Donna Katz, an Australian winemaker based in Napa Valley, has cracked open the craft beer market, welcoming several previously alienated demographics with G’s, her line of hard ginger beer.
G’s Ginger Beer products check a lot of niche, yet trending boxes. They are totally dry with no residual sugar, added sugar, or artificial sweeteners, made with real ingredients, plus are vegan, gluten-free, low-cal (ranging between 116 to 155) with zero carbs, and keto-friendly. Best of all, there's alcohol in them. Each can of G’s clocks in at a moderate 4.5 to 6% ABV. “I saw a gap in the marketplace; there were no alcoholic ginger beers in the market really,” says Katz. “And then there was the Australian in me that was like, well, why isn't there alcohol in this beverage?”
Katz named G’s after her nickname and middle initial (don’t ask what it stands for, as she’s taking her supposedly painfully embarrassing middle name to her grave). Recognizing the therapeutic benefits of ginger, she started fermenting it for her own gut health and it didn’t take long for her home fermentations to develop into a full-fledged business plan. In 2018, she released her first commercial ginger beer and today she has five different cans distributed throughout Northern California.
By channeling her inner mad scientist in her home kitchen, Katz’ experiments have led to a literal explosion or two along the way. “I went through a huge learning curve. It was literally trial and error. It was trying to understand things like, what keeps a fermentation healthy and alive? It was bringing in different flavors and textures, figuring out the length of fermentation, and then, what do you do when it’s done? I was sort of hoarding those 500 ml. plastic water bottles for a while because I didn’t trust myself under glass,” she says, comparing the process to her former career as a commodities trader. She left the rat race to settle down in wine country in 2013.
“It’s like taking risk and managing risk, but it’s completely hands-on. You can see it, feel it, and reassess.”
Playing with everything from coffee to molasses, Katz got increasingly creative with ingredients and flavors. Similar to wine, she found they can add unique aromatics, mouthfeel, complexity, and structure to the beers. “Living up in Northern California where everything grows so abundantly, I started foraging local botanicals and fruits and fermenting them with a ginger base,” says Katz, who for R&D purposes goes out and collects things like chamomile and wild blackberries between Napa Valley’s vineyard rows and trades ginger beer for lemons from her neighbor’s tree.
“My love for fermentation and geeking into it has really opened my eyes up to what more we can do for a better, healthier sort of lifestyle. We care about what we eat and our ingredients, but that hasn’t filtered as much into the beverage industry. And I say, ‘Why not?’ I want to know what I’m drinking just as much as what I’m eating.’’
Transparency and honesty are Katz’ biggest priorities, so all of G’s ginger beers proudly and boldly display their ingredients—all easily pronounceable, she adds—on the front of the can. G’s flashship, Original, is fermented with a Meyer lemon profile. Then there’s the growing Variant Series, featuring seasonal releases like Summer Vibes, fermented with passion fruit, orange, and sea salt; or Wild One, with mint and lime. For her next release this summer, she plans to up her botanicals game with a gin-inspired beer that pays homage to the Roaring 20s.
Zin Babe was a natural progression for Katz, who has a half-acre, dry-farmed vineyard in her backyard. She crushed Zinfandel grapes grown in her hometown of St. Helena and then co-fermented it with the ginger beer. As a result, Zin Babe has a gorgeous, light pink color—making it easily mistakable in the glass for sparkling rosé—and red fruit notes of strawberry and raspberry. “There's a lot going on and it opens up in the glass too, like a glass of wine might,” she says.
For its next iteration, she’s considering barrel aging or working with other grape varieties. Zin Babe also won Best Label Design last month at SF Beer Week’s West Coast Craft Can Invitational for its Jane Fonda in Barbarella-inspired artwork, created by tattoo artist Monica Amneus. All of the variant labels draw inspiration from poster art.
Katz’ latest release, Gold Rush, features lemon, cinnamon, vanilla, subtle amounts of star anise, and heather flowers, which she recently discovered is a good vegan substitute for honey. “There’s a perception in the marketplace that if you don’t have sugar, you must be using artificial sweeteners, but we don’t at all,” she says. “The challenge is exploring all of these different botanicals, spices, florals, and herbs that balance the beverage in a way that there’s a perception of sweetness.”
Gold Rush was inspired by Katz’ love of hot toddies in the cold winter months or whenever she’s under the weather. While perfectly palatable and refreshing on their own, and a go-to hangover cure for many of her customers, G’s is also the perfect accessory to cocktails, and its versatility goes far beyond a Moscow Mule. It works great with aperitifs, digestifs, and spritzes, and Katz even has a page dedicated to cocktail recipes on her website.
As for her hot toddies, making them has never been easier. “Now I can just crack open a can of Gold Rush and add the whiskey,” she says. “I could even warm it up, too.”