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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

February 22, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Rachel’s Ginger Beer: small batch, big jolt of ginger

A fresh-ginger jolt, coupled with the bright lights of lemon, are one of the reasons you’ll find me lifting a pint of Rachel’s Ginger Beer where ever I can find one. And it’s also why that sparkling refresher takes a star-turn in lively libations at Lark, Licorous and La Bete, pouring it on at Barrio, 5 Corner Market Bar & Kitchen and How to Cook a Wolf.

“People are endlessly confused about what ginger beer is,” says Rachel Marshall, who serves her nonalcoholic brew while waiting tables at Delancey in Ballard and dreams of the day when Rachel’s Ginger Beer cranks up the volume and goes retail. “This is a soda. And the unique thing that sets ginger beer apart from ginger ale is it’s significantly stronger in the ginger department.”

Rachel’s Ginger Beer: as the label says, its fresh ginger jolt “benefits mind, body and cocktails.” I’ll say!

The latest to join Rachel’s fan club: F.X. McRory’s, where Marshall’s boyfriend and business partner Adam Peters pours drinks — when he isn’t busy helping brew beer in the borrowed kitchen at Licorous on Capitol Hill. There the pair handcrafts 30 gallons of ginger beer weekly, an amount expected to double as they keep up with the demand for their recipe for success: a mix of gingerroot, lemon juice, purified water and sugar.

Rachel Marshall juices lemons, extracting the “liquid gold,” as she calls it, that brightens her ginger beer. [Seattle Times photo Courtney Blethen Riffkin]

Disappointed with the mass-produced ginger beer available in the U.S. after living and traveling abroad, Marshall researched recipes and began experimenting. Her early attempts were a bust.

“I was playing around, grating ginger and filling flip-top bottles, using Champagne yeast — though I wasn’t sure how many granules to use,” she recalls. “The yeast went to work, eating up every bit of sugar in the mix,” rendering her home-brew boozy and destroying the sweet flavor she was pining for. Worse, “the bottles were exploding in my bathtub.”

Turning to professionals for help, Marshall learned about forced carbonation — introducing her brew to CO2. “It took nine months to perfect the recipe,” she says.

A recent morning found Marshall and Peters steps from the bar at Licorous, where you might order a “Joyful Ginger” composed of ginger beer, ginger vodka and limoncello. In that kitchen’s close quarters, over several hours, the couple processed 60 pounds of lemons and 30 pounds of ginger. “It gets easier with each pressing,” Peters insists while shredding the knobby root in an industrial-strength food processor.

Adam Peters prepares fresh gingerroot in the borrowed kitchen at Licorous. [Seattle Times photo Courtney Blethen Riffkin]

Making ginger beer is a two-day process, Marshall explains. On day one, they extract the ginger and lemon juice, make a simple syrup, marry those ingredients and refrigerate them overnight in stainless-steel kegs. On day two they carbonate the kegs, sanitize and fill 15-dozen bottles and send them out the door as fast as possible.

Because it has no preservatives, Rachel’s Ginger Beer must be refrigerated. Because it’s an all-natural product, you’ll find sediment in those bottles. Marshall considers that a good thing.

“Depending on what kind of crops are growing around the lemon trees, sometimes the lemons are more floral, sometimes more citrusy,” she says.

The same goes for the ginger: “If it’s super-duper fresh, it’s super spicy. If it comes from Hawaii, it’s pink and peppery.” And that, says Marshall, “is one of the beautiful things about being a small-batch operation. There’s a little bit of variation in every single batch.”

For now, Rachel’s sparkling sensation is available only at select restaurants.

[Seattle Times photo Courtney Blethen Riffkin]

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