Next time you pick up a can of Canada Dry ginger ale, flip it over and read the back. The label lists a whopping 24 grams of high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, and sodium benzoate (a preservative). One thing that's missing? Real ginger. The best alternative, we've found, is to do as they did in the early 19th century when physicians preserved herbs and spices in alcohol and sold them in soda water flavored with a ginger extract and sugar. At the time, it was medicine, marketed as a remedy for circulation or digestion. But like Coca-Cola, what was once over-the-counter became a massively popular beverage that lost the bitter herbs and eventually replaced real sugar and ginger with corn syrup.
To make a real, old-fashioned ginger ale, you need ginger syrup, seltzer water, and a dash of bitters. For an at-home recipe, we turned to Jason Schuler, owner of Beacon, New York's Drink More Good, where soda syrups, including a fresh ginger concoction, are sold. Schuler takes ginger root and grates it into a simple syrup mix with cane sugar, lemon, and spices. You can find a variety of other syrups like his (try The Ginger People Organic Ginger Syrup, which is available at Whole Foods and on Amazon), but just be sure to look for fresh ginger, organic ingredients and, of course, avoid anything containing high fructose corn syrup.
To make it: Take two tablespoons of ginger syrup and add 10 ounces of seltzer (any kind will do), and then add a full dropper of bitters. Schuler recommends Dutch's Colonial Bitters, which are made with wild spicebush berries and kinnikinnick leaf, chamomile blossoms, rose petals, lavender, bitter orange, angelica seed, juniper, allspice, and cinnamon. "They are an aromatic bitters with an herb and spice blend that marries perfectly with my ginger ale to create an incredibly robust and harmonized beverage." Pour the beverage over ice and add a twist of lemon. Enjoy!