Sam Halhuli is a bartender and the founder of Huhu's Ginger Brew (www.huhusgingerbrew.com), a local handcrafted nonalcoholic ginger beer that's available at a few bars across the city including The Avenue Pub and Twelve Mile Limit. Halhuli spoke with Gambit about his Seattle-based ginger beer inspiration, the best ginger beer cocktail and why Huhu's prides itself on being spicy.
What was your inspiration for starting Huhu's?
Halhuli: I started bartending in 2004 and started working with craft cocktails when I moved back home to Seattle from Bellingham, Washington. Ginger beer is a pretty big thing in Washington, and when I moved down here to New Orleans in 2012 what I immediately missed was fresh ginger beer. There is a girl who launched a line of ginger beer in Seattle, Rachel's Ginger Beer, and she has it in all the bars and her own line of bars so I was pretty inspired by that.
Jubilee Ginger Beer was around in New Orleans for a while but kind of fell off the map after Hurricane Isaac, which is right when I got here. I ended up at Twelve Mile Limit, and I mentioned my idea for doing a ginger beer to the owners. I thought they would look at me like I was crazy, but they told me that there was a draft line behind the bar that worked but wasn't being used. I hooked it up and started using it for my ginger beer. I couldn't have fallen into a better situation.
Do people like the spicy flavor of Huhu's?
H: When you taste a fresh ginger beer side-by-side with a shelf-stable ginger beer, there's really no comparison: it's like night and day.
I started out using a lot of different spice and flavor combinations, and I found that I just kept paring it back more and more until I had essentially just the purest form that was ginger juice, lemon juice, sugar and water.
It's very spicy, and when people started drinking it, a lot of them said it was too strong. I said, "Yes, it might be, but put it in a cocktail with the ice and the booze and now taste it." The heat level is right on. That being said, a lot of people do like to drink it straight out of the bottle. My mom does, I do, it makes your ears tingle with heat and you feel completely invigorated.
What's your favorite cocktail to make using Huhu's?
H: I know it sounds boring, but really the Moscow mule is probably the best way to spotlight the spice of the ginger beer. People really seem to like it in a Dark and Stormy as well, or just with whiskey, but vodka allows all the flavor to shine through. I have one drink I named The Cardinal, which is gin, ginger beer, lime and cherry heering, and it's a really nice drink. It's actually named after one of the regulars at Twelve Mile Limit, and it ended up being very appropriate because the drink is also red like a cardinal. — SARAH BAIRD