I have never wanted to make my own soda. I don’t drink sweet fizzy things like colas, Dr Pepper or Big Red. Only on occasion will you find me with a ginger ale, and it’s usually mixed with Pimm’s No. 1, a bitter herbal liquor that, depending on what you read, may or may not be descended from gin.
Yet when a group of friends decided to have a Caribbean-themed dinner party, I announced that I would make my own ginger ale.
I consulted a number of recipes and finally decided to try one from David B. Frankhauser, a professor of biology and chemistry at U.C. Clermont College in Batavia, Ohio. It wasn’t the recipe itself that made me want to try this particular variation, which was fairly similar to all of the others I found. What I liked was the author’s sensible approach to bottling the brew.
“Many have asked about bottling ginger ale in glass bottles,” Frankhauser writes. “I do not recommend it because ginger ale is a very aggressive fermenter, producing high pressure fairly rapidly. Plastic bottles can be felt to judge pressure. Glass cannot. Tardy refrigeration can lead to explosions. Exploding plastic bottles are messy. Exploding glass bottles are dangerous.”
So, plastic it was. I don’t need any explosions, glass or plastic, in my house.
I didn’t have the recommended 2-liter bottle on hand, so I used two 1-liter bottles. I made sure both were rinsed properly. I used a funnel to put sugar and yeast in the bottom. I then used a microplane grater to get a fine, juicy grating of ginger, which I mixed with lemon juice. I used a lot of that slurry went down the funnel, followed by tap water. I sealed the bottles and shook them slowly until the sugar was dissolved.
Then I let the bottles rest. First, they sat out on the counter for two days, then one day in the refrigerator.
That’s all there was to it.
The end result was a bit stronger than ginger ale. There was a slight bit of pulp at the bottom of the bottle, but that was a plus in that the fibrous gratings packed extra flavor.
But was it as good as it could have been? Naturally, I had to try another batch. I cut the sugar in half and I used even more ginger. This time, I also used lime juice, instead of lemon. In one of the four bottles I made, I added mint, which would make it perfect for mixing with vodka for a Moscow Mule. To another, I added basil, just to see what the flavor would be like.
All of the various bottles had a stronger flavor, but the yeast needed that extra sugar in order to keep its fizz for longer than a few minutes.
The infusions simply didn’t work. Not only did you have to filter the basil or mint out of the ginger ale, the flavor just wasn’t as good as using fresh in your drink.
For the third batch, I upped the sugar slightly and tripled the amount of ginger. I also tried raw sugar (which made the drink completely raw, for all you raw food fanciers); it also made the drink a little darker in color, which was just fine with me. The result was still not as carbonated as the first batch, but the flavor was just where I wanted it to be, so this is the recipe I will continue to use.
I would suggest opening each bottle over the sink. Though there have been no explosions yet, one bottle has bubbled over and several others have needed to be opened slowly because they have threatened to do the same.
Now that I’ve made ginger ale, I may expand the repertoire. Root beer, maybe, or bitter lemon soda. Some of what I have in mind are mixers for cocktails, including my favorite, the Pimm’s Cup. I discovered this drink a couple of years ago on a trip to New Orleans, where it reigns as one of the city’s favorites. One sip of its bittersweet mix of ginger beer, bitter lemon soda and herbal Pimm’s was an elixir, a perfect antidote to the hot, sticky weather. I’ve been drinking them ever since. And they’re even better now that the ginger ale burns with full flavor.