Kelly Vaughn

FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, The Breadfruit & Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix has been a conscientious leader in the effort to use fresh, local and sustainable ingredients. It’s no surprise, then, that when Danielle Leoni and Dwayne Allen (pictured), the energy force behind the restaurant, decided to create their own ginger beer — the germination of what is now Big Marble Organics — they did it with the same focus.

“Because The Breadfruit is a Jamaican restaurant, we import a small percentage of tropical ingredients and products,” Leoni says. “One of those was ginger beer. It was made with Jamaican ginger and Jamaican sugar, and it was very high quality. A few years after we opened, though, [our provider] stopped producing it with integrity. The recipe went from using local ingredients to using high-fructose corn syrup and plastic packaging. So, we thought: We already make everything else from scratch. Why not our own ginger beer?”

Allen, who was born and raised in Jamaica and runs The Breadfruit’s bar program, went to work in the garage.

“We started this project, around eight years ago, by just experimenting,” Leoni says. “We started fermenting ginger, and Dwayne and I taught ourselves all of the different methods of making ginger beer.”

After a few years of fits and starts, they realized they needed more controls, and fewer variables, in the process. So, they found a new approach and started making their beer in the same way they make — of all things — salad dressing.

“We need to emulsify this,” Leoni says. “We need to bring oil and vinegar together for dressing. Likewise, we need to bring oil and water together to create the beer. We use an organic ginger extract. It’s almost like an essential oil. But then we add water. And we add some sugarand tiny bubbles. We have to dilute that super-concentrated ginger, because it’s so spicy, it would light you up otherwise.”

To come up with a recipe that would finally work, Allen went down a rabbit hole of chemistry and experimented with different concoctions and processes, while Leoni looked after the restaurant’s day-to-day operations.

Allen used a freezer chest that had been turned into a refrigerated unit, mini kegs and a handful of other tools. The setup was essentially a small-scale version of what is now Big Marble Organics’ fully automated production facility. And the ginger beer? “Nice and spicy,” as Leoni and Allen like to say.

Bubbly and bright, Big Marble ginger beer (the name is a nod to Allen’s childhood nickname) is a wake-up call for your taste buds. In addition, it’s certified organic, fair trade and vegan. So is the entire manufacturing plant.

“Everything we do, we approach through a lens of sustainability,” Leoni says. “As a chef, I know how to source food responsibly, right? But this time, we wanted  our processes to also be vetted by an outside source, and we chose the most rigorous — through Quality Assurance International. I learned so much about the chain of custody of every single ingredient.”

As this issue went to press, The Breadfruit was temporarily closed because of COVID-19, but you'll find Big Marble ginger beer at bars, restaurants and markets across town. Twelve-packs are available for purchase online.

“The ginger beer is highly effervescent,” Leoni says. “There are infinite bubbles. And we’re really proud of it.”