Ginger ale is a carbonated soft drink flavored primarily with the essence of ginger and perhaps a citrus oil to balance out the natural peppery tartness. It is a popular mixer for certain cocktails and mixed drinks, and is also the main ingredient in a non-alcoholic mocktail known as a Shirley Temple. Many people enjoy mixing the drink with frozen sherbet and fruit punch concentrate to form a very sweet and refreshing communal beverage at parties and receptions.
Ginger has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, which is most likely how the idea of converting it into a consumable beverage came about. As a medicinal soft drink, ginger ale precedes most of the well-known carbonated sodas originally concocted as digestive aids, such as Coca-Cola® or 7-Up®. It could be brewed with basic distilling equipment and additives such as brewer's yeast, sugar and clear water. This process yielded a potent form of the drink known as golden ginger ale. Allowing the ginger/yeast/sugar mix to ferment longer would yield an alcoholic beverage known as "ginger beer," which can still be found on some store shelves today.
The original golden ginger ale was naturally carbonated with small bubbles of carbon dioxide, much like real beer. Some consumers often found this version to be too stout for their tastes, and soft drink manufacturers worked on a more palatable alternative. The result was a mixture of a simple syrup flavored with ginger and carbonated water, considered a dry ginger ale for its underlying tartness. While it is still possible to buy a true golden ginger ale such as Buffalo Rock® or Vernor's®, the dry varieties such as Schweppes® and Canada Dry® appear to be much more popular with modern consumers.
There are recipes available online and in home brewers' manuals which describe the process for brewing authentic golden ginger ale. The process can take several weeks to complete, and great care must be taken when dealing with natural carbonation, but the result is said to be a stronger form with a different flavor than the modern beverages made primarily from flavored syrups. In some regions of the United States, mint flavoring is added to the dry drink and often used in place of boiling water when preparing bratwurst or other sausages.