What the heck is ginger beer—especially if not a kind of beer?

Ginger beer—often confused with ginger ale—is a slightly fizzy fermented drink with a pungent, spicy ginger flavor. But, contrary to its name, ginger beer isn’t a type of beer. In fact, it’s not even alcoholic. If you’ve made this mistake before, you’re not alone. Both having beer right there in its name, along with its popularity as a mixer in alcoholic drinks (like a dark and stormy), you’d be forgiven for mistakenly thinking ginger beer contains alcohol.

But there’s great news: If you’ve been avoiding ginger beer because you thought it was alcoholic, you’ve just discovered your new favorite booze-free cocktail ingredient.

What Is Ginger Beer?

Ginger beer was first created in England in the mid-1700s, and was originally an alcoholic beverage made from sugar, ginger, water, and a starter culture commonly referred to as the ginger beer plant. The English began exporting alcoholic ginger beer to the US, but a non-alcoholic version was soon created in response to the 1920s Prohibition laws.

Contrary to popular belief, ginger beer has never contained actual beer.

Contrary to popular belief, ginger beer has never contained actual beer. In fact, it’s not even made via the same methods used to brew beer. The fermentation process involved in making traditional ginger beer is more similar to how hard cider is made. Not all modern ginger beers are fermented, either, which means there is absolutely zero alcoholic content. Traditional fermentation methods tend to yield some amount of alcohol (however small), and add carbonation to the beverage. But some newer ginger beers get their fizz through forced carbonation (aka pressurized with carbon dioxide) instead of fermentation, which means they are alcohol-free.

Ginger Beer vs. Ginger Ale

Still unsure what ginger beer is, and how ginger ale and ginger beer differ?

Think of it like this: Ginger ale is a flavored soda, whereas ginger beer is a fermented drink. Ginger ale is much sweeter in flavor and is made by mixing carbonated water with a ginger-flavored syrup. It’s highly carbonated and much lighter in color than ginger beer. Because ginger ale is much milder in flavor, it’s a good substitute for club soda in mocktails.

On the other hand, ginger beer packs more of a ginger-flavored punch. The fermentation process alters certain characteristics of smell and taste by way of the esters created as yeast digests sugars. This means that ginger beer tends to have a stronger, more dynamic flavor profile.

How to Drink Ginger Beer

Although ginger beer is often reserved for alcoholic drinks, such as the Moscow mule, there are an infinite number of mocktails and punches you can make with this spicy beverage.

This non-alcoholic Moscow mule is a good drink to begin with, as is this ginger and peach mocktail. In general, ginger beer pairs well with citrus juices like orange and lemon, but also goes nicely with cozier flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg. Just remember to stir in the ginger beer, rather than shaking it, so you can preserve as much carbonation as possible.

 Although ginger beer is often reserved for alcoholic drinks, such as the Moscow mule, there are an infinite number of mocktails and punches you can make with this spicy beverage.

If you’re  new to ginger beer, try out Fever-Tree or Bundaberg. Fever-Tree is a London-based company that makes a variety of sodas and cocktail mixers—each of which going great in the mocktail of your choosing. Bundaberg is an Australian company with all of their ginger grown in Queensland, Australia. Both brands offer ginger beers with the best flavor around, and are satisfying on their own or mixed into a mocktail.

And one more important tip: When buying ginger beer, keep in mind that some brands do still make it alcoholic, so always double check the label before purchasing.