Sometimes I encounter exotics, or disgustings, even when I'm not actively looking for them. For the past month or so I'd been drinking probably gallons of a diet ginger beer I'd found up in Massachusetts, called, awkwardly enough, Cock n' Bull. On a whim, I checked out the soft drink aisles in two Shop Rites near me, and came upon some other brands of this same soda. It turns out that both (Barritts and Goslings) are Bermudian companies. (It seems that both may bottle their products in plants in the U.S., too, but since it's under the authority of the parent companies, using their recipe, ingredients, etc., I'm counting them as Bermudian.)
So I'll begin with a very brief background about Bermuda. This island chain, consisting of 181 islands/islets, is in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1070 km. (665 miles) South/Southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The first sea captain to record his encounter with it was Juan de Bermudez of Spain, back in 1503. Although the islands were named for him, he never actually set foot on them. The first human settlement was from the English Virginia Company, in 1609. It's still affiliated with England, being a British Overseas Territory. The capital city of Bermuda is Hamilton, The main industry of Bermuda is tourism--the island's pink sandy beaches are a particular draw. One oddity of Bermuda, perhaps explaining why it was settled so late, relatively, is its lack of fresh water. To this day Bermudian residences are required to collect and utilize rainwater that falls on their roofs. The only indigenous mammals are five species of bat. One famous Bermudian (she was born there, and left at age 5) is actress Lena Headey, probably best known for films like "The Remains of the Day" (1993), "300" (2006), "Dredd" (2012), and the HBO series, "Game of Thrones."
The history of ginger beer itself isn't well known. Humans have been using ginger in food and beverages for thousands of years, but the drink probably was invented in England in the mid 1700's or so. The Barritts website claims ginger beer is derived from mead and metheglin, which are both honey-based beverages (Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage, period). Early versions of ginger beer were also flavored with honey. And were strong--up until the mid 1800's they could be 11% alcohol, or as powerful as wines or super strong IPAs and barley wines. However, in 1855 England limited ginger beers to 2% alcohol, and so it became more of a soft drink. (This law was obviously relaxed at some point, since currently you can buy English ginger beers that are akin to regular beers in strength, about 5% alcohol.) Additionally, ginger beer is clearly very similar to ginger ale, but it is different--among other things it's known for its more robust taste. Aside from England and Bermuda, ginger beer is also popular in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and South and East Africa.
The Barritts company dates back to 1874. William John Barritt arrived in Bermuda in 1839, from England, and spent several decades as the head jailer of the Hamilton jail. However, his family expanded to 12 children, and his request for a raise was rejected. In 1874 he opened up a dry goods store, which also included a bottling machine which he used to make ginger beer. Alas, he died that same year, but his descendants have kept up the family beverage. The website included many drink recipes which incorporate their ginger beer, many of which are (country/city name) Mules. To describe a few, a Moscow Mule is vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer. A Mexican Mule is tequila, lime juice, and ginger beer. An Irish Mule is, you guessed it, Irish whiskey, and ginger beer.
Goslings is an even older Bermudian company, dating back to 1806. This company is known for making several versions of rum as well as their ginger beer. Yet another alcoholic drink, the Dark 'N' Stormy, is a registered trademark of Goslings. This drink is made with dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.
As for my ratings, I found Barritts diet ginger beer and Goslings diet ginger beer to be very similar. Both were cloudy and light yellowish in color, carbonated, and tasted about the same. Both were gingery, but not that intense, and had a lemon-y, citrus-y flavor to them as well. Both of which, sadly, I found somewhat disappointing. They weren't terrible or anything, but they weren't great, either. I don't plan on drinking more of them. The (U.S. made) brand I mentioned earlier, Cock 'n Bull diet ginger beer, was vastly superior, in my opinion. It had a very strong, spicy ginger bite to it, and was delicious. Now, to be fair, we have to acknowledge the obvious point that diet soft drinks are pretty much always worse than their regular counterparts. So I will try the regular versions for both Barritts and Goslings if/when I have the chance. (Update. That chance for the Goslings came literally the day after I wrote this. It was similar to the diet version, only with a stronger ginger taste, and odor. I liked it better than the diet version, but it still wasn't great.) Plus I've had, and enjoyed, the Dark 'N" Stormy I had a couple of years ago. (Oops, for legal reasons I'll refer to it as a dark and stormy, or as a Dark 'N' Stormy--like equivalent, since it wasn't made with official Goslings dark rum and official Goslings ginger beer.) But, at this point, trying what I've tried to date, I think England's Idris Fiery Ginger Beer (see June 9, 2013 post) is still the best regular ginger beer I've had, and the Cock 'n Bull is the best diet ginger beer. And the England's Crabbies is the best alcoholic ginger beer.
Finally, I was amused to see that a bad bottle of ginger beer led to a landmark legal case concerning negligence in the U.K. back in 1932. In Donaghue vs. Stevenson, a Mrs. Donaghue was sickened by a snail found in a Stevenson's ginger beer, while in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. There's even a documentary about it. (And for anyone worried about/perversely intrigued by this story, I couldn't find evidence that Stevenson's is still in business. Presumably the fine settlement, legal bills, and the notoriety severely hurt their business.)