Ginger Beer

Mixed among the other special projects — between the falernum and the pimento dram, the grenadine and the gomme — I’ve been playing with recipes for homemade ginger beer, one that can hold its own against the formidable Gosling’s Black Seal in a Dark ‘n Stormy, and that can neatly balance with the gin and mint in a Gin Gin Mule. Unlike ingredients such as falernum and pimento dram, there are commercial versions of ginger beer on the market that are pretty easy to find; the problem is, many of them are nothing but an insipid ginger ale with a different-colored label and a modest — very modest — change in flavor, even among the brands that boast they’re muscular and spicy. If you’re fortunate, you can find a decent Jamaican ginger beer that has some backbone to it in a well-stocked specialty food store; Blenheim’s, from North Carolina, also enjoys a reputation for making an assertive ginger beer, but finding this brand can be almost as difficult as tracking down a bottle of Torani Amer.

Fortunately, the homemade version is easy to make. There are many recipes out there, some of them calling for an arsenal of ingredients and a short fermentation period, but the best two I’ve tried are pleasantly minimal, and can be made in less than a day. One of these recipes is from the ever-dependable Audrey Saunders; the other appeared in the New York Times a little more than a year ago. I’ve tried both, and they’re excellent; the version printed here is a hybrid of the two, based solely on my personal taste.

Ginger Beer

  • 10 cups water
  • 12 ounces fresh ginger, finely chopped (for a lighter colored ginger beer, peel the ginger before weighing it)
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • one bay leaf

Bring the water to a boil; turn off heat and add the ginger and the bay leaf. Cover the pot and let steep for no less than four hours, or overnight. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth, squeezing and pressing to express the last, very flavorful drops of liquid from the ginger. Add the sugar and the lime juice, stir, bottle and refrigerate.

Try to use the ginger beer within two weeks; the ginger’s flavor degrades rapidly, so it’s best to make smaller batches, if you don’t plan to use that much of it.

Note that in this version, the ginger flavor is much stronger than you’re likely to encounter in any ginger beer on the market. You probably won’t want to drink this straight, unless you’re accustomed to sipping on bottles of Tabasco sauce. Instead, try mixing equal parts ginger beer and club soda to create a spicy carbonated ginger beer for drinks such as the Dark ‘n Stormy, or other cocktails that call for ginger beer (notable exception: the Gin Gin Mule, which was developed with this industrial-strength ginger beer in mind). For recipes calling for ginger ale, aim for more of a 4:1 club soda-to-ginger beer ratio. This ginger beer is also pretty dry, so depending on the recipe, you may want to add a dash or two of simple syrup to the mix.

13 Responses to Ginger Beer

  1. Hi,
    I’ve tried the Audrey Saunders recipe and found it a tad too strong, maybe I didn’t dilute it enough.
    I’ll certainly give your recipe a try and give you any feedback I have.
    Keep up the great work, we’re loving your website down here in Australia.

  2. Yes it is damn hard to find Amer Picon. Fine Spirits Corner is always an option. Like you, I’ve been working my way through a number of commercial products and found two that I like in a Dark n’ Stormy: Natural Brew Outrageous Ginger Ale, by Smucker Quality Beverages of Chico, CA; and, The Ginger People Giner Beer, for Royal Pacific Beverages, Monterey, CA, the later available at World Markets. I’ve yet to try your falernum recipe, but I will be sure to try this ginger beer recipe, as it willl surely save some dollars leaving more for another bottle of Goslings. Cheers from Spokane.

  3. Linus–glad you’re liking the site; yeah, Audrey’s recipe really knocked me back a few steps the first time I tried it, but then when I started hitting it with the soda siphon, I realized I was making some of the tastiest ginger ales and beers I’d ever had.

    PaulN–thanks for the suggestions; I’ll have to look around for the Natural Brew and Ginger People ginger beers. I finally found a place in Seattle that carries Blenheim’s, so I have a few bottles socked away for when the homemade is running low.

  4. I prefer the recipe from Norma Jean and Carole Darden’s “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine”:

    1-quarter pound fresh ginger root
    4 tablespoons lime juice (I was extremely generous here as well, fresh juicing about a cup’s worth)
    Peel of one lime
    3-quarters of a pound of sugar
    2 pints boiling water

    Peel the ginger root and grate it into a large bowl (I peeled the root and chopped it up in a grinder, because it tended to stick to the grater). Add the lime juice, peel and sugar to the bowl and then pour in the boiling water. Cover the bowl and let it stand in a warm draft-free place for two days. strain through a fine sieve into a bottle. Keep at room temperature for three or more days before refrigerating. Serve chilled mixed with ginger ale, seltzer or over crushed ice.

  5. Ah. The best ginger beer in a bottle by far is Reed’s or Gin-Jah. The Ginger People stuff is for the faint of heart and WAY too sweet–you’d be better off with natural ginger ale in a can. Once you’ve had the real deal, there is no going back to the sweet stuff.


  6. Any comments on Cock ‘n Bull? I’ve found that to make a very lovely Dark ‘n Stormy.

    Someone once tried to get me onto Barritts, but it was quite sugary and without much kick.

  7. I believe they use Barrits along with the requisite Goslings in their Dark ‘n Stormy at Le Colonial in San Francisco. I would not drink Barrits on its own but it worked in this drink.

    I’ll be trying your recipe this weekend.

  8. I’ve been tinkering w/ different purchased ginger beers. It seems that the most acceptable among my friends is the Bundeberg ginger beer from Australia. I found this in the world market. If you like something that has more of a bang (as I do) Maine Root brand Ginger brew (happened on it in a wild oats store) is like a really steamy kiss. It starts out sweet and tingly but then as it’s going down starts to tell you it’s only just begun. The power of the ginger starts to spread and it lingers loud and clear. BANG !! While I don’t like sipping Tobasco, I think a really strong ginger beer like this recipe purports might be just what I’m looking for. I found that indulging in the various brands of brew can be tough on the wallet … SO I’m gonna make my own. Thanks for the recipe !!

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