Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer

     Homemade ginger ale, or as some call it, ginger beer, is delicious and refreshing.  The benefits of ginger are numerable.  It calms the digestive tract, eases motion sickness and relieves nausea. 
When my husband was feeling ill, a dear friend recommended that he sip on some real ginger ale.  Unfortunately, none of the commercial brands that were at our local store actually contained real ginger. This led us to search for real, honest-to-goodness ginger ale.  What we found was pricey, so we decided to embark upon a journey for our own recipe.

Be sure to purchase fresh pieces of ginger.  A small sprout, if any, shows freshness, but ignore those with blackened or shriveled ends. 

The piece at the top is old and drying out.  You don't want it.

Years ago, my mother told me that her mother made ginger beer at her home in England.  Since I recently received a lovely gift from my cousin in England, my grandmother’s cook book, I looked through it and found a recipe that sounded easy enough, although the measurements were from a different era; ie., “a loaf and half of sugar”.  The cookbook is over a hundred years old and is a real treasure.  One of my favorite parts of this "cookery" book is the section on addressing the kitchen staff.  Kitchen staff?  Really?!

The ingredients are simple: fresh ginger root, sugar, lemon, yeast, and water.  The only tools required are bottles and large cooking pot.  Since this recipe dated to about 1900, I thought that perhaps I should look at some that are more recent to ensure consistency.  None of my other cookbooks had a ginger ale recipe, so I went online and found only a few recipes.  One, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, was widely used and called for adding a chili pepper, such as here:  the other, by Alton Brown, added yeast—and was most similar to my Nanny’s-- here:  The third was made completely different and used fruit juices, so while I didn't use the recipe, it does contain wonderful information on the benefits of ginger, so I included it here:

The same basic ingredients and amounts were used in most recipes, and various comments left by readers led me to see that amounts can be varied according to taste, so I felt that it was fine to use my Nanny’s version and adapt the measurements accordingly as I played with the ingredients.  Since one of the online recipes used yeast and the other did not, I decided to try it both ways. 

When I made it without the chili pepper in my first attempt, it lacked the “kick” we wanted, although it did have that wonderful ginger taste we wanted.  I used all white sugar, and it was too pale, so I adjusted the recipe to use more dark brown sugar the next time.  The amounts of ginger stayed fairly consistent: We found that grating the ginger gave a stronger ginger presence since it released the juices, but was harder to drain with the strainer.  As this version sat, it grew stronger, but my son really liked it that way, and wanted the sediment for that additional strength. I didn’t want to see it, though. The compromise was to chop it finely instead of grating it, just large enough to be captured by the strainer—and cook it a few minutes longer. 

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Bottles can be boiled or rinsed with a bleach and water solution.  Be sure to rinse thoroughly and air dry. Before beginning, be sure all surfaces are clean.  I like to work on clean dish towels, but I admit to being  a bit fastidious.

Since my family likes a little “kick” and often uses peppers in recipes, it seemed natural to add a chili pepper to this drink as mentioned in one of the versions.  My son heartily approves.  My Nanny’s recipe sounds as if it will last for months, but we find the drink so refreshing, it hasn’t lasted nearly that long.  With the addition of the chili pepper and more lemon, we declared it a success.

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Bonus, just for me:  After I drain the ginger, lemon peel and pepper, I put them back in an empty pot and add another cup or so of boiling water and about 2 teaspoons of sugar.  I cook this for about 10 minutes.  It’s my “ginger tea” and reward for making the ginger ale.  It has a lovely, throaty, "ginger burn" in the back of the throat.  You know what I mean, the kind of "burn" you get from the regular version of Coca Cola.  Ahhh. 

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Here’s my recipe:
Linda’s Ginger Ale/Beer
 · 3 oz. finely chopped ginger root
 · 1.25 cups sugar (1/4 cup white, 1 c. brown) (Note: This may be too sweet if consumed right away. The longer it sits, the stronger it gets-especially with grated ginger sediment, and the sweetness is balanced with the strength.) Dark brown sugar makes a darker ale. You can use all white, if preferred. · 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice plus 2-3 lemon peel slices. (You may use 1 tablespoon of lemon juice if you don’t like a strong presence of lemon.)
 · 1 dried chili pepper, optional
 · 6 cups water

Bring ginger, sugar, lemon juice & peel and chili pepper to boil with 1 cup water. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add 5 cups boiling water and gently simmer 20 minutes or longer.  Stir from time to time. Drain to remove ginger, lemon and chili pepper.   Note: adding yeast is optional: Skip down to “Bottle mixture” if omitting yeast. Remove 1/4 cup of mixture. Let cool to lukewarm. Add 1 tsp. yeast to ¼ cup lukewarm (not hot!) mixture. Let sit 15 minutes until yeast has “bloomed”.

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   Add yeast mixture back to lukewarm mixture in pot (make sure mixture is cool enough). Let sit 15 minutes or longer.

Bottle mixture: Add to scrupulously clean bottles. (Boil glass or wash in bleach water then soapy water. Rinse well and air dry bottles.)  Makes 6 cups.

Let sit 1-2 days to ferment. Open lids or corks to let gas escape periodically.  If you use plastic bottles, you will find that they get "hard" as they ferment.  When you can no longer press them, they are ready. 
Refrigerate.  If no yeast was added, refrigerate once bottles have cooled.  Keeps at least two months. We haven’t kept any past that time, but it may last much longer.

If preferred, add mixture to carbonated water at the ratio of ¼ - 1/2 cup ginger ale to ¾-1/2 cup ice and water.  This was our preferred method of serving without the addition of yeast.   We love the fizziness of carbonated water such as Perrier or Gerolsteiner with the ginger ale.

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If you have a loved one who is undergoing chemo treatment or has an illness that causes nausea, a few sips of this seems to work beautifully.

Using some online pictures from The Graphics Fairy, I played around with various labels.   

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Since I used to be a Queen Bee (lovingly called that by one of my employees—and I liked it!), I went with the crown and bee theme. 

Aren’t the bottles lovely?

Hope you enjoy this refreshing and heathful beverage.  To your health: Cheers!

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