I was skeptical on two counts when I first heard about Farmer Willie’s alcoholic ginger beer. First, I tend to take a dim view of hard “soft” drinks in general (most are too sweet for my taste). Second, I use ginger beer almost exclusively as a cocktail ingredient. As much as I like the flavor, it’s rare that I feel like polishing off a pint of the stuff.
But I would never allow doubt stand in the way of discovery, especially where booze is concerned. And Farmer Willie’s ginger beer exceeds expectations, both in cocktails and straight out of the can.
The Rise of Willie
Brown University grads Max Easton and Nico Enriquez have been brewing Hard Willie’s in Rhode Island since 2016. Their venture was indeed inspired by an actual farmer named Willie, who made hard ginger beer in small batches on Cape Cod and was amenable to Max and Nico scaling it up for the masses.
The ginger beer is available in two varieties. Ginger Session is made with cold-pressed ginger, cane sugar, lemon juice, molasses, and nutmeg. Extra Ginger cranks up the ginger and adds a little cayenne pepper, which provides a spicy kick in the aftertaste. Both are 4.5% ABV.
Both are highly drinkable on their own, but I gave them a whirl in two of the most quintessential ginger beer cocktails.
Dark and Stormy
First up is a Dark and Stormy with the Ginger Session. I stuck to the traditional recipe, and the result was a cool, refreshing drink with a wonderful ginger flavor.
- 2 ounces dark rum
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- 4-5 ounces of Farmer Willie’s Ginger Session (or to taste)
Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add rum, lime juice, and top with ginger. Give it a gentle stir.
I dusted off my trusty copper cup for a Moscow Mule but opted for a Rye Mule instead. Combining the Extra Ginger with Old Overholt rye whiskey and lemon juice made for a winter-ready cocktail with lots of spices.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- ½ ounce fresh lemon juice
- 4-5 ounces of Farmer Willie’s Extra Ginger (or to taste)
Fill a copper cup with crushed ice. Add whiskey, lemon juice, and top with ginger beer. Give it a good stir or two. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
How Does Willie Hold Up?
Farmer Willie’s ginger beers are eminently drinkable. The Ginger Session is simple and smooth, while the Extra Ginger is complex without being intense. Neither version is overly sweet, and both have a very natural flavor. Drinking them straight, I prefer the Extra Ginger – it’s crisp and vibrant, and the cayenne pepper adds a distinctive aftertaste without blowing you away with heat.
Both work well in cocktails, but it’ll take some further experimenting to figure out whether the Session or the Extra is better suited to a particular combination of ingredients. And keep in mind that there’s already alcohol in the ginger beer – mix it with spirits and you might end up with a high-octane drink.
Note: I received complimentary samples of Farmer Willie's Craft Ginger Beer with the understanding that I would use them in a product review. No one from, or associated with, Farmer Willie's influenced this content.
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