Ginger beer has definitely come back into vogue lately, but I don’t think its full creative potential has been realized. The uniqueness and pungency of ginger yields an intense emotional response that begs to be explored. When you really investigate the mechanics of ginger beer, the simple seeming component of the “dark and stormy” or “gin gin mule” isn’t so simple.
For starters carbonating is hard but that is the least of the problems. The ginger aroma is quick to degrade in certain environments and without knowing what they are, developing a recipe can be a lot of frustration. In Darcy O’neil’s incredible book Fix the Pumps, he explains that ginger cannot tolerate sucrose solutions or a pH that is too low. This means a recipe needs invert sugars (not that hard to do) and can’t be comfortably acidified for stability. So I guess it needs to be sold before it spoils in a week.
The flavor of ginger beer is also a little more complicated that just ginger. Spiciness is often bolstered by capsicum to add depth which I’m sure will take a few iterations to get right. I also have a feeling horseradish might also be able to add a similar amount of spicy depth. Spatial effect can also be enhanced by adding malt or honey to create aromatic backgrounds or even… sweet potato water! (water sweet potatoes were boiled in similar to the Guyana beverage Sweet Potato Fly)
To make this all actually happen in a bar with any quality or economic viability, a recipe is going to have to be kegged and put on draft as well as nearly non cooked because you can’t tie up a stove in the kitchen for too long.
You also need an accurate sense of your turnover. A three gallon recipe will give you 75 or so 5 oz. portions. If you fill it every few days you can probably keep everything fresh and sanitary which is important because components won’t be sterilized by cooking.
The foundation of a recipe is ginger and sugar in carbonated water.
My recipe needed nearly a quart of ginger juice per three gallons. With the right tool for the right job juicing ginger can be pretty easy. grate the root in a cheese greater then put it through a centrifugal juicer like an Acme. If you’re trying to make a gallon of juice you could probably even basket press the grated ginger. The juice can easily be frozen and parceled out later so you only juice the ginger once a month.
If you choose to terrace the spiciness with capsicum, you can make a very potent high alcohol chili tincture and dole it out by the drop. Horseradish could be treated just like the ginger.
The sugar content is fairly easy to figure out by looking on the nutritional facts on the backs of commercial bottlings and emulating their success. Ginger beer sugar is in the range of 100 to 150 grams per liter. This could be weighed out and inverted in large highly concentrated batches then frozen just like the ginger juice. You would have to be in the kitchen only once of month granted you have enough freezer space.
The contrasting back drop could be opportunistic. Maybe you have staff meal sweet potatoes, maybe you don’t. Maybe you had enough space to freeze that as well. Using nothing isn’t a bad idea either. A.J. Stephens brand Boston ginger beer is my favorite and seems to be really minimal.
Toss it in the keg and gas it up like a lager. 14 psi at fridge temp is a good start but this could be adjusted based on foaming.
Not everyone has a spare draft line but if you serve enough, even factoring in labor, making your own ginger beer could give you artistic freedom and save money.
After a couple more production iterations I’ll post a more formal recipe.
My vision for aromatic adjuncts so far are hopping the brew and using malta goya as my malt flavor source (similar to my fake genever recipe which relies on distilled malta goya)