In my childhood home, there were always three sodas: caffeine-free Coke, root beer, and ginger ale (preferable Canada Dry). My Papa and my brother were the real soda drinkers, but given those options, I usually gravitated toward the ginger ale. As I got older, I learned that most canned ginger ale is a lot tamer than many bottled varieties, and my allegiance lay with Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew. I like the burn, friends. I like a ginger ale that doesn’t just politely ring your doorbell but instead bashes in your front door, shakes the rain off its coat, and leaves muddy footprints in the entryway. That’s a soda I know I can bro down with—not just a delicately flavored vehicle for sugar and empty calories, but a soda that feels like a full-bodied treat, loaded with nuance and spice.
I bought a SodaStream Fountain Jet a year ago and it has been one of the greatest gadgets to enter my kitchen. We keep three bottles of water cold in the fridge so they can be fizzed (or “bubbed,” as we say in this house) at a moment’s notice. I’ve always preferred sparkling water, and now I can have it whenever I want. What’s more, I can make better-for-you fancy drinks. Mike’s personal favorite is to take citrus juice (either orange or grapefruit) and cut it with bubbled water. I like to drink the sparkling stuff with a few dashes of rhubarb or cherry bitters, which makes something akin to those “scented” waters and makes any table more elegant. And yet, the drink that impresses my guests the most is always homemade soda. I whipped up a natural cola once that tasted great (though was better as a mixer), but the real star in our joint is this ginger ale. We’re the sort of folks who have milk, water, and grapefruit juice on hand…and that’s it. But with the SodaSream, we now have beverage options, and a jar of this soda syrup tucked into the fridge makes it easy to pull out something delicious and unusual for whomever comes by.
I might’ve forgot to mention that it’s super simple. The “hardest” part is peeling the ginger, which is more time-consuming than actually difficult, and I’m not even truly convinced you need to do that (though I’ve yet to experiment). I brought four jars of this syrup to a BK Swappers event last week (along with some whole-grain mustard—another experiment!), and it was gone in a flash. Since my double batch was all traded away, I came home and made a third batch just for us. If you’ve never made your own soda syrup, I’d encourage you to try for several reasons:
- You know exactly what goes into it. Look at the ingredient list on a typical can of soda. Spooky, right? This soda contains ordinary ingredients found in my kitchen. To wit: white sugar, brown sugar, fresh ginger, cardamom pods, allspice berries, peppercorns, and star anise. That’s it. I feel better knowing that my treats are made from whole foods that can be traced more easily to their sources (and that I can pronounce).
- You don’t have to have any special equipment. You can just use seltzer from the store to mix with your syrup (though if you’re the sort of person who buys flats of seltzer from Costco, I’d recommend exploring the SodaStream. Better for the environment, better for you, and so dang much fun).
- You can use the syrup for more than just sodas. We use the ginger ale syrup in desserts, too (it pairs beautifully with apples and pears). I’ve drizzled it on ice cream, and I stir it into mocktails and cocktails. Check out the notes in the recipe for some usage tips!
- It’s almost shockingly easy. Beyond peeling and slicing the ginger, it’s a matter of heating up some spices on the stovetop and then tossing in the ginger, water, and sugar. You let it simmer for a while, then strain. That’s it.
- You can customize the level of sweetness in your beverage. More often than not, I make half-strength ginger ale for myself, using less syrup in my glass of bubbly. This is a great way to wean yourself off of commercial (read: high-sugar, chemical-laden) soft drinks if you’re an avid soda drinker.
- It makes your house smell out of this world.
Now that fall is almost upon us, why don’t you give real ginger ale a try? I think you might like it.
Spicy Ginger Ale Syrup
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 1 hour | Makes: approximate 2 cups syrup
Adapted from: Former Chef
1 heaping teaspoon allspice berries
2 heaping teaspoons cardamom pods
4 star anise pods
1 heaping teaspoon peppercorns
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin slices (from 8 ounces unpeeled)
2 cups water
- In a medium pot, heat allspice, cardamom, anise, and peppercorns over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, ginger, and water to pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate in an airtight glass container.
- Peeling fresh ginger can take a while. To preserve the most flesh, use a spoon rather than a knife. This little piece of silverware ably scrapes off the tough skin leaving behind all the flavorful root, and it’s easier to work into all of the ginger knob’s nooks and crannies. To save time, peel and slice your ginger while your spices are toasting.
- To make a regular soda, mix 2 tablespoons of syrup into 10 ounces of soda water.
- For an autumnal treat, combine 6 ounces unfiltered apple cider, 6 ounces soda water, and 1 tablespoon ginger syrup.
- For a pancake topper, stir together equal parts maple syrup and ginger ale syrup. (Optional: Heat on the stove and whisk in a tablespoon or two of salted butter until combined.)
- Pour over ice cream.
- Toss with sliced apples or pears, dot with butter, and bake in a pie crust.
- Shake with rum and lime juice for a cocktail.
- Spoon into hot tea.
- Sweeten whipped cream to top pumpkin pie.
- Stir into Greek yogurt.