I’m a bit of a ginger freak.
I’m quick to try it in its many incarnations. Some of my local Colorado favorite’s are ChocoLove’s Ginger Crystallized in Dark Chocolate, Bhakti Chai (a black pepper and ginger chai that’s fantastic hot or cold), and Big B’s Ginger Apple Cooler.
I haven’t, however, found a local ginger beer that outshines the homemade versions made by Caribbean friends. These versions, for the most part, have a stronger ginger punch and are more complex in spice than the store-bought, fizzy varieties.
In the Caribbean, ginger beer is an all-occasion and special-occasion beverage. My friend Val who hails from Trinidad is an extraordinary cook and fact man. He says ginger beer – typically the non-fizzy version, such as the recipe below, is enjoyed during the holiday season. Other holiday drinks include sorrel punch (similar to hibiscus) and punch de crème (an eggnog-rum-based drink).
Like most recipes, there is no single way to make ginger beer. Recipes vary from family to family and by region. In Trinidad, cinnamon, cloves and lime are typically added. Whereas, in Jamaica, they generally add fresh pineapple. Regardless of the array of spices/ingredients used, one thing is constant – the ginger is strong. This is NOT a whimpy ginger ale, it’s got a bite that’s both refreshing and addictive.
The recipe below is mine. It’s not as sweet as some versions that have about half as much sugar as water. It’s layered with flavor from a whole pound of fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, fresh lime juice and raw sugar.
Val made sure to hip me up on the “proper” sugar for traditional Trini ginger beer – Demerara, turbinado or another raw sugar but not the white stuff or brown sugar. (However, in my research it appears a lot of folks in the states use brown sugar as a substitute.) A version he remembered most was by a family friend who served her ginger beer much like a sangria – with slices of fresh oranges, limes and a piece of raw sugar cane as a swizzle stick.
Salud! Cheers! Happy Holidays – whether you are neck deep in snow or chillin’ at the beach.
Oops. I forgot to mention. There’s no alcohol in this even though it’s called “beer.”
Tidbits on Ginger:
- Ginger is a rhizome – an underground stem that grows horizontally.
- Ginger, although native to India and China is grown around the world especially in the hot tropics including the Caribbean and Africa, where it was introduced in the 16th century.
- In the 13th and 14th centuries, ginger, along with black pepper, was one of the most commonly traded spices.
- Initially ginger was consumed more for its medicinal purposes than for strictly culinary purposes. Today it is believed to aide digestion, relieve rheumatoid arthritis, reduce migraines, sooth sore throats, improve circulation, reduce fat deposits in the arteries and treat nausea.
Trinidadian Ginger Beer
Makes 4 quarts
This ginger beer is assertive – strong ginger and spices. It’s not fizzy and it’s not ginger ale. If you want to dilute, do as the Trini’s do, and cut it with seltzer, mineral water, etc. If you’d like an even stronger ginger beer, reduce it by 2 cups of water.
1 pound fresh ginger
3 quarts water (12 cups)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 of fresh lime, divided – large peel and juice
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cup raw sugar (demerara, turbinado or muscovado)
- Peel the fresh ginger – using a peeler or the back of a spoon. Rinse. Grate ginger using a box grater or a food processor. Watch the knuckles.
- In a large a large non-reactive pot, bring water, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and the peel of half a lime to a boil. Turn off heat. Add the 1 ½ cup sugar; stir until dissolved. Taste. Add fresh grated ginger and the juice from the half lime.
- Let the ginger mixture cool to room temperature. Leave in the pot (cover) or transfer to a large jar with a lid and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to a week to allow flavors to meld. (If steeping more than 24 hours – remove at least one cinnamon stick.) When ready to drink, strain through a fine colander or cheesecloth; press solids at the end to remove remaining liquid; discard solids.
- Serve cold. Garnish with fresh mint or thin slices of limes or other citrus. Although, not traditional, this is also great as a hot drink.
Fruit: lemons, grapefruit, pineapple
Spices: vanilla bean, mace, none