I do love this time of year, but I'm secretly relieved that holiday madness is drawing to a close. (New Year's Eve is looming on the horizon, but I'm choosing to not think about that yet.) This week, you almost got a recipe for Whiskey on the Rocks, but what's the fun of that? Besides, I got myself a new toy for Christmas. I've had so much fun with it that I'm sharing it with you.
The new toy is a SodaStream carbonator. It may be a unitasker (and a large one at that), but it's so much fun! I now have bubbly water practically coming out of my ears. The folks who make the SodaStream device also have an extensive line of flavor syrups to turn your soda water into soda pop.
However, there are problems with the SodaStream syrups, and you've surely noticed them if you got your own SodaStream for Christmas. Most of the syrup flavors (even the non-diet varieties) include Splenda, which means they all have that distinct bitter metallic Splenda flavor. The few sweetened entirely with sugar are quite expensive at $10 to make six liters of soda. At that price point, I'll just buy Coke at the store, thank you.
What's an enterprising bartender to do? I'm making my own syrup. It's cheaper, fresher, and tastes way better than the crud from SodaStream. I figured I should start with my favorite soda to have around the house, ginger beer. I love ginger beer not just for the flavor, but because it's so versatile. It's one of the few mixers that goes beautifully with any base spirit you add it to.
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I like my ginger beer to have some bite. Though straight ginger does have a pleasant heat, I find it needs an extra kick. The solution is simple: Add red pepper flakes to the mixture. I also like a little twang to offset the sweetness, so I add a pinch of citric acid (available at many grocery stores in the canning-supply aisle). Finally, to give it a more sophisticated flavor profile, I throw in a small pinch of salt and cut the sugar content to 75 percent of your average soda.
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You will need a scale for this; fresh ginger is awkward to measure any other way if you want consistent results.
Ginger Beer Syrup It's up to you whether to peel the ginger or not. For a milder ginger beer (that will still have some kick), reduce or omit the red pepper flakes. 250 ml water 300 grams fresh ginger, peeled if you wish, roughly chopped 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (optional) 500 grams sugar Pinch salt Pinch citric acid
In a blender or food processor, combine water, ginger, and red pepper flakes until smooth. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Add sugar, salt, and citric acid. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool. Store in the refrigerator up to one month. To use, mix one part syrup to seven parts sparkling water.