My favorite homemade ingredient is probably Ginger Syrup. It's easy to make, it lasts a long time in the refrigerator, and you can make a variety of soft drinks and delicious cocktails with it. While some folks like to have bottles of top-quality ginger beer around, I find it much more convenient and versatile to have the syrup. I combine it with lime and carbonated water when I want some. The beauty of this concept is that the components have other uses and you probably already have them around.
Ginger Beer vs. Ale
If you are not familiar with Ginger Beer, perhaps you've heard of Ginger Ale. It's not the same thing. They are both soft drinks flavored with ginger, but the lightly-flavored soda that is ginger ale lacks the intensity of good ginger beer. Ginger beer often packs a wallop—the strong ginger flavor has a slight burn on the tongue just like freshly cut ginger root. Tangy lime helps round out the flavor and carbonated water provides the fizz. Of course, you can buy ginger beer—there are several brands out there that do a good job of capturing the fresh flavor and character of ginger and lime—but nothing compares to the stuff you can make yourself.
Two methods: Easy and REALLY Easy
When I first started making ginger syrup, I followed a fairly easy recipe that appeared in Imbibe Magazine. It involves chopping up a bunch of ginger root in a food processor and cooking it on the stovetop with water and sugar. The result is a wonderful syrup with a delicious and powerful ginger taste. However, I recently started using an even easier method that completely avoids the stove and the hours of simmering, straining and cleanup. Others have said, and I agree, that this version below tastes sharper and fresher, and while both make excellent ginger beer, I think the time and effort spent over the stove and on cleanup makes the easier method here the better one. It also retains a more of a yellow color instead of a caramel brown and the heat of the ginger seems to last longer.
This version comes from Toby Maloney of The Violet Hour and it is the version many are using to make incredible cocktails. The easiest way to describe it is to provide the recipe first and suggest options for the ingredients:
Ginger Syrup The Really Easy Way
1 part ginger juice
2 parts sugar
Pour the sugar and the ginger juice into a sealable jar, seal the lid and shake until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the syrup into a bottle for storage and use. Store in the refrigerator. Top with a few ounces of vodka if not serving to minors to extend shelf life.
Can it really be that simple? Well, obtaining fresh ginger juice may be a challenge. If you own a juicing machine or extractor—the kind that separates the pulp—you won't have any problems at all. Just toss in fresh ginger root and use the juice it creates. But if you are like me, you never believed the Juice Man's pitch when you saw his info-mercial. So, what do we do? I have heard that Whole Foods will use their equipment to extract fresh ginger juice for you if you ask nicely. I've also heard that juice and smoothy bars at health food stores can also do it for you. You may need to explain why you just want ginger, say please over and over, or give them a nice tip. You could even promise to bring them a cocktail! For fresh juice there is one more option: make it yourself using a food processor.
I was able to make my own fresh ginger juice by running ginger through a mini Cuisinart. I had to add a small amount of water to keep it going and then extract the juice by hand using cheesecloth. To do this, dump the puree onto your cheesecloth over a plate or bowl. Wrap the pulp in the cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice. These steps do require a bit more time and cleanup, but since I already had the ginger I thought I'd try it. I was very pleased with the results but I would have rather just bought the juice. As a last resort, you can use a product called Ginger People Ginger Juice which comes in a 5 ounce bottle. I have not used it yet but others have had good luck making syrup with it.
Make Some Ginger Beer
So, now that you have your ginger syrup it's finally time to drink it! The easiest thing to make is ginger beer. To do it, you need a lime and some carbonated water. I use a soda siphon that I always have on hand in the refrigerator, but any club soda or sparkling mineral water will do.
Fill an ice-filled glass a third of the way with ginger syrup, top with soda water and a squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy.
And, what about cocktails? I once mentioned the Moscow Mule in an earlier post. It's a wonderful cocktail that kicked off the vodka craze of the 1950s. However, now that you are using syrup, here's a more appropriate recipe for it. Finally, genuine antique copper mugs are absolutely perfect for this drink. Click here to see if any are available in the Antique/Vintage Store.
2 oz vodka
1 oz lime juice
1 oz ginger syrup
2 oz soda water
Build in an ice-filled highball glass or copper mug. Add the vodka, fresh lime juice and ginger syrup. Top with soda water. Stir to mix and serve.
If vodka isn't your poison, what about rum? This version of the Dark and Stormy is a wonderful way to enjoy the famous cocktail from Bermuda that is sure to please anyone. This drink is traditionally made by mixing Gosling's Black Seal Rum with ginger beer, but I like the look of floating the dark rum over the top and watching it swirl and mix into the drink like dark and ominous storm clouds on the horizon.
Dark and Stormy
1.5 oz amber rum
.75 oz ginger syrup
.75 lime juice
2 oz soda water
.5 oz black strap rum
Add the amber rum, ginger syrup and fresh lime juice to a mixing glass. Fill with ice and shake to chill. Strain into an ice-filled collins glass, top with soda water and float .5 ounce of dark rum such as Cruzan Black Strap or Gosling's Black Seal.
Ginger syrup is versatile and convenient. You can try ginger syrup in anything that calls for simple syrup to create a unique twist on an old favorite. For recipes that call for ginger beer, adding one-third syrup, two-thirds soda water and some lime will make a much better cocktail than anything out of a bottle. New cocktails are popping up all over that take advantage of ginger flavor. Some use ginger liqueur, but I find that the syrup's intensity easily outperforms the liqueur. You can even use the syrup in food recipes. Adding a little to a stir fry will definitely take it up a notch. You can also add some to hot or iced tea where you might normally use honey. I'd love to hear what you think when you make your own ginger concoctions. Leave a comment or a recipe and let me know what you are drinking.
Update: It's been a while since I posted this syrup recipe, and I have never looked back. It's the ginger syrup method I continue to use every time. I haven't made a cooked ginger syrup since. I have posted several cocktails that use it and continue to do so. Click Here for everything tagged here with ginger.