What I’m about to say may surprise some people.
> Don’t make ginger syrup.
My caravan of spirit-loving Fremen embarked upon a journey last night. Confidence was high, the winds were right – it would surely be a brief quest, and one that ended in caches of water a tasty cocktail. We began our trek with 8oz of ginger syrup, and ended with big mess of frumpiness.
My batch of ginger syrup was about 3 weeks old. When first made, it was punch-you-in-the-jugular spicy – not too far from the likes of Goya ginger beer. But after aging in the icebox for a few weeks it lost its wit and tasted like a bad joke. Several attempts at cocktails later, I was bereft of hope. Would my first Mixology Monday post in months end up a failure? Would RumDood.com, our piratical host, stop filling my barrels with rum?
Here’s what I tried: Cachaça, lime, ginger syrup and a float of dark rum muddled with strawberries and Peychaud bitters. Rye whiskey, lemon juice, ginger syrup, and ginger beer. Both sound good? Well they weren’t. Thinking it was the ginger syrup at fault, I gave it a taste. It no longer had its tongue-searing potency, but instead a muted caramelized taste that reminded me of a commercial syrup. Why would my ginger syrup be so hot and bothered when first made but degrade so quickly? I wonder if my non-alcoholic falernum attempts could offer any clues.
In my non-alcoholic falernum trials, I skipped the soaking in overproof rum in favor of just simmering the ingredients in the sugar and water as you would a cinnamon syrup. The results were phenomenal, and several boozegeeks even liked it better than my traditional recipe using the JWray extraction. After a few weeks however, the ginger flavor had decreased significantly; though in the case of the falernum, it was actually a good thing as I wanted a rich, sultry flavor rather than an bright one. Like pimento dram, the ingredients mellow with age, but why did the ginger lose its flavor so quickly?
Why Does Ginger Lose its Flavor?
Though a bit out-of-date – 121 years to be exact – Charles Herman Sulz offers some possibilities to explain ginger’s quick flavor loss in his book, A Treatise On Beverages or The Complete Practical Bottler. A quick summary of the reading reveals that natural ginger extract loses its flavor quickly, while a syrup make with essence of ginger oil would last much longer. Though searching for “ginger oil” on Google returns results for every hippie remedy on the planet and little useful advice.
Could the type of sugar I’m using be the problem? Sulz recommends utilizing invert sugar to preserve the flavor of the ginger. Making invert syrup is fairly easy; simply add citric acid, cream of tartar, or even lemon juice to the syrup and boil for twenty minutes to remove any sour taste. Invert sugar has a lower water activity, therefore increasing its preservative qualities. Boiling a syrup for 20 minutes sounds like a recipe for hard candy; perhaps it can be done in a shorter time?
This whole ginger mess deserves further exploration, but for now, I suggest you make your ginger syrup fresh each time. It takes 10 extra seconds of effort, and the results are bitingly good.
Fresh Ginger “Syrup”
- 1T chopped ginger (cut off two 1/4″ slices, skin on, and cut into a few pieces)
- 1/2oz simple syrup
Muddle in the glass you’re using to make the cocktail.
- 1T chopped ginger, skin on if you like
- 2 pieces pineapple, each about 1″x1″x1/2″
- 1/2oz simple syrup
- 1 1/2oz Wray and Nephew overproof rum
- 1t grenadine
- 2oz ginger beer, to top
Muddle the ginger, pineapple, and syrup. Add rum and shake with ice. Double-strain into a tall glass and fill with crushed ice. Top with ginger beer.
Rick from Kaiser Penguin
- Has anyone else experienced this drastic flavor loss with ginger? How have you made up for it?