For all the focus on craft brews, and the ever-increasing range of beer styles that Philadelphians have access to, ginger beer has, for the most part, been left out of the discussion. And no wonder: Most of the bottles you’ll find are either (a) nonalcoholic or (b) not very good.
So when Growler’s in Bella Vista hosted a Crabbie’s ginger beer dinner two weeks ago, I was intrigued. For a relatively new bar and restaurant, inviting members of the local media to sample a four-course menu designed specifically to either pair with or incorporate ginger beer was a gutsy move.
From what I’ve heard, however, it was an unabashed success. (I was out of town that night and couldn’t make it.) Last week, then, in order to see for myself what made Crabbie’s so different from so many other cloying versions of ginger beer, I stopped by Growler’s to check it out.
On its own, Crabbie’s is a very well-made product, an unexpectedly elegant sipper whose sweetness is cut by a sense of spice at the end. On ice with a slice of lime, as the producers recommend, it’s exceptionally refreshing.
Chef Jerry Donohue used it at the dinner to marinate chicken for a jerk/satay preparation. He also amped up a ginger barbecue sauce for the excellent pulled pork. It was paired with a ginger Brussels sprouts dish that’s become a hit on the regular menu as well, and with a fruit “sushi roll” dessert.
Growler’s owner Jay Willard, however, is not content to simply let Crabbie’s stand alone. He’s using it in his rum-based Dark and Stormy, as well as his vodka-based Moscow Mule. And he recently developed a phenomenal cocktail called Rye of the Storm, a riff on an Old Fashioned with Old Overholt rye, Angostura bitters, Crabbie’s ginger beer and lime zest. After the first sip, it immediately became apparent that it will be one of my go-to cocktails this summer: smoky, spicy, layered and refreshing all once.
It’s time we all re-think our collective aversion to ginger beer—at least to the good stuff. And Growler’s is the perfect place to start that process.