Ginger beer originated sometime around the year 2000. It first started popping up in health food stores and then quickly spread to more mainstream food purveyors. Oh, wait. That’s how I learned about ginger beer, not how it was created. The real story behind ginger beer is much longer and more interesting. Ginger beers are incredibly varied. They can be highly alcoholic fermented drinks, slightly alcoholic cultured drinks (made with a method similar to kombucha or vinegar). They can be brewed sodas (the carbonation comes from yeast) or simply sweetened ginger drinks mixed with carbonated (or flat) water.
Ginger beer was something of a fad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and brewed and cultured ginger beers are probably the oldest recipes. Cultured ginger beer is produced by introducing a special starter, called the ginger beer plant. Not really a plant, this slimy, frightening-looking culture is made up of yeast and bacteria that will ferment to give you the finished product. If you were making vinegar or kombucha this culture would be called the mother. And there is a long and passionate tradition of ginger beer in the Caribbean (where we get the dark & stormy).
I’ve wanted to make a ginger beer recipe for a while now– that bright, fresh, spicy-sweet kick of ginger is the perfect drink for a hot summer day. But with the field of ginger beers being so varied, it wasn’t easy to figure out which style would be the best. I immediately ruled out the cultured varieties– it does seem like an interesting process, but I wanted a recipe that didn’t take three weeks just to get started. I moved on to yeast-carbonated brewed ginger beer recipes, with great hopes that I would come across a forgotten gem. But even when I got the carbonation just right in these recipes (which does take a little precision), brewed ginger beers did not have that fresh spicy kick that I love. In the end, I got the best results from the simplest method. Make a ginger-infused syrup and top with soda water and fresh lemon juice. Simple, fresh, gingery, just what I wanted from a ginger beer. And storage for this type of ginger beer is much easier– just refrigerate the syrup and have soda water chilled when you want to mix a glass.
I added turmeric to the mix (and not just because it gives this ginger beer a bright, electric yellow color) the flavor of fresh turmeric is subtle and pairs perfectly with the fresh ginger. Make a dark and stormy with this brightly colored brew and I think you’ve got something more like a bright and sunny. This recipe is spicy- which I find incredibly refreshing. But I know that not everyone loves that from their drink, feel free to cut back on the quantity of ginger and eliminate the red pepper flakes if you’d like a milder ginger beer. Also, turmeric will tend to stain your fingers yellow, if you want to avoid leave a little end of the turmeric unpeeled, you can grab on to that end while you grate the rest of the root.
Turmeric Ginger Syrup
2 oz. fresh ginger (about 4 T grated ginger)
1 oz. fresh turmeric (about 2 T grated ginger)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 t. coriander seeds
4 or 6 cardamom pods, crushed
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
¾ c. sugar
1 c. water
Turmeric Ginger Beer
1 oz (2 T.) turmeric ginger syrup
a few mint leaves (optional)
½ lemon (zest removed)
a strip of lemon zest
6 oz soda water
Bright & Sunny
Prepare as for ginger beer, but add 2 oz. gold rum
This recipe makes about 8 oz. of syrup which will give you 8 servings.
Grate ginger and turmeric. Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let spices sit and infuse in the syrup while it is brought up to room temperature.
I find it easiest to strain the syrup twice– first through a regular strainer, then through a fine-mesh teas strainer. Refrigerated, the syrup will keep for several weeks
Measure 2 Tablespoons of syrup into an eight ounce glass. Lightly crush the lemon peel and mint leaves with the back of a spoon. Squeeze the juice from one quarter of a lemon into the glass. Top with ice and soda water.