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Jamaican Ginger Beer

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Jamaican ginger beer is traditionally served at outdoor gatherings. This is great for a summer party or cookout. I’ve provided quantities for making a single gallon, and also for a big ol’ 5-gallon batch for a lot of people on a hot day. The method is the same either way.

Think of this as a party punch. The zing of the fresh ginger is unmistakable. Serve this, and nobody at your party will bother with ordinary soda pop. At least, that’s been my experience.

The sugar content is about two tablespoons per cup, or roughly 28g carbohydrate. You can substitute erythritol or xylitol for the sugar and bring the carb count down significantly, or experiment with using less sugar. Let me know how it works for you. I wouldn’t use a saccharine sweetener here, though, as those take on an unpleasant sourness in recipes where tartness (here, that would be from the lime) is a salient flavor.

I’ve tried mixing this with good, dark Jamaican rum, but it was a bit of a washout. The dark, molasses flavor of the rum drowned out the brilliance of the ginger. If you wish to mix with alcohol, I would suggest a light (clear) rum. My favorite is Mr. Boston. It’s an incredible value for the money, I think, because it’s so cheap (under $8 a bottle in my town) and yet has the clean, unobtrusive taste you’d expect in a much more expensive liquor. (I’m not crazy about Mr. Boston’s dark rum, and I don’t have the direct experience to speak to their other products.) Plus, it’s from Jamaica, so that makes me feel more authentic when I’m cookin’ Jamaican style.

I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think this drink is made to be mixed with rum, anyway. I think it’s supposed to be just the way it is, but fermented into a mildly alcoholic beverage. That is, it’s not meant as a mixer for another drink; it is the drink.

You can also make a fermented version of Jamaican ginger beer that’s fizzy. I haven’t quite gotten that to work out yet, but when I do, I’ll post it on how-to-cook-wth-vesna.com also. I think that’s even more traditional, and so worth trying till I get it right.

Jamaican ginger beer
The recipe

One gallon
Ingredients
1 lb. fresh ginger root (skin on)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon rum extract (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 quarts water
4 freezer trays ice

Equipment
1-gallon pitcher
Big pot
Food processor or grater
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons

Five gallons
Ingredients
5 lb. fresh ginger root (skin on)
5 lb. sugar
2 1/2 cups lime juice
1 tablespoon rum extract (optional)
2 tablespoons vanilla
Plenty of water
7 lb. bag of ice

Equipment
An insulated beverage dispenser, the kind like a plastic barrel with a spout near the bottom.
Big pot
Food processor or grater
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons
Strainer
Rubber gloves
Mixing bowl

Fill your sink (5-gallon recipe) or a bowl (1-gallon recipe) with water. Submerge ginger and scrub to clean with a vegetable brush, or your fingers. Drain water.

Chop ginger into pieces small enough for your food procesor to handle – about 1″ to 2″ each. This part should be quick, not exacting. As you go, discard any bits of decay you might come across, if any.

Use the food processor to grind up the ginger. Grind in batches. You can also use a hand grater; it’ll just take longer. Place ginger and any resulting juice in a large pot. (A six-quart pot will be fine for either recipe.) Add about 3 quarts (5-gallon recipe) or 2 quarts ((5-gallon recipe) of cool water to the pot.

Bring to the boil. Turn off the heat. Let cool. The cooling down may take a few hours. You’ll get more ginger flavor with a longer steeping time, and straining and squeezing the ginger will be much easier once everything is cool.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, mix the sugar into about a quart or more (5-gallon recipe) or 2 cups (1-gallon recipe) of water. Make a simple syrup by bringing the mixture to the boil, stirring to dissolve any sugar crystals, and allowing it to cool.

When the ginger water is cool, use the strainer to strain it into the mixing bowl. You can squeeze it to get more flavorful liquid out. If it’s still hot to handle, wear the rubber gloves. (Make sure the gloves are clean by putting them on your hands and then thoroughly washing them with soap and hot water using the same motions as when you wash your ungloved hands. People sometimes act as if gloves have magical cleanliness properties. They don’t. Or as if they’re automatically cleaner and more hygenic than human hands. They aren’t.)

Mix the ginger water and the simple syrup in your beverage dispenser or pitcher. Stir in the lime juice, rum extract and vanilla. Test the balance of flavorings and adjust as desired. Add cold water and ice, enough to fill the container. For the 5-gallon amount, keep in mind that the water and the ice, as it melts, will weaken the flavor of the initial concentrate.

Ginger sediment will settle to the bottom, so stir or swish before servings.

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