Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Soda experiments, part 2: Ginger ale

Soda remains a rare treat for my kids. My husband and I kicked a vicious Coke Zero addiction not too long ago, and we try to avoid having soda in the house. But on special occasions, my sons delight in a simple Shirley Temple cocktail: ginger ale, a bit of grenadine, and a sickly sweet maraschino cherry.

Given their love of ginger ale and the success of our home-brewed root beer (three years ago — how can it have been that long ago?!), I thought we should give ginger ale a try. I did a bit of research and decided to try two different approaches.

1. The fancy brew

First we tried a truly home-brewed soda, requiring a bit of yeast for carbonation. We used this recipe, subbing dry ale yeast for the champagne yeast (and you can use regular bread yeast, to keep things simple). Other than the yeast, the ingredients were straightforward: fresh ginger, water, salt, lemon juice, and only half a cup of sugar per 2-liter. Nice!

The boys took turns grating ginger and squeezing lemons. We made a double batch to fill two recycled bottles, then let the kids shake things up.

The original recipe recommends keeping the bottle out at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours, until the bottle is firm to the touch — the important sign that your soda is carbonated and should be refrigerated before it explodes. Our bottle took longer, about 60 hours.

We chilled it for a day, then cautiously cracked it open ... but there was almost no fizz. Disappointing. We poured out three glasses, straining out bits of ginger, and eagerly took a sip.

This is ginger beer, probably best for grownups. Even with a dash of grenadine, my sons agreed it had way too much bite for their tastes. (I'll work it into some adult cocktails with pleasure, however.)

UPDATE: We cracked this open after another five days in the refrigerator — it was much mellower and fizzier. This is the winner!

2. The simple syrup

On to the next version: a gingery simple syrup to mix with sparkling water. We chopped the rest of our ginger and combined one part ginger with one part sugar and three parts water, used an immersion blender to whirl everything together, then brought it to a boil on the stove. We let it simmer for 45 minutes or so until it was reduced by half, then took it off the heat to steep for another half-hour. Finally, we poured it through a fine-mesh strainer and chilled it in the fridge.

For our taste test, we poured a bit of ginger syrup into each glass and added sparkling water. This was the reaction:

I preferred this version, but it still has quite a bite. Strong, tasty stuff for ginger lovers like me, but it looks like I'm the only one who'll be drinking it. My sons preferred the fancy brew with yeast (and less sugar!). (UPDATE: And after a few days, it was very drinkable and much tastier.)

We have a few more soda experiments planned — I'll share them here if they're more successful than this adventure!

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