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Timber City Ginger Beer

Ginger Beer | Beverage | Low Sugar | Product Review

Sales and marketing manager Anna-Lise Chacon and brewer Ryan Doty stand next to the tasting table in owner’s Kara Patt and Kyle McNight’s Timber City Beer brewery in Southpark (South Seattle). Photo by Imei Hsu, published with permission.

Disclosure: Timber City Ginger Beer invited me to take a tour of their brewery. My review of their product is my own. I received a 16 ounce can of original flavor ginger beer as a gift. This is an unpaid and unsponsored product review. 

After I found out I had Celiac Disease in 2014, it wasn’t long before I also realized how gluten-free beer didn’t “work” for me. Like everyone else handed this diagnosis, I went on a hunt for everything gluten free, finding out the hard way that gluten free producers of food and beverage aren’t always making their products in your best interest rather than their bottom line. But beer is a little different. Here’s why.

Beer has a very unique flavor and hoppy properties which are difficult to replicate without barley. Most gluten-free beers are brewed with ingredients such as gluten free oats, sorghum, and millet, and in combination with the high amount of sugar to disguise any unpleasant, non beer-like flavors, a six or twelve ounce serving left me feeling ill. Not just a little ill.  A lot ill. Like crying over a toilet, cramping with diarrhea and nausea, scratching my skin raw kind of ill.

Don’t even talk to me about Omission Beer. I had one back in 2013 that left me so ill, I never thought twice about trying it again. End of story.

I can imagine what the average gluten-free beer lover might be thinking. Why would I even want to try a ginger beer, which really is in a category separate from what most of us think of as beer? Ginger beer doesn’t even have alcohol in it. Where’s the fun in that?

Ginger beer isn’t hoppy,  and it isn’t alcoholic,  but it can be a happy in its own unique way. By blending fresh ingredients in a traditional brewing method, Timber City ginger beer’s small-batch production could easily turn your head towards all things earthy, ginger,  and spicy, all without dumping a truck load of sugar into your system. 

Timber City Ginger Beer: A Fresh Take On A Classic

The brewing starts here. Depending on the size of the small batch, brewing can take 6-12 hours before the liquid is transferred to even larger vats where the herbs are added. Photo by Imei Hsu, published with permission.


Ginger beer brewing has some rules. First of all, ginger beer is so NOT ginger ale. A true ginger beer is brewed and fermented, and it has less carbonation. It’s going to have some carbonation, just like when you make kombucha at home. The differentiator with a true ginger beer is that it is going to snap your tongue with a peppery, lemony, and sharply spicy flavor like a wet towel quickly whipped upon your naked behind. When I think of the word pungent, I think of ginger. Definitely snappy!

Now, that’s a knife! Hobart chopper with blade makes for some quick work of the fresh herbs and ginger. Photo by Imei Hsu

I was not surprised, then, to learn from Anna-Lisa Chacon (sales, marketing, and operations manager at Timber City Ginger), that the ginger used in their ginger beer is edible Hawaiian ginger, world-renown for its exceptional bite and burn. When I was a child, I could not bear the peppery burn of ginger; I would often cry as I picked out an overlooked piece of ginger that I had accidentally bitten into from my mother’s stir-fried beef and ginger. Yet, this is exactly the bite that you want to find in premium ginger beer. As I grew up, my capacity to enjoy spicy flavors grew. Now I can snack on ginger with no tears.

The secret of master ginger beer brewer and co-owner Kyle McKnight’s brews are creative combinations of fresh fruit, herbs, and spices. Kyle was busily making ginger beer while working as a chef in Seattle before he decided to focus on just making ginger beer.  Using Douglas Fir tips from a farm in Sequim on the Washington State peninsula, sage blossoms, chamomile, beets, lemons, apples, and pears, each seasonal blend is carefully crafted, brewed on site and quickly canned (usually within 72 hours) or transferred to kegs and sold primarily locally in small batches to ensure freshness.

Timber City Ginger Beer makes their own drinking vinegar and classic syrup, so you can rock out with your cooking at home. Photo by Imei Hsu, used with permission.

One of my favorite winter desserts to serve guests is an  Asian pear, poached to soften, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Should I then be surprised that Timber City Beer has a seasonal winter ginger beer, Asian Pear and Rock-salmic, that combines these two ingredients with its classic ginger beer brew? Or that they have their own drinking vinegar and syrups as well?

While taking a tour at their South Park brewery room, brewer Ryan Doty explained that the fresh brew just canned this week had their distinctive Douglas Fir tips added. Anna-lise shared how co-founder and general manager Kara Patt has access to a family-owned farm in Sequim. How convenient!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Washington, the Olympic Peninsula is one of the most beautiful (and rainy!) sections of state that the urban dwellers of Seattle regularly visit, summer after summer. It never gets old; this area hosts some of the most pristine, wild, yet carefully managed trails, campgrounds, and through-hikes that bring destination hikers from around the world. It’s also a hotbed for ecotourism, and a wonderful way to educate oneself about Native peoples, the environment, and sustainable practices. Visitors from the city need to prepare themselves for a half day of fighting traffic or long ferry lines to cross the Puget Sound and drive through the peninsula on their way to the coast, or to one of many national forests, such as the Hoh River national park.

Yep, THAT is where those yummy Douglas Fir tips are coming from. As an aside: did you know that the Douglas Fir isn’t really a fir, a spruce, or a pine tree? They are evergreen trees, a “false hemlock” with a rich aroma and flavor. As I stood in their brewing room, imagining Douglas Fir tips added to the final hours of the brew, I thought to myself, “Now, who would’ve thunked to add Douglas Fir tips to a ginger beer?” When you live in the Pacific Northwest, the smell of evergreen trees is all around, and as a trail runner, drinking it in a ginger beer almost seems as natural as inhaling it with every labored breath I took while hiking and running along the Hoh River trail. It just makes tasty sense.

In addition, ginger beers are naturally gluten free. TCB has another layer of safety, in that the brewing yeast is sourced from rice rather than traditional yeast or yeast extract. For years, we’ve been told that nutritional yeast, yeast extract, andBrewer’s yeast were safe for people with Celiac Disease, and I learned me something new. According to GlutenfreeWatchdog.com, any product that contains these ingredients may not be gluten free, and you should call the manufacturer. In the case of Timber City ginger beer, the fact that they use rice as the source tells you that the yeast is in fact gluten free, naturally. It’s the same reason why those who can drink alcohol don’t have issues with sake and rice wines. Totally gluten free.

The Taste Test: Surprisingly Superior Flavor Without the Sugar Coma

Serving it up cold, our tasting samples are ready for us. The beer is sold in 16 ounce cans or in kegs. Can’t finish a can by yourself? They have lids that fit tightly, so you can keep your brew fresh longer, even after opening. Photo by Imei Hsu. Published with permission.

Given that my very first experience of ginger beer ever was during a period of extreme illness post gluten exposure, I had pretty low expectations. If you can imagine laying in bed for nearly two weeks in recovery from being in hospital for an accidental gluten exposure, you’ll understand what happens when it comes time to eat something. It’s actually often easier to drink some calories than it is to eat them. A friend suggested ginger beer, and after a couple of sips of an unfamiliar beverage drowned in sugar, my brain pretty much mapped ginger beer to a sugar dump with a side of ginger snappiness, and I promptly forgot all about it.

My first taste of Timber City Ginger Beer happened at the first Sound Uprising Food Summit in Fremont (Seattle), and in stark contrast, it was a polar opposite one than the one I just described. Estella of Liberated Foods and I had a chance conversation with Anna-Lise and Ryan, and they invited us to try the original flavored ginger beer. What initially caught my attention was a combination of the fresh ingredients and the fact that it contained one gram of sugar per three ounces, versus the more customary three grams of sugar.

What you get is an explosion of flavor instead of a sugar coma, and on the tongue, that means you really taste the spicy ginger, the peppery bite, and unusual herbs. I felt like this tree-hugging gal was drinking directly from an  tree, sucking a lemon, chewing on a slice of ginger, all in perfect balance, yet just enough sweetness to keep the ginger flavor forward. I was so impressed, I jumped at the chance to tour their brewery, which I learned was only a 13-minute drive away from my artloft in SODO (South of the Dome).

And that lovely, deeply anticipated burn as it goes down the throat!  As a former beer and wine drinker (confession: OK, I still have a bit of wine here and there, but for the most part, the guts don’t do well with it, so I restrict it), part of the joy of alcoholic beverages involves the visceral experience of that burn down the throat, which isn’t associated with many other foods or beverages known to humans. Other than beverages, the only other sensation that comes even close  is that of inhaling a very strong censer filled with a highly aromatic incense. I am familiar with these from all my trips to Asia, with visits to Buddhist temples and people’s homes that display an ancestral photo or painting with a small censer crammed with stick incense.

With delightful combinations of fruit, from lemons to cranberries sourced from Starvation Alley Farms, to the golden-yellow, pear-like quince from Rockridge Orchards, Timber City ginger beers are truly crafted beverages. They are experimenting with alcoholic versions of their cranberry ginger beer, which reminded me of a light champagne-like beverage without the bubbles. If you’d like to see the FB live video of the sampling, you can view it here. <– video

Serving Timber City Ginger Beer at corporate events would be a smart move, giving more options to those who avoid alcohol for either personal or medical reasons a more sophisticated and delightful choice than the usual flavored waters or sugary sodas.

And for my Hungry Minions, who need to watch the amount of added sugar in your food and beverages, Timber Ginger Beer is a great choice. You avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Stevia, synthetic sugars,  and you get the added benefit of ginger, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory root. I generously chop, crush, and make tea out of ginger all the time.

Now, I can drink it in a ginger beer that won’t jack up my blood sugar, nor leave me thinking I might as well have just gulped a soda (yuck). Don’t even get me started talking about mocktails, which you know have to happen, right?

For more deets about their brews, visit their Brew page here.

For ordering and store/market locations, check out how to find Timber City Beer here.

Here’s to making food (and beverages!) fun again! Keep on eating and drinking the yum without the yuck!

Look at all that ginger beer! Kegs and cans, ready to ship out to local farmer’s markets, bars, and restaurants. Photo by Imei Hsu.



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