Welcome to Liquid Lowdown, a column exploring the strange, beautiful world of local drinks. Each entry will spotlight one craft liquid made right here in metro Phoenix (or just beyond). Lowdowns will feature mostly beer, but we’ll also take detours into other alcoholic beverages. Snap open a can or thrum the cork from a bottleneck. Cheers. Let's get weird.
Liquid: Ginger Beer
Name: Big Marble ginger beer
ABV: 0 percent
Maker: Big Marble Organics
Lowdown: When we look into the future of our food and beverage scene, past the current chaos and swirling unknowns, what do we see? Right now, not much. But one positive thing I could see happening is Big Marble Organics becoming a key player.
The budding carbonated beverage company, owned by Danielle Leoni and Dwayne Allen of The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, released its first product this spring. That product is a ginger beer. It comes in a brown bottle, a lushly refreshing beverage with needling effervescence and the soft fire of the pale yellow root.
It’s really good.
The warm spice rises and rises and rises, and just when you think it’s done, it rises some more. The precise cane sugar and pleasant carbonation let the ginger express itself beautifully. Good luck finding a better bottled ginger beer in Arizona.
Organic and fair trade, this product was a long time coming. It began decades ago with Allen, who went by the nickname Big Marble in his native Jamaica, where he enjoyed the popular beverage. Its roots run through when he and Leoni opened The Breadfruit, where Allen oversaw a bar with a vast rum selection.
“It all started behind the Rum Bar,” Allen says, “The Dark and Stormy had long been one of our most popular cocktails.”
But that was until, Allen says, their Jamaican source for ginger beer (married with rum in the cocktail) went kaput. They couldn’t find the right replacement. “We weren’t making Dark and Stormys for quite some time, because we were dissatisfied.”
So they decided to make their own — one that would eclipse what they could find.
In the development phase, Allen and Leoni had ideal characteristics in mind, chiefly accelerating flavor and carbonation. “It needed to be very ginger forward,” he says. “It needed to have a good bite, to grab you, make you pay attention.”
To reach the right spice, they use ginger extract. Arriving at the level of carbonation they wanted took the bulk of development. They settled on a hard effervescence, far stronger than beer, stronger than even Coke, in a league closer to Champagne. “We wanted this to be a cocktail mixer,” Allen says of the ginger beer. “It was designed for the Dark and Stormy. It was important that the carbonation level would hold up once you start adding other ingredients.”
And though The Breadfruit remains closed while the pandemic roils on, Allen is making Dark and Stormy cocktails again.
In the near and long future, Big Marble has plans to deepen the sustainability of its production, beginning with, Allen and Leoni hope, a system for recycling used bottles. The company could have a central place in the future of Phoenix beverage for these reasons, but also for the sheer quality of its product. Ginger beer is just the beginning. Next up: a Jamaican-style carbonated hibiscus beverage. Allen also envisions bottling unfiltered tonic, grapefruit juice, and has “tons more ideas swirling.”
Local beer is booming. Arizona wine has been rising for decades. You can find standout mead, sake, and cider made here, not to mention spirits and non-alcoholic drinks. Leoni and Allen look at our beverage landscape and see a void, one they hope to fill by way of the familiar, eco-centric approach of The Breadfruit. Big Marble is aiming high.
“One of the things we’re focused on here is to reclaim the space of carbonated beverages in Arizona,” Allen says.
For now, you can find brown bottles of Big Marble ginger beer at brick-and-mortar shops like Arcadia Meat Market, Nelson’s Meat + Fish, and a few others. At Sweet Republic, you can walk out with bottled ginger beer and a ginger beer ice cream float. Online, you can order Big Marble by the 24-bottle case, with smaller options coming soon.
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Dwayne Allen's Dark and Stormy Recipe
1.5 ounces Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
1 bottle of Big Marble ginger beer
Pour the rum into a glass filled with crushed ice. Pour ginger beer to the top, about six ounces. Add a straw. Drink.