I made my first batch of ‘old-fashioned Jamaican ginger beer’ this week. Like most ‘old-fashioned’ Jamaican recipes, the ones for ginger beer vary somewhat depending on whose grandma had what tools on hand to work with, etc. By the way, it may be less confusing to think of it as ginger-ade rather than ginger beer – there is no fermentation, no alcohol (unless, like me, you prefer it with a little rum when served). I’m not really sure why it’s called ginger beer and not ginger juice.
Like many oral-tradition style recipes, the ones I found for ginger beer were short on measurements and long on story. The consistencies were in the looseness of the instructions and the simplicity of ingredients. The phrase that makes me smile though is ‘sweeten to taste.’
How often do we think we want life to be sweet and smooth like honey only to find a spoonful of it tooth-ache inducing? ‘Sweeten to taste’ doesn’t mean saturate with sugar – it means finding a balance in the flavours – the heat of the ginger, the tang of the lime, both smoothed by the sweetness of the sugar.
It’s possible my ginger beer was a little too gingery. It’s hard for me to know for sure since I haven’t had a proper ginger beer in 2 months and my taste buds are forgetting. For me the result was refreshing and soothing – it tasted like that other home. It reminded me of arriving home from work sticky and over-heated and reaching for the jug in the fridge before cleaning myself up.
And the massive response on Facebook of “can I have the recipe” made this post inevitable. So here it is, in great oral tradition recipe-style – my neophyte attempt at ginger beer making simplified to reflect what I’ll do next time more than what I actually did this time:
Shan’s Making-it-Up-as-I-Go-Along Ginger Beer
- 1 large ginger root
- 1 lime & 1 lemon (or 2 limes or 2 lemons)
- 1/2 C – 1 C granulated or brown sugar (I used about 2/3 cup of brown sugar. The extra bit of flavour & colour seems more ‘authentic’ to me than granulated sugar, but either will do)
- Approx. 2 L boiling water
- Peel ginger root (mine was perhaps half a pound – it made more than 1 cup of finely grated ginger)
- Grate ginger on a fine grater or mince in food processor. (I hand grated – my hands smelled awesome for days)
- Place grated ginger in large heat proof glass bowl
- Juice 1 lemon & 1 lime into bowl, then throw in the rinds & pulp
- Sweeten to taste 🙂
- Pour boiling water over the ginger, citrus and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves
- Taste for sweetness – remember, the flavours won’t have mellowed and merged yet, so you really are just tasting to see if it’s sweet enough – don’t judge the flavour too harshly
- Refrigerate overnight (this is where the flavour magic happens)
- Taste again for strength and flavour balance – add more citrus, water or sugar if needed (if you are adding more sugar, melt it in a bit of hot water before adding)
- Strain the whole thing through doubled cheese cloth or a clean dish towel into a glass jug (it should be cloudy, not chunky)
- Cover loosely – it will give off some gases and a tight lid will build up pressure
Serve it as cold as your fridge can get it. If you like a little more sparkle or find it’s too strong, add a little club soda when you serve it. And as I mentioned, I think it’s best with a splash of Appleton Special, but I’m biased.
Peeling & grating the ginger was the only tedious part of this operation, but it was worth it. Some people might not bother peeling since it all gets carefully strained anyway, but that’s another judgement call.