Kenny Richards is pretty sure you’ve never had ginger beer like his.
Up until five or six years ago, Richards had never had much alcoholic ginger beer, either. The drink, prevalent before Prohibition, fell out of favor, replaced by beer, cider, and other more modern beverages. Several years ago Richards, deep into his doctorate work in religious studies but souring on an academic career path, thought about trying to bring it back.
Richards took a leap, leaving his PhD program in North Carolina and moving to his wife’s home state of Vermont. There, he poured himself into researching what ginger beer was like 150 years ago or more.
“I’m the kind of person that’s always making something, whether it’s fermenting or sourdough,” says Richards. “I wanted to rediscover what I thought alcoholic ginger beer would have tasted like pre-Prohibition. I built the recipe piecing together what I knew.”
Done with academia and fully invested in his new beverage, Richards founded Halyard, a brewery and tap room in South Burlington, Vt., making exclusively ginger beer. Sessions with a beer historian also helped him nail down the final recipes, which now include three varieties:
- Nicole’s Extra, a Caribbean-style, slightly spicy, aromatic, and dry brew (6 percent ABV)
- The Breeze, a hibiscus and lime ginger beer that’s light and less spicy (4.5 percent ABV)
- Volcano Juice, a mix of mellow house ginger beer and house-made lemonade (4.1 percent ABV)
As it turns out, now is a good time to be making ginger beer.
“Hard seltzer madness ended up being a really huge benefit to us,” says Richards. “It’s changing tastes. The turn towards better-for-you products also helped us a lot as well. There’s definitely trends in the market that have helped us grow really quickly the last two years.”
Is ginger beer actually beer? Depends on who you ask. While Richards says he’s a big craft beer guy, too, he’s amused and at least a bit annoyed that the Vermont Brewers Association won’t recognize Halyard as a member.
“They’re really circling their wagons around malt. I understand,” he says. “The academic side of me is always like, hmmm that’s really interesting. The business side is like, ‘Come on, guys!’”
No matter how you’d like to categorize Halyard’s ginger beer, Richards suggests you drink his straight from the can, or pour it over ice. If you’re looking for a good cocktail recipe, the Vertigo (lemon juice, ginger beer, Averna) is a Halyard go-to.
Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow him on Twitter @garydzen.