“Gimme a Whiskey with ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby”
Greta Garbo, in Anna Christie
Ginger ale is a common soft drink that is often used to augment something else, such as fruit and ice cream punches or as a mixer for cocktails using alcoholic spirits. Alone it is a simple, refreshing drink in a tall glass with ice. Most of the punches I remember from childhood, however, were boring and should not be allowed to have a name as promising as “punch”.
During the cooler months, when homemade chicken soup with matzo balls make sense, I have been using a few tablespoons of ginger ale along with a bit of ground ginger in the matzo mixture as per my current favorite recipe. I’m not sure what this does to the texture or taste of the matzo balls so I’ll just assign it to the “je ne sais quoi” file. (P.S. I do keep coming back to it so it is a keeper.)
The ginger ale soft drink as we know it is a descendant of many generations of ginger drinks probably originating in Eastern Europe. Some were alcoholic and some were not, and I’ll bet virtually all delivered a kick and personality you won’t find in the high-fructose corn syrup versions available at most supermarkets. This homemade one will not disappoint. Three kickers in the form of ginger, lemongrass and chiles tamed with sugar and water make for an exotic, energizing, cooling and healthful refreshment.
Enter the ginger ale concocted by Jean-Georges Vongerichten that is so simple, and, of course, he included some global touches he brings to all his creations.
Homemade Ginger Ale
Adapted from Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
You’ve heard of recipes that will knock your socks off. Well, tighten the rest of your garments, this drink’s a ripsnorter!
- 1 pound (455 gr.) fresh ginger, diced with peel on
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed top and bottom and roughly chopped
- 2 small fresh chiles, stems removed
- 1½ cups (360 ml.) sugar
- 1 quart (1 lt.) water
- Soda water
- Lime wedges for garnish
- Place the ginger, lemongrass and chiles in a food processor and process until minced. You may need to stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl.
- Combine the purée in a sauce pan along with the sugar and water.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Cool, strain and chill.
- To serve, pour ¼ cup (60 ml.) of the chilled syrup in a tall glass filled with ice and top off with soda water.
- Adjust strength with additional syrup as needed.
- Garnish with the lime and serve.
Note: Please feel free to adjust the proportions of syrup to sparkling water to suit your taste. Less syrup will give you a lighter flavor.
A Dandy Red Wine Cooler
Some years ago when I was hungrily auditioning for a full-time symphony orchestra position, I also taught private music lessons. On one occasion I ended up teaching a lesson at the student’s home. Their home and hospitality were the epitome of graciousness.
I was welcomed into the family room where a music stand and chair were set for the student. Nearby was a comfortable winged-back chair with a side table laden with cheeses, fruits and a beautiful red wine cooler. I was speechless and somewhat embarrassed at the special treatment. Usually it’s the student who feels discomfort in lessons.
I politely sampled the offerings on the table then focused on the music. Afterward I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the whole family over some more cheese, fruit and wine coolers. When I asked for the recipe for the wine cooler, the mother seemed a bit uncomfortable when she said it was equal parts ginger ale and Mogen David Concord Wine, along with a squeeze of lime.
Now that I look back to my first sip of a wine, I do believe it was a kosher wine such as Mogen David. It was sweet and so unlike the “wine” (Welch’s Grape Juice) we were served in church along with broken-up bits of Nabisco saltine crackers for communion or The Lord’s Supper, as our Southern Baptist Church called it. (Sigh! I really have moved on in life.)
- 1 part ginger ale, homemade or commercial
- 1 part red wine such as Mogen David (Manischewitz in another kosher red wine that works well also)
- Lime wedge for garnish
- Stir together in a tall glass filled with ice, spritz with lime and enjoy!
Note: The boldness of the homemade ginger ale made this wine cooler very different from the ones made with commercial ginger ale. Just like the plain ginger ale, experiment with proportions to suit your taste.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities