A precursor to the ginger ale that lines soda aisles today, ginger beer is believed to have been first created in Great Britain around the mid-1700s. Its name comes from the fermentation process that gives the drink its carbonation, though it’s actually more akin to cider production. In the traditional process, the drink would start with a ginger “plant,” or yeast and bacteria culture not unlike a sourdough starter, which could be maintained and used to create countless batches.
As ginger cultivation grew across the globe, the drink became particularly popular in the Caribbean, where strong, pungent varieties of the root created a signature style with more heat and spice than its predecessors. Now used as the backbone of classic cocktails like the Moscow Mule and Dark n’ Stormy, ginger beer’s popularity has resurged over the past decade with countless new brands popping up on the market.
While traditional yeast-fermented ginger beer can be lightly alcoholic, most commercial bottlings are non-alcoholic, unless labeled otherwise.
You can use yeast to create a naturally carbonated ginger beer at home with a slight kick of alcohol, though we’re opting for a force carbonated version here for simplicity (and less tedious sanitization and risk of exploding bottles). All it takes is a SodaStream, iSi soda siphon or other brand of home carbonator, or even just a bottle of soda water as a mixer.
If you’re interested in diving into the yeast-based brewing process for future batches, you can find a quick primer here.
- 1 pound fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- ½ cup honey, preferably orange blossom
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 4 limes, squeezed
- 8 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)
Peel skin off ginger using spoon, then grate or finely dice. Add ginger to pot with 2 quarts water, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Bring to simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to steep refrigerated overnight.
Strain mixture through cheesecloth or mesh strainer, and pour back into pot. Squeeze or press remaining ginger mash in the strainer to get the remaining, highly concentrated juice out.
Bring liquid back to a low simmer, then stir in honey and brown sugar until fully dissolved.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add freshly squeezed lime juice, Angostura bitters and orange flower water. Stir, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until chilled.
Add mixture to soda siphon to carbonate. If using SodaStream or machine meant primarily for sparkling water, as opposed to a soda siphon, use short bursts of carbonation, up to about half what it would take to carbonate water. Alternatively, after adding sugar and honey, can simmer until amount of liquid is reduced by half. To serve, mix concentrated ginger beer base with equal parts seltzer. Makes 2 quarts.