Ginger Ale: Now with Real Ginger

This ginger ale is not for sissiesIn 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. In a medium pot, heat allspice, cardamom, anise, and peppercorns over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. 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.
  3. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate in an airtight glass container.

Notes:

  • 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.
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21 comments

  1. Tony and Katie – May 13, 2013 at 07:08

    We JUST finished your ginger syrup last night. It drenched a strawberry/yogurt parfait. We traded you the cider. Will you be bringing more to the next swap?
    Hope so…..

    • Heather – June 26, 2013 at 02:08

      Hi guys! Not sure if you’ll even see this reply — it’s been so long since I’ve updated this site that I didn’t actually see your COMMENT until just now! Was that trade at the Brooklyn swap or the Seattle one? I think you may be from Brooklyn, in which case — surprise! — I live in Seattle now, so I won’t be at another swap in your neck of the woods any time soon. But you could make your own syrup! I’m so glad you liked it so much. That makes me intensely happy.

  2. [...] A favorite in this house is equal parts apple cider and seltzer with a couple spoonfuls of ginger ale syrup. It’s autumn in a glass. But I’m fussy about my fruits; I won’t eat apples out of [...]

  3. steph – October 22, 2012 at 00:32

    This is in my fridge right now. Since seeing the recipe posted earlier this month, I’ve been thinking about it nonstop.

    I made it this afternoon! It was fun — my first time using star anise, cardamom pods and whole allspice. I processed the ginger in my mini-prep but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. So looking forward to tasting it tomorrow after work!

    We mixed some of the post-cook mash with vodka and with rum (separately) that we had laying around. That could be interesting as well.

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • steph – October 22, 2012 at 21:52

      This recipe is SO GOOD. I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s so spicy and I like that I can make the ratio adaptable for my needs — sometimes I want sweet, sometimes I want spicy. I can have it my way now. Thank you!

      • Heather – October 23, 2012 at 11:44

        I’m so thrilled you like it, Steph! Also, definitely report back on how the infused vodka and rum work out. That shiz sounds DELICIOUS. (Food safety tip: It’s probably wise to keep those infusions in the fridge, even though high-proof booze is involved, since home straining methods tend to leave behind bits of perishables.)

        Now, with your cardamom pods, make a whole bunch of delicious Indian food (try lightly crushing a few and tossing them in with some oil and turmeric, saffron, or cumin seed to heat for a minute before you make basmati rice), and crush those allspice berries for lots of tasty applications (allspice is awesome with lots of meat, and I use it in winter soups a bunch as a secret ingredient). I have yet to come up with something awesome to do with star anise, but it keeps for ages. :)

        • steph – November 10, 2012 at 16:45

          Just following up… we finished the syrup and my skeptical husband became a fan. We haven’t tried the booze yet (it’s still getting happy in the fridge). We’re making a second batch of syrup today. I’m going to add a bit of lemon zest to the boil to see how that does. Yum! Thanks again!

          • Heather – November 17, 2012 at 20:13

            I’d recommend lemon, orange, and lime zest zest — that’s what I use in my cola syrup and it’s delicious! Surprisingly, the citrus flavor is not very in your face. It’s subtle and delicious. So glad you guys both loved it!

  4. Pat – October 15, 2012 at 15:43

    You certainly didn’t fall far from the tree! Girl after my own heart/taste buds.

  5. Jake – October 1, 2012 at 11:31

    Would this work as a sugar free thing? Could Splenda be subbed in or would that just be foul? I LOVE me some serious ginger ale but I try and keep my soda consumption low/no calorie. Thoughts?

    (side note: The Root Beer store in Lynnwood has ginger ales as well and I found a decent diet ginger ale there. If you haven’t been you should go on your next PNW visit.)

    • Heather – October 1, 2012 at 11:48

      Jake, that’s an interesting question and I don’t know enough about sugar substitutes to answer. My inclination would be to swap out some of the sugar for honey or perhaps agave nectar, but you’d lose the caramel notes of the brown sugar (plus you’d make it a honey flavor, which could be nice — just different — or have to reduce the quantity of agave, since it’s super-sweet). But I’m afraid I’ve never used Splenda in my life! If you try it, report back and let me know how it goes. This forum has a response from someone who seems to make soda syrup using Splenda all the time, so that may guide your experiment:
      http://www.discusscooking.com/forums/f122/making-simple-syrup-with-splenda-6271.html

  6. Bill Scurry – October 1, 2012 at 11:17

    It sounds legitimately awesome and tasty — BUT SO MUCH WORK!

  7. Brandy Agerbeck (@loosetooth) – October 1, 2012 at 11:08

    I <3 ginger! I am not a big soda gal, but I love homemade ginger ale. My friend Josh turned me onto adding black pepper to ginger for a super warm flavor. I don't peel my ginger, I just grate the heck out of it, grind up a bunch of black pepper and boil, boil, boil. Strain, dissolve sugar. Easy peasy and super yummy. I keep mine in an old style restaurant syrup pour-er in my fridge. And it's yummy in coffee. I also love mixing my ginger syrup with soda and sour cherry juice – Super Anti-Inflammation POWER!

    • Heather – October 1, 2012 at 11:51

      Brandy, there are peppercorns in this syrup too. I love what they add! (Secret: I often add black pepper to sweet preparations because it adds a little somethin somethin that people can’t name but just love). Oh, you bring up an interesting point about grating — I think next time I make my ginger ale syrup I’ll just pop it through the Cuisinart and see how it affects the flavor (I bet: not at all, which is a good thing). Thanks for your comment.

      (Also, ginger with sour cherry? YES PLEASE ZOMG THAT SOUNDS FABULOUS.)

  8. Dora – October 1, 2012 at 11:06

    Oh oh one more thing about ginger and then I will shut up. My mother in law tells me that if you want your beverage to be CLOUDY, you grate ginger. But if you want it to be CLEAR, you can just cube the ginger. You will get a less intense ginger that way (which some people like) and also it will be a clear beverage.

    • Heather – October 1, 2012 at 11:52

      Aha! With this comment and Brandy’s above, I’m definitely going to experiment with grating the ginger next time to see how it changes the syrup. (Also, tips from mother-in-laws are ALWAYS welcome here. I respect the wisdom of my elders! Thanks for sharing.)

  9. Dora – October 1, 2012 at 10:40

    This is so exciting! I can’t wait to try it. FYI, for Heather or anyone else reading this, I’m pretty sure you don’t need to peel the ginger; we brew a lot of ginger in my house, particularly to make this Jamaican specialty holiday beverage, and we never peel it.

    • Heather – October 1, 2012 at 11:53

      You have just turned this recipe into THE FASTEST EVER, Dora. Can’t wait to skip the peeling next time.

  10. Mike – October 1, 2012 at 10:21

    She’s not lying people. This stuff is great, and I didn’t even like ginger ale that much.

    • Heather – October 1, 2012 at 11:56

      The day that I manage to train your palette to love (“excessive” quantities of) ginger, black pepper, celery, cilantro, and lemon juice is the day I can retire, proud of a job well done.

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