When I'm not making homebrew and writing about it, my other life is training to become a pediatrician. One of the hazards of this career is exposure to tons of infectious viruses and bacteria. Good hand hygiene, eating well, and exercise can ward off most infections, but last week one got through—and it was a nasty gastroenteritis. As I lay in bed contemplating my impending death I dreamed of an elixir that could ease the pain and wet my lips without causing a crisis. I dreamed of ginger beer.
Even now that I've recovered, ginger beer is still enticing. I'm happy to drink it alongside my lunch, and it's a great non-alcoholic alternative to beer for the Superbowl. It can be a mid-afternoon sugar boost, or an after-dinner digestif.
"But where ginger ale is sweet with a hint of ginger, ginger beer is ginger with a hint of sweet."
Ginger beer is ginger ale's sinister cousin. Like ginger ale, it is ginger-flavored, sweetened, carbonated, and served cold. But where ginger ale is sweet with a hint of ginger, ginger beer is ginger with a hint of sweet. Commercial examples range from tepidly gingery to knock-your-socks-off spicy and can have a range of additional flavors, including citrus and other spices. It's great by itself, and essential for mixing with dark rum in a Dark and Stormy, as well as a host of other cocktails.
Ginger beer is also simple to make, involving just cooking a flavored simple syrup and carbonating it. Ginger beer is traditionally carbonated (and fermented) with ginger beer plant, a bacterial-fungal symbiotic organism, but today's homebrewers can use simple champagne yeast or forced carbonation.