I felt like such a jerk. More than a year ago, while judging a pie-baking contest at Capitol Hill's High 5 Pie, I was sitting at a table surrounded by local food connoisseurs—well-known bakers, cafe owners, and food editors—when someone chimed, "Does anyone want something to drink? Water? Coffee? Rachel's Ginger Beer?"
While the others immediately started cooing—"Rachel's Ginger Beer!" some cried in unison, fighting back the urge to climb over the table to get their hands on that bottle just one second faster—I looked around and said, "What's that?"
"WHAT'S THAT?" someone asked with utter horror, as a cold brown bottle was handed to me. "Here, drink!"
My mouth instantly puckered, and my face tingled all through my cheeks. I even felt a little tickle on the tip of my nose. At first it was sour, then sweet—and the wave of cool liquid burned, delightfully, as it washed down my throat. It was, perhaps, the best drink I've sipped—a perfect, simple blend of ginger, lemon, sugar, and water that was unlike any ginger beer or ginger ale I've had before.
And the kicker? I don't even like ginger! I generally consume ginger ale only when it's served in a sugar-packed green aluminum can that warns, "Made with artificial flavors."
Rachel Marshall, the genius behind Rachel's Ginger Beer, has heard that before.
"It's 'cause everyone sucks with ginger," she explains, obviously frustrated by the root's unjust reputation. "People overprocess it so much that it tastes bitter and too sharp. It's a common mistake."
Marshall, who's been making ginger beer for about three years now, after first having it while living in the UK after college, has perfected her art. After a lot of trial and error, Mashall's potion is in such high demand that it's carried at more than 100 local bars, restaurants, cafes, and stores, from hippie-dippy Central Co-op to fancy-pants Spinasse. You can even order growlers of it via AmazonFresh. And just a few weeks ago, Marshall finally opened the Rachel's Ginger Beer flagship store on the corner of Post Alley and Pine in Pike Place Market.
Like the soda it serves, the store's decor is simple—chalkboard menus hang over the counter, and a mural painted by local artist Stacey Rozich brings a pop of color. But with its amazing view of the sunset, it doesn't need much.
The shop has at least seven flavors of Rachel's Ginger Beer available on tap; they turn the kegs several times a day, too, to take care of natural separation. The selection includes the original recipe as well as a colorful variety of seasonals—right now, there's white peach, blood orange, carrot-beet, hibiscus, strawberry (Marshall's favorite—"It tastes like a Starburst!"), blueberry, cranberry, and extra spicy.
The cocktail menu includes the Porch Swing (RGB, gin, and Aperol), the Dark & Stormy (RGB and dark rum), and the El Diablo (RGB, cassis, and tequila), as well as a couple blended drinks like the frozen strawberry mule, which a booze-loving friend of mine said was "like a beautiful adult Slurpee."
Not a drinker? That's okay! They have shakes and floats, too, which are handcrafted with your choice of RGB and Cupcake Royale's vanilla, strawberry, or dairy-free coconut ice cream.
"The blood-orange ginger beer milkshake with Cupcake Royale's ice cream is so good. It tastes like an Orange Julius," Marshall says.
It takes about eight hours to make the most perfect ginger beer, and the process involves about 1,500 pounds of ginger every week. After basically making a juice of ginger, lemon, and sugar, Rachel's brews this juice together with filtered water and, for the special flavors, other juices from local farms. The upcoming fall menu sounds especially great.
"We are working with a really awesome farm in Long Beach, Starvation Alley—they're going to do all our cranberry juice for us. They're going to be the only organic cranberry farm in Washington State that doesn't give their cranberries to Ocean Spray," she says. "And we are perfecting pear cardamom. We worked with this awesome lady from Ballard last year, whose grandfather had a big quince tree, so we're also working on a quince flavor for autumn."
One ginger beer flavor you won't see? Pumpkin.
"I fucking hate pumpkin," Marshall says. "When I see that pumpkin spice latte at places, it makes me cringe. 'Oh, the trees have turned! Let's do pumpkin everything!' It's like the potato. It's cheap and boring."