
First, some background info:
Crabbie's traces its lineage back nearly two hundred years, to John Crabbie's original spiced ginger wine. The recipe currently used calls for cold steeping ginger for six weeks before adding a proprietary spice blend to the malted beverage.
Right now, Crabbie's comes in two flavors, original and spiced orange. (A third flavor, Scottish raspberry, is currently available in the UK and will hopefully be available here for the star of summer.
The recommended way to drink it-- Crabbie's calls it the "Perfect Serve"-- is over ice, usually with a lime wedge, and after trying it neat, I have to agree. (It's bottled at 4.8 percent ABV, certainly low enough to drink neat were it best served that way.) There's just too much spice in the flavor neat; adding ice dilutes and balances the drink more. Alone over ice, it could make a nice substitute for a shandy. It remains spicy yet is now cool and refreshing, without being too sweet.
It can also be used in cocktails, as a substitute for non-alcoholic ginger beer, or with your own, Crabbie's-specific recipes. Two variations on the classic Moscow Mule (usually made with non-alcoholic ginger beer) were suggested. I didn't care so much for the original Mule with vodka (it really just added alcohol to the drink's flavor profile, and not much else), but the version made with the spiced orange Crabbie's and Deep Eddy lemon vodka was a winner.
We tried mixing it with other liquors. Mixed with Dripping Springs gin, the original was surprisingly good; it didn't make the drink noticeably stronger, and didn't actually change the flavor much, but instead, added a floral, perfumed nose to the ginger beer.
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The bartender's suggestion, Crabbie's original with Bulleit rye, was my personal favorite: Rye whiskey is sweet enough to offer its own flavors to the mix, and those flavors complement the ginger beer very well.
The recipe for most of these cocktails is simple if you want to make them at home: A shot of the liquor in a tall glass over ice, filled with Crabbie's Original or Orange, depending on the drink. (Crabbie's suggested Kraken Rum as another liquor that makes a good cocktail with Crabbie's Orange, although I didn't try it.)
Crabbie's should be available around town, and is definitely available at the Railyard. (Crabbie's actually has a free smartphone app to allow you to track down wherever else it might be available.) It's enjoyable and refreshing; while I don't drink too many cocktails myself these days, and tend away from sweeter drinks, I can still appreciate a cool and refreshing beverage, the kind that goes well with a hot day, when I have one. (After all, on those rare occasions I drink a soda, it's usually a ginger ale or beer.)
One last note: Crabbie's is offering a contest to win a trip to Scotland; you can enter through April 26 by visiting its website.