Ginger Beer. Not a favorite of mine, but both it’s appeal and presence are undeniable throughout West Africa and the Caribbean. People drink it to calm upset stomachs and as an aid to digestion, but also for the sheer enjoyment of it. In Jamaica, the ingredient list includes ginger, a few allspice berries, chew sticks (wooden twigs also traditionally used to clean the teeth and mouth). I’ve read that some people use yeast in place of the chew sticks or leave them out entirely. Yeast is probably swapped in when making an alcoholic version of the drink, but I’ll need to double check that.
It’s really a snap to prepare, I was surprised. Most leave it to a rest over night to allow the flavors to mellow out but if you’re impatient you could drink it right away. Some, including my friend and sometime tour guide in and around Kingston, Jacqui prefer to let the heady brew sit a week or so in the back of the fridge to allow it to ferment. Then, it “gives you that slight burn going down.” A little ginger-flavored white lightening, anyone? Ok, I exaggerate…anyway here’s the basic recipe from Irish Town’s very own, Miss Juliet. Big ups…
3 cups water (plus more to dilute ginger mixture)
1/2 pound ginger
Chew Sticks, 4-5 pieces*
1 tsp Allspice berries (not powder)
*Optional and sometimes hard to find outside of The Caribbean although you can sometimes luck up on them in Caribbean markets. You don’t need to use them, according to Miss Juliet, but it’s a traditionally included.
Wash the ginger root in cold water and allow to soak 15-20 minutes. Slice into thinnish rounds and place in a pot with two cups of the water and the allspice berries. Heat over a medium low flame until just boiling, turn off the flame and allow the liquid to steep. Miss Juliet did this for about 30-40 minutes, but you could steep as long as you like. There is no real danger of the mixture turning bitter or unpalatable. Just remember that the longer you steep the stronger the brew and a 1/2 pound of ginger (or more if you decide to double the recipe) will yield some powerful stuff, you’re really preparing a ginger concentrate here in this first step, so keep that in mind.
When finished steeping, remove the ginger slices and the allspice, reserving the ginger and discarding the allspice berries. Pour ginger concentrate into a large pitcher and set aside; the one Miss Juliet used looked to be about 11/2 gallons. Boil the third cup of water and prepare the ginger slices for pureeing by cutting them into smaller pieces and placing into a blender jar. Once water has boiled allow it to cool a bit and pour it in small amounts into the blender jar then puree the ginger until smooth. Put ginger paste into cheesecloth or a tea towel and squeeze out liquid into the pitcher. Add the juice of one lime to the concentrate and fill the pitcher about 2/3 full to dilute the concentrate. Sweeten with simple syrup to taste. Leave over night and allow the mixture to mellow a bit before drinking or longer, up to a week or so if you’d like to try it with a bit of fermentation. Fill empty bottles with the ginger beer and to enjoy for your drinking pleasure!
Herbal medicine stall in Coronation Market -- Kingston, Jamaica