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Ginger Beer – Not Just a Summer Recipe!

Ginger Beer, Ginger Root

I came upon an article about the health benefits of common spices this morning, and I was lured into reading it by the delightful pictures of cinnamon sticks and cloves in the slideshow. Some of my favourite flavours were included in the list of medicinal spices. How could I resist?

When I was a young student many of my classmates came from the Caribbean, and I was fortunate to have been taught by these lovely ladies how to make an authentic ginger beer. If you’ve never had ginger beer, you can buy it bottled in a West Indian grocery or similar import shop. Although it has the word “beer” in it, it’s usually non-alcoholic. It’s like a strongly flavoured ginger ale. It has quite a bite to it, but served cool in the summer it is cool and soothing like lemonade.

Homemade ginger beer made with fresh ginger root is a real treat. Ginger is easy to find in any market, so you don’t have to have a specialty store nearby to try it.

Ginger is known to treat digestive upsets. I found it very helpful when I had morning sickness during my pregnancies. Ginger tea is a familiar winter remedy for colds and sore throats. Try this easy beverage warm or cold in winter. In summer, refrigerate and serve in a chilled glass with a nice lemon or lime wedge.

Non-Alcoholic (or “Soft”) Ginger Beer Recipe
3 – 4 large ginger roots (use less for kids, or if you want a milder drink)
juice of 2 limes
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
about 4-6 cups (1 – 1.5 L) boiling water
lukewarm water to make 1 gallon (4 L)

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A lot of recipes these days use a blender or juicer to extract the juice straight from the ginger root, but I was taught to mash the ginger roots with a heavy kitchen implement. It’s a good outlet for your frustrations! I use a marble pestle; a meat tenderizing hammer or a heavy rolling pin would work if you don’t have a mortar and pestle. This step is just for the purpose of exposing the inside of the root, so you can extract more flavour. You can peel the root and cut into chunks to facilitate this.

Put the ginger root in the bottom of a large heat resistant jug or a teapot. Pour the boiling water over the ginger root. Cover with the lid or a clean cloth, and let steep in a warm place for about an hour.

Strain the liquid through a tea strainer or a few layers of cheesecloth, into a gallon jug, or divide evenly between pitchers. Squeeze the mashed root to get all the flavour and liquid out of it. (I was actually told to leave the ginger in the jug, if it’s not for a fancy occasion. That works just fine for me, and it’s less work. Pouring a glass is more like decanting: leave the ginger in the bottom of the jug, as much as possible.)

Stir in the lime juice. If you prefer, you can use lemon. I even found a recipe that suggested pineapple or even grapefruit juice for a slightly different taste. Use what you have on hand.

Add the sugar a little at a time, stirring well to dissolve it. Taste a bit of the ginger beer after each addition. You can use more or less than the 1 cup, according to your tastes. Stir very well.

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Add cool water to make up one gallon total. Refrigerate, covered, for a few hours or overnight. Serve chilled, over ice. Garnish with a wedge of lemon or lime.

* To serve the ginger beer warm, add previously boiled water that has cooled to the desired temperature. Serve in a mug with a cinnamon stick.

* Apple ginger beer is wonderful around the holidays. Heat the water in a saucepan with a few cloves, and a piece of start anise, if desired. Boil gently for five minutes with a lid on the pan, before pouring the water over the prepared ginger root. Substitute apple cider (or freshly made apple juice, if you have a juicer) for up to 2 quarts (about 2 L) of the additional water. Serve warm with a splash of vanilla or rum, and a pinch of nutmeg.

* If you like bubbles in your ginger beer, you can cut it with club soda and serve it chilled with ice. Make it stronger than you would normally, if you plan to have a lot of bubbles in it.

* Ginger beer can also be fermented to make a “soft” drink that contains a very small amount of alcohol. Longer fermentation under the right conditions will result in an alcoholic ginger beer. Don’t mess with this unless you have the right equipment, some knowledge of the fermentation process, and a reliable recipe.

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