Distinctively husky yet tinged with notes of genuine sweetness, galangal is the Alison Moyet of rhizomes. Once upon a time, galangal—which looks like ginger but has its own pungent flavor—was a princely part of the medieval European spice rack. Chaucer mentioned it, Hildegard of Bingen praised it, and 14th-century kings kept it on their shopping lists. Today, galangal rarely turns up in Western recipes, a state of affairs I find deplorable—which is why I’ve established, and urge all of you to support, the “Quid Plura?” Crusade for the Restoration of Galangal in the West.
Shortly before Christmas, I found myself pondering a question for the ages: Since ginger has long done yeoman’s work as the primary flavoring element in its own eponymous carbonated soft drink, is there a good reason why galangal, its mustardy cousin, has never been conscripted into the elite corps of beverage-infusing rhizomes?
A thorough Google search turned up nothing for “galangal ale” except for a few references to a hot, soupy, tea-like drink from Thailand. And so, armed with a ginger ale recipe that worked out well for me in the past, I gathered the necessary ingredients and set out to create a simple, closed fermentation system that would make my inspiration potable.
The recipe was simple: two liters of water, one cup of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of yeast, and—in place of the customary ginger—three tablespoons of fresh, shredded galangal.
I put the whole concoction in a plastic bottle, wrapped the bottle in a plastic bag, and let it ferment inside my unlit oven for a day and a half. When carbonation made the bottle sufficiently dent-proof, I carefully transported it to the nearby home of some friends who had agreed to serve as taste-testers. Nervous, but interpreting the failure of the bottle to explode as a positive sign, we poured a few glasses of chilled, fizzy galangal ale, and we sipped.
You know what? Galangal ale is good.
Galangal ale tastes nothing like ginger ale, nor does it taste like any other soft drink I’ve ever had, but it is delicious. The galangal root gives the soda a strong, strange flavor, like mustard and perfume intermingled, but the sugar complements the galangal perfectly, so what normally might be a bit nasty is instead only a lingering pungency. It’s an acquired taste, but it’s hardly unpleasant. One of my brave taste-testers guzzled it down; another remarked that it would make a very refreshing summer drink.
And so, dear readers, in these trying times of crisis and universal brouhaha, I’ve made a decision: I’m abandoning this whole writing-and-teaching racket to pursue a far more effervescent future. Having taken out three mortgages on my home, I’ve rented an abandoned firehouse and commissioned a graphic designer to create a subtle yet persuasive label that highlights our Middle English brand name.
This spring, when you see my carbonated labor of love in the soft-drink aisle of your local Safeway (or Tesco), don’t keep walking. Drop a bottle in your basket and know that you’re subsidizing the great Galangal Crusade. The West’s most neglected rhizome needs your help—and those high-priced celebrity endorsements aren’t gonna pay for themselves.