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Chat Leftovers: Make Your Own Ginger Ale

Todd Thrasher, shown mixing things up at PX in Alexandria. To see his recipe for spicy ginger ale, keep reading. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

Anybody who takes part in our weekly Free Range online chat knows the drill: We answer as much as we can, typing, insta-researching and brainstorming. But sometimes -- okay, much of the time -- it's not what we know, but who we know that helps us answer.

That's the case with one of the questions we didn't have time for recently. Here's what the chatter wrote:

Reston, Va.: I've been trying to make my own ginger ale. After compiling a few recipes, I started with a quantity of fresh grated ginger, sugar, and yeast.

My issue is that I can't seem to get it strong enough (for my liking). I have tried steeping longer, cooking longer, adding more ginger (up to about 4 times the called for amounts), and leaving the ginger in after bottling. My base recipe calls for boiling the water, adding the ginger, steeping for an hour, dissolving the sugar, let it cool, add yeast, ferment for a day or two, chill and serve.

What I am getting is only a little better than grocery store-bought. I want something offensive, so much bite and "heat" that it hurts. Then I can tune it down to taste. I need to know where the top is to work back.

So, how can I get better extraction? Or is it purely a matter of quantity? Or is there some maximum ginger percentage that water can have (saturated), and I'll have to do something fancy?

I knew just where to turn. If you're wondering how to make something drinkable from scratch, you go to a mixologist. Washington has no shortage of them, but the father of the movement here has to be Todd Thrasher at Restaurant Eve and PX.

Spirits columnist Jason Wilson spent a session learning how to make-your-own everything from Todd a couple years ago, so I e-mailed Todd and got a quick response. He cut right to the chase with a recipe, which requires more cooking time and steeping than Reston's technique. "I do this for for bulk, so you can adjust the recipe for the quantity you want," he wrote. "It is a process, but the result is spicy and terrific!"

-- Joe Yonan

Todd Thrasher's Spicy Ginger Ale*
Makes about 3 quarts (or three 1-liter bottles)

Thrasher prefers to carbonate all of the ginger ale mixture, because it has a tendency to ferment fairly quickly in the refrigerator.

MAKE AHEAD: The uncarbonated mixture may be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.

4 quarts water
4 cups sugar
2 pounds ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 serrano chili peppers, stemmed and seeded
2 stalks lemon grass (tough outer layers removed), finely chopped

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the sugar, whisking until it is dissolved, then add the ginger, serrano chili peppers and the lemon grass; stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low, so the mixture is barely bubbling at the edges. Cover and cook for 2 or 3 hours, or until the ginger has become translucent and the mixture has a definite, spicy kick. Uncover, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil; reduce to about 3 quarts.

While the mixture is still hot and off the heat, use an immersion blender to puree it, then pass it through a fine-mesh strainer into a separate container, discarding the solids. To get the mixture very clear, line the strainer with a clean linen napkin (or several layers of cheesecloth), then strain the mixture again. Let cool to room temperature and taste. For a less-spicy mixture, use water to dilute it.

To carbonate, use a soda siphon and follow the manufacturer's directions. Refrigerate in bottles with tight-fitting caps, until ready to use.

* Editor's note: We haven't tested this yet; when we do, we'll link it to the Recipe Finder database.

Per 6-ounce serving: 194 calories, 0 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 50 g sugar

By Joe Yonan  |  July 9, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Free Range, Joe Yonan, ginger ale  
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Next: I Spice: Vanilla


Does Todd (or anyone) know if you can substitute Splenda in this recipe?

Posted by: Scott_in_Shaw | July 9, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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