Step into any trendy hot spot and you’ll likely see a bevy of ginger-infused cocktails on the menu. A staple in classics from the Dark and Stormy to the Moscow Mule, the knobby root has infinite uses behind the bar. “Not only is it delicious,” says Aaron Ranf, bar manager at Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, “but it also packs a punch. It adds spice, warmth, and depth to any drink.”
It’s also incredibly versatile. “Ginger’s bite livens up liquor without overpowering it,” says Jordan Silbert, founder of craft soda company Q Drinks. “It complements vodka, rum, mezcal, gin, and whiskey, plus mixers, fresh fruits, and herbs without masking their natural flavors.”
No matter what kind of ginger you’ve got, here’s how to use it.
1. Muddle it with vodka and soda
With a spoon, scrape the peel off fresh ginger. “Then grate a tablespoon into a shaker,” says Angel Cervantes, head bartender at D.C.’s Capella hotel. “Press the ginger with a muddler to release the juices, add liquor, then let it sit before mixing the drink.” Try it with vodka, lime, and soda.
2. Make an extract to jolt a mojito
“I cut up a couple of medium-size pieces of fresh ginger, put them in a food processor with water, and blend until smooth,” says NYC-based bar consultant John McCarthy. “Strain the liquid, and you have pure ginger juice. Freeze it, and it keeps forever.” Or put it in a squeeze bottle and keep it in the fridge so you can add to drinks on the fly. Mix in a bit of agave, and you have a simple syrup that’s ideal for mojitos and margaritas.
3. Whip up a “shrub” cocktail
Popular in colonial times, shrubs—a blend of fruit or vegetables, vinegar, and a sweetener—have come back big recently. “They provide the ideal blend of sweetness and tartness you want in a cocktail,” says Michael Dietsch, author of the book Shrubs. To make a basic ginger shrub, combine ½ cup ginger juice (see above), ½ cup apple cider vinegar, and up to 1/3 cup sugar in a jar and shake well. The vinegar will start out tart but mellow over time, bringing out the sweetness and heat of the ginger, Dietsch says.
To work the shrub into a cocktail, combine 2 oz liquor (vodka or tequila), ½ oz shrub, and ½ oz mixer (juice or soda).
4. Create an infusion to spice up rum
You can buy ginger-flavored spirits, like Domaine de Canton, but why not make your own? “Take about 15 slices of fresh ginger, muddle them (see left), and add 1 to 2 cups rum, vodka, whiskey, or tequila,” says Cervantes. “Let it sit a month or so, and you’ll end up with a delicious infusion you can sip straight or with a bit of soda.”
5. Add it candied, dried, or pickled to a Bloody Mary
Feeling really adventurous? Dice candied ginger and muddle it like fresh ginger, or use it to garnish a drink. You can do the same with the pickled ginger that comes with sushi and pair it with kumquat or pineapple; or use its brine instead of olive juice in a martini. Or use dried ginger (the cooking spice) for an infusion (see above), or mix it with salt on the rim of a Bloody Mary or margarita.
Bottom line: Have fun, and don’t stress out if that delicious-sounding drink you dreamed up is a bomb. “Remember,” says Jeffrey Dillon, bar manager at NYC’s Bathtub Gin, “there are no bad cocktails—just big shots!”