Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ginger Beer

Three ginger beer brands available in most liquor stores 
Ginger, the plant, was originally cultivated in India, then dispersed widely across tropical climates. The spice – dried ground ginger root – was an important part of the spice trade from the Far East to the Roman Empire and remained so through to the founding of European empires and countries, and to European colonies in Africa and the Americas. Today, worldwide production is on the order of two million tons of fresh ginger per year, mostly from India, China, Nepal and Indonesia. Some of that is used to make ginger beer.

Beer, centuries ago, was a broader term than we think of now. Basically, a mix of a carbohydrate source, a fermenting agent and flavoring agents yields a product of about five percent alcohol and a range of claims about drinkability. In time, Europe narrowed the classic ingredients to water, malted barley and hops. Other cultures used rice or corn or wheat for the fermentable ingredient and other plant ingredients for flavor and as preservatives. (In general, the bitter and astringent ingredients are plant chemical compounds known as polyphenols, with preservative properties.)   

Ginger beer started out as an alcohol-containing beverage made from sugar, ginger, and a fermenting agent that combined yeast and bacteria - confusingly known as "ginger beer plant." This created a home-brew or commercial product with a low level of carbonation and a cloudy appearance. Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer is a close approximation, albeit filtered and pasteurized, and there are other, harder to find brands.

Low alcohol varieties got a big boost during Prohibition, as beverages with less than 0.5% alcohol were still legal. Breweries could stay in business by selling "near beer." Ginger beer adapted down the same path, but also spun off soda-like offspring - golden ginger ale, and also a milder product out of Canada that became Canada Dry Ginger Ale. All these by-pass the fermentation process, instead combining carbonated water with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, ginger extract, sometimes artificial flavors, citric acid and caramel for color.

Much as the artisanal beer movement of the 21st century has brought on a proliferation of brands, same for non-alcoholic ginger beer. Website searches will find reviews of scores of brands. Most of these are hard to find in Maynard or Stow. Liquor stores tend to carry only one or two brands, most likely Goslings, Barritts, Saranac or Reed's. The Merai Liquor store at 129 Main Street (near dry cleaners) carries Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer, at $7.00 for four 6.8 oz bottles. Buy this if you want your Moscow Mule to have a real ginger kick.

Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer is expensive, but a great mixer for Moscow Mule
I love Fever-Tree for mixed drinks. My personal preference among the lower cost brands is Goslings. I find Barritts and Saranac closer to being golden ginger ales. Reed's 'Jamaican Style' Ginger Beer follows the Jamaican ginger beer formula, which calls for adding spices, including cayenne. These products have a pronounced ginger/spice 'bite' that timewise lags a second or two behind the sweetness of the sugar. Reed's veers further from the traditional, in that the product contains significant amounts of pineapple juice, in addition to using honey and sugar for sweetness, and lemon and lime juices for citric notes. People either love it (not me) or hate it (me).         

Locally, the Maydale Bottling Co. of Maynard, Massachusetts, located on Glendale Street (hence “Maydale”) was renowned for its golden ginger ale from its founding in 1899 until its formulas and customer lists were sold to Chelmsford Ginger Ale Company in the 1960s. Chelmsford, like Maydale, was a regional company with sales across eastern Massachusetts. Chelmsford was bought by Canada Dry, in turn acquired by Schweppes, which discontinued Chelmsford Golden Ginger Ale. The brand name was sold to Polar Beverages, Worcester, which now makes Chelmsford Golden Ginger Ale for Market Basket supermarkets, in addition to Polar Golden Ginger Ale for other stores. And for final confusion, in the United States, Polar makes Goslings Ginger Beer for Gosling's and Schweppes makes a highly rated ginger beer.

Whether the apostrophe? Reed's, Crabbie's and Stone's use the possessive, Barritts and Goslings, not. Goslings is actually a bit schizoid on the topic, as the apostrophe does appear on their older and more well known Bermuda rum products. The family reached Bermuda in 1806 and is still family owned - seventh going on eighth generation.    

How to ruin a perfectly good ginger beer: Goslings is a cloudy variety, achieved artificially by adding gum ingredients. If an unrefrigerated can's contents are vigorously poured into a tall glass, a very, very, long-lasting foamy head is formed. You don’t want to try to drink your way through this because all of the bitter, astringent, ginger compounds are in the foam, while all the balancing sweetness is in the liquid at the bottom. Pour slow and pour cold.

Popular mixed drinks:
Dark and Stormy: dark rum carefully poured atop ginger beer, with wedge of lime
Moscow Mule: vodka and ginger beer, wedge of lime, traditionally served in a copper cup
Kentucky Mule: bourbon and ginger beer with lemon wedge and fresh mint leaves
Mexican Mule: tequila, salt on the rim of the glass
....and the list goes on. Sweetened lime juice works in place of or in addition to fresh lime.

No comments:

Post a Comment