Dad’s Ginger Beer


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    3 quarts

Appears in

Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago

Sweet Hands

By Ramin Ganeshram

Published 2018

  • About

My first memory of ginger beer is of three-quart apothecary jars set out on the front stoop to steep on the scorching cement on hot summer days. Ginger beer was brewed only on blisteringly hot summer days, when the New York City heat was so brutal it could rival Trinidad’s. It was a cloudy, pale yellow liquid swirling with a mass of shredded ginger and protruding vanilla beans that looked to me like big black worms. Dad described this concoction to me by saying that it was “something like ginger ale.” My five-year-old mind immediately delighted at the thought that I could drink ginger ale—just like Schweppes—whenever I wanted, because my dad had the secret recipe.

I eagerly took my first sip and was thrown for a loop by the throat-scorching heat of the ginger. And a bigger shock: no bubbles. Like many older Trinidadians, my father grew up in the Depression era, a time during which expensive, bubble-giving yeast was reserved for baking bread. I didn’t understand that nuance then, though. My disappointment at the lack of carbonation was so great that, for years after that first taste, I rarely drank his brew at all.


  • 8 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  • cups light brown sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 12 cups boiling water
  • 6 sprigs mint


  1. Put the ginger, lime juice, mace, and ¾ cup of the brown sugar into a wide-mouthed gallon glass or ceramic jar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the jar and add the pod.
  2. Add 12 cups of boiling water to the jar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set the ginger mixture aside to steep and cool to room temperature. Cover the jar tightly and refrigerate for 1 week.
  3. Line a large sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth. Strain the ginger mixture through the sieve into another wide-mouthed gallon glass or ceramic jar, firmly pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the solids.
  4. Add the remaining ¾ cup of brown sugar to the ginger beer and stir until dissolved. Serve in glasses over crushed ice, garnished with mint sprigs. Ginger beer may be stored in a sealable glass jar, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.