Category Archives: food

Ginger Beer the easy way…

┬áHere is a bottle of Cruzan Aged 151… What was I thinking??????

I previously stated that here in southern New England we have adopted the Bermudian “Dark and Stormy” as a regional favorite. My sense of local drink history tells me it started in Newport, RI and the south fork of Long Island, and spread out from there. This is the spicier version of the Rum and Coke, or more specifically the Cuba Libre (viva lime wedge!!!). I won’t belabor the point: it is a highball of rum and ginger beer, garnished with a lime wedge. You should be able to figure out how strong you want it and not need a recipe. Squeeze the wedge or don’t. Your call.

The Gosling’s rum people have a lock on the “Dark ‘N Stormy” recipe, made with their dark rum, their ginger beer, and your lime wedge. If that sounds excessive, think of it as a badge of honor traceable to the Bacardi Cocktail. Bacardi had a bug up their bung about Bacardi becoming generecized (kleenexed, if you will) and started policing bars to ensure that their rum was not being subbed out of a “bacardi cocktail” for some other, lesser, rum. (Please, no laughing) Goslings wants the same kind of respect, but it seems over the top. You now have to avoid the shorthand “‘N” and use “and” or “&”… I guess. The truth is that not only can you bypass the Goslings Dark entirely, you can bypass their ginger beer as well. Sure, prepared ginger beer is super convenient, but it is also super sweet. You can use crushed ice, or water, to dilute the drink, but you will also dilute the ginger flavor.

Enter Ginger Syrup. This could be the solution to the D&S issue, and it can add a kick to other drinks as well.

There are two paths to follow:

One involves using sliced peeled ginger in a simple syrup base, then straining. The drill is the same for many flavored syrups. You make a simple syrup at some ratio between 1:1 and 2:1 sugar:water, add your flavoring as the sugar gets fully dissolved, steep for a few hours, and strain. Hit it with a small dose of silver rum as a preservative and you are done. It will last a while and does have a ginger flavor.

But you will not be happy. You want a strong ginger bite with real ginger heat. You are always looking for stronger siblings in the already limited ginger beer family. Reed’s is kid stuff. D&G is as close as you have been to the ginger promised land. You, friend, need to get on the juice. No, not Barry Bonds’ juice. You need to juice that ginger, then use that as a base for your syrup. In fact, you can stop at the straight juice stage and blend with syrup to taste, but that might be overkill and involve taking a lot of notes and using a precision measuring device. You can go straight to ginger syrup by mixing one part ginger juice with two parts simple syrup. Either way it is better than anything you will buy.

I was introduced to straight ginger juice by my friends Sharon and Mike, who have Caribbean roots and know what is what. I get my ginger at the Indian market because it is better and cheaper than the regular supermarket stuff. Then I peel it (a spoon works great to scrape the thin skin off the rhizome) and feed it into my impeller juicer. Viola, juice. Blow ya head off if yer not careful.

Here is a more complete exploration from Summit Sips

The resulting juice will be super strong. Probably too strong to take straight unless there is serious cash prize money involved. But nailing down an exact ratio will be difficult because some ginger will be stronger and some juicers will be more efficient. Let’s start like this:

  • 1/2 oz ginger juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 1.5 oz Jamaican Rum*
  • 4 oz sparkling water
  • 1 Lime Wedge
  • Combine ginger juice, syrup, and rum over ice in a tall glass
  • Stir.
  • Add sparkling water
  • Squeeze/drop lime wedge, stir, serve

As usual I will not get prescriptive with your rum selection other than to say that the charm in this drink is the way a stronger rum flavor plays with the spicy ginger beer, with a little lime kick for balance. Using a dry white rum may not be horrible but it will miss the mark. It will be drinkable, just not delicious. Your usual dark rum suspects like Goslings, Meyers, Coruba, and El Dorado will do just fine. Likewise, Plantation 5, Pussers, Bacardi 8, Angostura 7… will be delicious. You want a big tasting rum to tangle with that big tasting ginger root.

If you notice a trend, you are correct: I put a lot of stock into the mid-range of the rum world. Rum is, after all, relatively rough company. You can get some very amazing sipping rums, but they are hard to compare without spending a lot of money since they only come in full size bottles and run upward of $35 a piece. Cheaper than a scotch habit, but still, not cheap. In general I stick with a rule of avoiding sipping rums in highball drinks, and only using them in cocktails when they will stand out and I have the time to do a proper job of it. That rule is a money saver as well as allowing me to stretch my rum dollar further and get to know more good rums in place of many fewer great/expensive rums.

That’s it for now. Next up is a list of resources for rum information and tiki culture.

Lemoncello Brain Dump

After a few questions about the not-so-fine art of homemade liquors, here is a quickie brain dump on the ubiquitous and simple Lemoncello:

First, it is not rocket science. Extract citrus zest with vodka, sweeten with simple syrup. Ballgame. There are some fine points that can help with the appearance, color, and depth of flavor, but you could read that sentence and make a good Lemoncello.

I live in an area with no indigenous lemons and no indigenous neutral spirits, hence, my approach is based on the ready supply of imported lemons and commodity hooch. Good lemons should smell like a lemon. Easier said than done in New England. But never fear, look at places selling quality produce and take your chances. Even average lemons get the job done. Any mid-grade vodka will do. Nothing too cheap or too fine.

I have used grain/everclear and the results were drinkable but I found that the high proof spirits extracted too much oil. It works, and the end product is much stronger. Proceed as you wish. I have toyed with using Grappa… I will report back if I dare go down that rabbit hole.

Zest, not peel, 6-12 lemons. Zest means not taking the white pith away with the peel. Don’t stress, just use a sharp peeler and try to avoid too much pith. It is easier than it sounds. Too many lemons is waste unless you are heading towards a 2L+ extraction.

Add zest to a half-gallon widemouth jar and top with 750ml to 1.5L Vodka. The proportions are not super-critical, but you will end up with almost twice this volume of finished Limoncello (this is a good case for starting small and scaling up). Cover and allow this to extract for at least 2-3 days, and a week is a good target. A funnel with a piece of cheesecloth will help you make a clean transfer to a mixing vessel. You can also transfer to a bowl, clean the jar, and then transfer it back for mixing (my preference).

Ahead of the transfer, make a batch of simple syrup. 1:1 water and sugar heated to dissolve, short simmer is ok. Don’t boil. You are not making candy. Cool syrup.

Now comes the part that will help you zero-in on the character of the finished product: Start at 1 part syrup to 2 parts vodka extract. If you used a 750ml bottle of vodka, start with no more than 400ml of syrup. Mix well. Let it stand. Mix again (agitating the bottle us fine). Using that big widemouth jug makes this easier.

Taste and assess. You can always add more syrup if it is a little too astringent. Also, you will have a less dilute product by starting on the low end of sweetness and working up if necessary. Viola! You have a house-made liquor to amaze your friends.

Variations: Oranges and limes work very well. My kumquat experiment, not so much. Live in a climate with local citrus? Use that. This technique is applicable to a variety of flavors. I am partial to citrus, but you can experiment and find a cool variation. Pawpawcello might be good. You tell me. I will take your word for it.