We don’t go out very often. I think it boils down to two basic things: 1. I have trouble justifying the cost of most nice meals when I know I can make it in my own kitchen for a fraction of the cost, and 2. When I make it in my own kitchen, I can season the dish to just my liking. When we go out, I become a mash up of Goldilocks and Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally. “Um, waiter, I’d like my porridge to be served in a medium, heated, bowl, but don’t fill the whole thing with porridge, leave room for a splash of heavy cream, and a dash of nutmeg, oh, and can I have a side of honey?”
We met up with friends over drinks in Harvard Square last week, and the Moscow Mule — homemade ginger beer, vodka and lime — caught my eye. Or really, the homemade ginger beer did. I had been thinking a lot about homemade sodas lately. There’s a great raspberry one at Flour Bakery, and Clover Food Lab has really neat flavors like vanilla bean and hibiscus.
So I ordered just the ginger beer. It was very tasty but much too sweet, and the truth was, could really have used some vodka to cut it. So I ordered a shot of vodka. Then it was good, but not quite there. It was missing lime. So I ordered some limes. Well, after realizing I had just deconstructed and reconstructed an entire drink, I figured I might as well order it the way it was meant to be. But the vodka in the drink overpowered its gingery sweetness. Third time was a charm when I ordered a glass of ginger beer, a shot of vodka and some limes. It was nice to finally have the drink taste just right, but not the most cost effective way to go about doing it.
And, I asked myself, if this bar serves homemade ginger beer, why can’t I?
I sifted through some recipes and was tickled when I realized I could. All I needed was to ferment sugar with baker’s yeast, generating carbon dioxide which would carbonate my homemade soda. Also, this way I could control how much sugar went into the soda.
The recipe I have here is a combination of a few recipes, and I highly encourage you to fiddle with it until it’s to your liking. I think a teaspoon of vanilla would work really well with this basic recipe; a couple of whole cloves or even a cardamom pod would be great, too. I happened on a sale of turbinado sugar last week, so I had that on hand for this recipe, but I would have ordinarily used brown sugar. White sugar would also work. It’s entirely up to you.
You can make the ginger beer and add the vodka and lime to it like the restaurant did, or add rum and make a Dark and Stormy. I’ve recently discovered that Marty’s Liquor has an overstock store in my neighborhood. It’s like Ocean State Job Lot, but for alcohol. With recipes like this one, I will be making frequent trips!
Homemade Ginger Beer
For this recipe, you will need a clean 2 liter plastic soft drink bottle with cap. Do not use glass, as the pressure from the fermentation could cause it to shatter. A funnel really comes in handy, as does a box grater for the ginger.
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root and its juices.
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon granular baker’s yeast
Pour the cup of sugar into the bottle using the funnel
Add the bakers yeast through the funnel into the bottle
Shake to disperse the yeast grains into the sugar granules.
Grate the ginger and then place it into a measuring cup
Juice half a lemon directly into the measuring cup
Stir to form a slurry
Add the slurry to the bottle
Rinse the measuring cup and add the rinsings to the bottle, cap and shake to distribute.
Fill the bottle to the neck with fresh cool clean water, leaving about an inch of head space, securely screwing the cap down to seal. Invert repeatedly to thoroughly dissolve sugar.
Place in a warm location for 24 to 48 hours. Do not leave at room temperature longer than necessary for it to feel “hard.” The excess pressure may cause an eruption when you open it or even explode the bottle
Test to see if the carbonation is complete by squeezing the bottle forcefully with your thumb. It if dents, it is not ready.
Once the bottle feels hard to a forceful squeeze, place in the refrigerator. Before opening, refrigerate at least overnight to thoroughly chill.
Filter the ginger beer through a strainer before serving.