Raspberry Ginger Beer

Duff's, 329 North Euclid Avenue, 314-361-0522

Apr 14, 2004 at 4:00 am
And yet, amid all the chaos, all the war, the death, the horror, the lies -- still, spring. Still a duck and ducklings wobbling on shore rocks, robins shoving worm-gurgle into the gaping maws of miniature newbies. Teenagers cuddling underneath sugar maples. Moments so pure, so awake, so comfortable that it's difficult to remember that just two months ago all was frozen and dead and that across the sea there is big-time trouble.

But spring's also the most unstable time of the year. Each perfect day teeters on the brink of catastrophe. Green dusks give way to brown mornings and, in between, dark stormy nights find puppies trembling under bureaus and babies wailing at their first dose of flash kaboom kaboom. No fun, to say the least. But as any good Buddhist knows, you can't have one without the other: the pain creating the joy creating the pain creating the joy and so on ad infinitum.

An ancient Cahokian fairy tale describes a horrible storm of spinning wind and flying trees. The storm gave way to a neon-green morning, a wonder to behold. In the corner of a meadow, a stray kitten wiped the dew from its whiskers and commenced to frolicking in a bed of hot-pink tulips. That startled a mama and three baby bunnies, who made a synchronized dash for the bushes. Through the bushes, they stumbled upon a mystical, diamond-encased hole. Bunnies can't resist sparkle, so they raced down it and found themselves in the middle of a cavern that glowed yellow. A pool in the center trickled with pink liquid, and a little pixie (a former Grateful Dead chef named Jimmy Voss) stirred a nectar so exquisite that the bunnies, birdies, duckies and chipmunkies that drank from it never left, ever. They just kept drinking and drinking until they died with Buddha grins plastered on their faces.

"I'm not afraid to give out my recipes," declares Voss from his secret den, which doubles as Duff's Restaurant in the Central West End, before running down the way he magically transforms fresh ginger, raspberry purée, lemon juice and sugar into this beautiful, nearly perfect springtime drink. "I use fresh ginger juice, which I blend in an old-fashioned Champion juicer. Then from there, our ginger beer is a little bit different, because there are no bubbles." So, Voss admits, it's not exactly ginger beer. "I'm not looking for any bubbles -- just an old-fashioned brew. So it's really like a ginger raspberry lemonade, if you want to get technical." We don't, because that would rain on the parade.

Voss says a stint with the Dead a few years back taught him to appreciate the joys of juicing, which led to this raspberry ginger beer. Singer Steve Winwood, the opener of the tour, requested some ginger tea, and Voss complied. "Ginger really opens things up," says Voss, and Winwood drank it each night before he sang. The rest of the musicians were all hopped up on what they called sweet juice, a blending of many different fruits and vegetables. Voss learned the recipe and started dabbling at Duff's, where he struck upon the current incarnation.

The result is pink, and you can taste each of the four ingredients: The raspberry gives it a tang; the lemon turns the tang south toward sour; the sugar tempers it (perhaps a bit too much -- we prefer sour to sweet); and the ginger gives it that odd pepper-spice edge. The drink is served in a big glass, and it's hard to show restraint. You just want to gulp it all down and order another. But too much of a good thing diminishes the impact, which is perhaps one reason why this spring is so dang heavenly. Winter was hard -- at least as hard as a St. Louis winter can be. Thus, spring is bliss -- at least as blissful as a wartime spring can be.