10 November 2016
KEEPING YOUR GINGER UP
Gingery drinks booming in Oz:
even Coke's in on the act ...
but is ginger is the new black?
by PHILIP WHITE
It may not be in your short black yet, but ginger's won the hearts of the sweet tooths and professors of likkerature at Coca-Cola. Or its vital statistics have. Reacting to the news that ginger-flavoured drinks increased six per cent in sales in Australia in the last year, Coke is releasing a new product here and in New Zealand: Coca-Cola Ginger.
As the sales of non-alcoholic fizzy drinks slump the kiddylikker shelves sway on from the weight of the sugary alcoholic monoculture in liquor barns everywhere. While even the bursting cider fridges offer three or four new brands each time you visit, they're pretty much the same old same old flavours concocted hyper-sweet from frozen apple juice concentrate from China.
Apple in Coke? Nah. These Very Big Cokefolk are banking on ginger.
Without alcohol, for starters.
Imagine the conversations the marketing haircuts had around that big table: Ginger!?! In Coke? "But look at the numbers, Xzayvianne, the numbers ... we'll call it Limited Edition!"
The bottle looks pretty much like a Coke bottle, but the maker points out that "it's distinct, with premium gold used throughout the labels and bottle caps to both highlight the exclusivity of the product and also to differentiate it from the core Coke range ... this summer our focus is on helping Aussies make those special moments even more enjoyable and the launch of Coca-Cola Ginger is the first step towards this goal."
This is what transnational wine companies call "premiumising". It's like "weaponising".
Australia's largest ginger producer, Buderim Group, of Queensland's Sunshine Coast, is flush with fresh funds from companies owned by Kevin Rudd's son-in-law, Albert Tse. Welcomed as an aid to "chase a bigger share of the Chinese retail sector" that injection of $AUD 26.1 million bought Tse 23 per cent of the listed company.
harvesting Buderim ginger ... photo supplied
While their ginger is amongst the best in the world, wildly-ranging prices and bad farming weather - like floods and cyclones - had given the Queensland ginger growers hell in recent years. As housing eats into the scarce free-draining volcanic loams required for growing the tricky rhizome, Buderim's suddenly changing gears, adding value to the local ginger it can get with a range of condiments, sweets and drinks, both alcoholic and not.
They have non-alcoholic Ginger Beer & Pear and Ginger Beer & Guarana, which they're backing up with 4.5 per cent alcohol Ginger Beer & Vodka and Ginger Beer & Spiced Rum.
They've even adopted a racy cursive logo whose font reminds me of Coca-Cola.
I'm keen to see how sweet they are. Queensland has lots of sugar. I suspect new products at standard kiddylikker sweetness would make more sense if the drinker had a more austere, perhaps more overtly gingery drink to aspire to. It seems to me that as well as most of the new products emergent, a drier, more grown-up sort of offering would appeal to a market already accustomed to gingery Asian cuisine.
"We use real ginger roots to get our flavour," Buderim's marketing manager, Jacqui Price promises. And when I push: "Coke's not buying any ginger from us."
Which Angove's certainly do. As longstanding licensed Australian maker of Stone's Green Ginger Wine, the big Riverlander buys endless tonnes of semi-dried Buderim ginger root in bales which it steeps in its own neutral wine spirit to extract a powerful essence used to fortify their sweet base wine.
Pushed by such new beverage industry interest in ginger, I bought a bottle of the old fisherman's stalwart Stone's Green Ginger in BWS for $10. Contrary to popular suspicion, your standard Stone's is not all that strong. It's only 13.9 per cent. While it smells of sweet fresh-harvest ginger, it seems to have a lot more overt primary grapey fruit than I recall from the olden days. I suspect the base wines were more oxidised in the past, like in vermouth. While still very sweet, that wall of sultry, slightly fiery ginger seems to dry the finish as it warms the gizzard and spirit.
Stone's favour amongst fishermen is not simply due to its remarkable capacity to give one that comforting illusion of warmth, but because of ginger's historical efficacy in easing motion sickness while its vitamin C combats scurvy.
From whence comes the old sailor's adage: "Keep your ginger up."
I could still schlück it eagerly from the bottle in a chill stiff sea, but on ice in a whisky glass Stone's seems too sweet. Try adding some soda, and/or vodka or whisky to suit your taste. Lemon juice makes it seem drier. Garnish with slices of lemon and fresh ginger.
Pity, I think, to have a drink you like that you need to take away from, not add to.
It seemed an obvious step on from the fortified Stone's when Angove's launched their sweet brewed alcoholic ginger beer fifteen years back. Maybe twenty. From the start I loved it on the rocks with vodka or gin but I found its bouquet tickled the old asthma: perhaps all its healthy natural yeast got up my nose. Many of the current ginger beers which have been brewed do the same. Having inhaled live yeast in my line of work for forty years, I'm growing an allergy to it.
The current Stone's Ginger Beer (4.8% alcohol) seems barely gingery to my blistered hooter, but triggered no asthma. The Matso's Ginger Beer (3.5% alcohol) brewed in Perth for the Broome Brewery seems less yeasty, more gingery while still gentle, and perhaps less sweet. I like it. It has particular finesse.
Speaking of "premiumising" there's also the Stone's Sparkling Ginger Joe from Angoves, at 8% alcohol. This brew has a more pickled gingery edge, a sort of honeyed, autumnal fragrance which carries smoothly through the aged ginger marmalade nature of its flavour. Its heat comes more from alcohol than ginger.
freshly-washed new harvest Buderim ginger ... photo supplied
"Our new ginger beers are not brewed but are made by steeping the ginger roots," Jacqui said of the new Buderims.
Apart from its fortification against motion sickness, the medicinal attributes of the Zingiber officianale rhizome and stalk are many. Depending on the research you prefer to accept, ginger's natural gingerols, shogaols and zingibain can assuage colds, flu, fever, tetanus, leprosy, vertigo, indigestion, abdominal cramps, and arthritis. It’s sedative, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory.
You can see some of this in Buderim's herbal.
In the meantime, trust Unca Philip. Zingiber is good for you. Along with chilli and garlic, it is an essential part of my standard medicinal vegetal diet. Sometimes, I munch fresh ginger root like apples. When it comes to cooking, or drinking, I love to keep some fresh ginger juice in the fridge. Buy the early-harvest, fresh root with the smoothest skin: the more aged gnarly stuff is so high in fibre it's good sliced in cooking but it'll fry your juicer. Juicer smoke stinks.
Splash some raw juice in the wok with your stir; add some to your chicken broth. Ask Cheong.
I have seen no research into how much of these good bits survive steeping in alcohol or indeed brewing, or what sliver of Zingiber's efficacy might have found in its way into the new Coke, but I can promise you a shot of fresh raw juice leaves nothing to the imagination.
Or the constitution.
In lieu of sugar-free pre-mixed ginger drinks try using a teaspoonful of the juice of fresh Buderim ginger here and there in your cocktails. Ice, ginger juice, vodka, soda and a dribble of melted honeywater with lemon, lime and a fresh ginger garnish may not frighten you off. Play around. You can do it.
But be warned: it's dragon milk for well-blazed hellbillies. Specially with a dribble of nuclear chilli juice.
Buderim sponsors The Gingernet ... top and bottom photos by Philip White