Homemade Ginger Ale

On a Sunday afternoon, lounging around my apartment watching “Terms of Endearment” on HBO, inspiration suddenly strikes and I am compelled to make ginger ale from scratch.

It would take a team of behavior specialists and Debra Winger fans to analyze this phenomenon, but suffice it to say: I was hot and I had ginger. I recalled a recipe for homemade Ginger Ale in Jean-George’s book “Cooking At Home with a Four-Star Chef”, so I tore myself away from Aurora Greenway and studied the recipe.

The recipe is pretty specific: it calls for one pound of fresh ginger, two stalks of lemongrass, and two small fresh chiles (“stems removed.”) I didn’t have much of that: I just had a big knob of ginger leftover from something gingery.

There are two types of cooks in this world: those who won’t do a recipe unless they have everything the recipe calls for, down to the smallest detail (a pinch of salt measured by approximating the cookbook author’s finger size and pinch-grasp) and those who use a recipe as a launching pad, throwing things together willy-nilly* and hoping for the best.

[* Note: This is the first time I’ve used the phrase “willy-nilly” on this blog and I wanted to point that out. Thank you!]

I used to be in the former category, a recipe purist, until I saw Julia Child say on TV that “anyone who doesn’t do a recipe because they’re missing an ingredient or two, will never be a cook.” The more and more I get into cooking, the more I realize that Julia’s right. And such was the case with this ginger ale.

For example, in the recipe proper, it tells you to chop the ginger (skin-on), the lemongrass and the chiles and then puree them in a food processor. My food processor hasn’t been working lately, so I just grated the ginger into a little pot and when i got tired of grating, I chopped up the rest. I took one dried red chile and crumbled it in:


I added about 2 cups of water (maybe a little less), 1/2 cup of sugar, and put it on the boil. When it came to the boil, I reduced to a simmer and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Pretty quickly I tasted to make sure I liked the balance and, indeed, I did.


Once it’s syrupy, and 15 minutes have passed, let it cool and then strain it (I strained into a measuring glass to make it easier to pour later):


Chill it in the fridge until you just can’t wait anymore, and then get yourself a glass with some ice in it (we don’t have any glasses! Just mugs!) and some soda water and set it all out with the syrup:


Pour 1/4 cup of syrup into the glass then stir in the soda water. Taste! Add more syrup if you think it needs more. Isn’t it refreshing?

Seriously: this is one refreshing summer drink. And it has a real kick to it with those chiles (or, in my case, that one chile). It’s a heat that sneaks up on you, you take a gulp, you smile, and then the back of your throat starts to burn. You’ll love it.


For those recipe purists, though, who want to know Jean-George’s exact recipe: here it is. Skip the lemongrass if you can’t find it, though next time I make this, I’m going to include it. I’m also going to make the full recipe next time because the small amount I made will hardly make three drinks and I have a feeling I’m going to be drinking this a lot this summer. It’s a perfect summer drink.

Homemade Ginger Ale

recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

from “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef”


1 pound fresh ginger, unpeeled and cut into small dice

2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and roughly chopped

2 small fresh chiles, stems removed

1 1/2 cups sugar

Soda water

Lime wedges

1. Combine the ginger, lemongrass and chiles in food processor and process until minced, stopping the machine periodically and scraping down the sides.

2. Place the puree in a saucepan with the sugar and 1 quart water (that’s four cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Cool, then strain and chill.

3. To serve, place 1/4 cup of the syrup in a glass full of ice. Fill with soda water, taste and add more syrup if you like. Garnish with a lime wedge, then serve.

Related Recipes:

Ginger Cookies

Momofuku’s Ginger Scallion Noodles

Pumpkin Muffins with Molasses-Ginger Glaze

Nectarine-Apricot-Ginger Jam

Nectarine Pie with Candied Ginger

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