"According to a rough estimate, there must be about 300,000 gallons of ginger-beer sold per annum in the streets and immediate neighbourhood of London."
(Street Life in London, John Thomson and Adolphe Smith, 1877)
Ginger beer was the drink of choice for many Brits in the Victorian era. "According to a rough estimate, there must be about 300,000 gallons of ginger-beer sold per annum in the streets and immediate neighbourhood of London." It was a pleasant, non-alcoholic alternative to beer. Becoming a ginger beer maker required little money and no skills. Many Londoners took up the job. An old fashioned ginger beer recipe called for ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and ginger beer plant (http://ths.gardenweb.com/discussions/2632604/old-fashioned-ginger-beer-recipe). Because of the fermentation process, the original ginger beer did contain a small, but insignificant amount of alcohol.
Street ginger beer makers needed a nine gallon stew pan to brew their recipe. However, if they could not afford the pot, they simply brewed the beer in their laundry tub, unbeknownst to their customers. Then they poured the brew into glass bottles which their customers returned upon consuming the product. Street ginger beer makers tended to charge more than the price at the pub.
Commercial ginger beer makers used the proper equipment, therefore, eliminating the unhygienic practices of their street counterparts. However, the factory ginger beer could be contaminated by led from the pots (http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/thomson-27.htm). Even so, because the liquid was boiled, consumers were usually better off drinking the ginger beer rather than the tainted water from the River Thames.
While ginger beer was prevalent on London's streets it was also popular in Victorian London's open air resorts such as Clapham Common, Hampstead, Greenwich and Battersea Park. ON a broiling summer's day, ginger beer was a welcome respite from a parched throat. Gingerbeer's crowing moment was London's Great Exhibition of 1851 where 1,092,337 bottles of ginger beer was sipped in the Crystal Palace (http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2016/04/the-crystal-palace-exhibition.html).
You may wonder what the difference is between ginger beer and ginger ale. While ginger beer is brewed (fermented) and contains a small amount of alcohol, ginger ale is simply carbonated and contains no alcohol.