Special Ingredient: Brewing Beer with Ginger

The most common interaction most of us have with ginger comes from a soda or as an ingredient in many Asian dishes. When it comes to beer you should let the assertive spice with the distinctive bite speak to your tastes during brewing and fermentation.

By: John Holl

Published: Jul 11, 2018

“We come from a unique starting point where most of our brewing is malt, water, and hops with only a few adjustments from batch to batch. We make spice beers, but we don’t make them on brew days; we do it on the cold side of things,” says Jay Goodwin of the Rare Barrel.

Among the offerings from this all barrel-aged and blended brewery is Sourtooth Tiger, a wild ale made with copious amounts of dried ginger. “In the beginning, we’d put two pounds in one 59-gallon oak barrel and steep it for a week or two. I imagine for a homebrewer, it would be like steeping in a secondary carboy.”

But soon enough, Goodwin and the team discovered that putting a large amount of assertive ingredients into barrels made it tough to get out later on. They now incorporate a “torpedo-like” device that infuses Sourtooth Tiger with the ginger essence.

“It works well with whole-leaf hops and just as well with spice beers,” Goodwin says. “And it gives us control over the ginger we’re using.”

More recently the brewery released a draft-only beer called Cherubs Blend with guava, grapefruit, and a lot of fresh ginger—eleven pounds per 59-gallon barrel, to be exact. As you’d expect, the ginger is assertive and—as with Sourtooth Tiger—that’s what Goodwin wants. “If someone sees ginger on a menu, they are going to embrace that and expect it to be there, so when we put [ginger] on a label, we want the pleasing burning spicy sensation to be there.”

Dried ginger, he says, is relatively easy to work with because it comes already processed. Working with fresh root calls for skinning and cutting into smaller pieces. “It’s just like any fresh ingredient. The process is exciting in theory and very arduous in practice.”

Ginger, he says, is an ingredient that seems to age well, especially when paired with Brettanomyces. Going back and tasting some of the original bottles of Sourtooth Tiger, he’s been happily surprised to see that with a bit of age, it’s more spicy and peppery than sweet and pungent. It’s not that the intensity has gone down; it’s just changed.

“That’s not always the case when you add a special ingredient to beer,” he says.