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Deep In My Ginger Beer Era
As we move into late summer, keep it simple with something fizzy, boozy, and easy.
Why do people always order ginger ale when they’re on airplanes? I often do, and many of my fellow travelers seem to do the same when they fly. I surprise myself every time I do. When I’m on the ground, I rarely find myself thinking Gee, you know what’d be great right now? Ginger ale. I don’t know what it is about being strapped into a cramped coach seat, with the jerk in front of me reclining into my personal space, that makes me think…Canada Dry?
There are any number of articles about this ginger-ale-while-flying phenomenon, such as this one in Travel + Leisure, this one in People, or this one in Reader’s Digest. Flight attendants confirm over and over again that it’s not just perception—in-flight ginger ale consumption is indeed high. Explanations could be that people don’t want caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate them on long flights. Or simply the power of suggestion: they hear the person in front of them order it, so they do, too. But the most obvious theory is that the soft drink relieves motion sickness and settles the stomach. Ginger ale, it seems, has the power to calm and comfort, which is why your mother might have served it to you when you stayed home sick from school.
That idea of comfort might be why ginger ale—along with its more robust cousin, ginger beer—is such a popular mixer with booze. Especially in the classic highball, it has always made spirits more accessible, taming their high-proof edges.
There has always been much debate over whether “dry” (or “pale”) ginger ale or more robust “golden” ginger ale works better in cocktails. The crotchety (and very problematic) David Embury, in his influential 1948 cocktail book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, preferred the dry and pale (Canada Dry in particular) and declared that “old-time heavy” ginger ale “has no place in drink mixing.” Like many other things, Embury is wrong on that point. However, he deplored most ginger ales on the market, saying they “fall below any reasonably high standard for carbonated beverages.” With that, I do agree. In fact, I was amused when, several years ago, Canada Dry began advertising that it’s “Made With Real Ginger.” I mean, really? Why was that not a given?
In any case, I’m usually looking beyond the Canada Dry or Schweppes. In fact, I almost always use ginger beer, which has a stronger and more pronounced, spicier taste. Many people are loyal to one brand or another, but most of the ginger beers you find will do the trick. I may prefer Barritt’s from Bermuda, but Reed’s from Jamaica, Fever-Tree, and Gosling’s all work well. One new favorite of mine has been Betty Buzz ginger beer— from Blake Lively’s non-alcoholic mixer company—which has great spice and flavor. Betty Buzz is mostly what I’ve been using this summer in my Dark and Stormy.
Yes, one can’t speak about ginger beer drinks without referencing the classic Dark and Stormy (2 ounces of rum, a generous squeeze of lime, 3-4 ounces ginger beer). Gosling’s insists the Dark ’n Stormy (with the apostrophe n) is supposed to be made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and their branded ginger beer—and they supposedly have a trademark on the recipe. Once, when I published a Dark and Stormy recipe in my old Washington Post column, Gosling’s PR people sent me an angry letter scolding me for not insisting on Gosling’s as the ingredient. My response, in the most polite terms possible, was: Bite me. Make your Dark and Stormy with whatever rum and ginger beer you want. Flor de Caña 7-year-old and Betty Buzz are working for me as of late.
Beyond Dark and Stormy, ginger beer is essential in the Moscow Mule (equal parts vodka and lime juice to three parts ginger beer). This is when you get to use those fancy Moscow Mule mugs your mother gave you for Christmas.
We’re getting into the part of the summer when any ambition over drinks-making falls by the wayside. I’ve written before in praise of lazy bartending, but I want to highlight one of my favorite lazy cocktails here. My favorite late-summer drink is one I found, years ago, tucked away in a (nerd alert!) 1922 cocktail book called Cocktails: How To Mix Them, by a London bartender named Robert Vermeire. It’s called the Cloudy Sky, and it is wonderful.
The Cloudy Sky calls for sloe gin, that British favorite made with the sloe berry, a tart cousin of the plum harvested from the hedgerows. There are a number of nice British sloe gins in the U.S. market, such as Plymouth, Sipsmith, and Hayman’s. A favorite that I’ve been using this summer is Six O’Clock sloe gin.
In any case, I find the Cloudy Sky’s mix of ginger beer, sloe gin, and lime juice to be the perfect, mellow summer afternoon sipper. The name of the drink even calls back to that moment in the air when everyone seems to order something fizzy and gingery.
You can look at this as either as a variation on a Dark and Stormy with sloe gin instead of rum. Or, if you’re a real cocktail nerd, you might also see it as a variation on a Sloe Gin Rickey that calls for ginger beer instead of club soda. For the lime juice, I don’t really measure—I just squeeze half a lime and it’s always fine.
2 ounces sloe gin
1/2 ounce (or so) fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 ounces chilled ginger beer
Lime wheel, for garnish
Fill a rocks or old-fashioned glass filled with ice cubes. Add the sloe gin and lime juice, then top with ginger ale or ginger beer. Garnish with the lime wheel.