How to Make Homemade Ginger Beer
Love ginger beer but trying to stay off of the soda pop? Well did you know that ginger beer was traditionally made using simple home fermentation? Making your own probiotic ginger beer is super simple, and yields up a beverage which can definitely be categorized as a health drink.
Are you a fan of ginger beer but are trying to stay away from soft drinks and sugar in general? If this is the case, then ginger beer making might be for you. Simple to make and super delicious, home made ginger beer, or ginger ale, is yet another traditional food product which originally made using fermentation.
Because home style ginger beer is a product of fermentation, this means that is a probiotic, with a similar set of health benefits to other fermented beverages, such as kombucha and water kefir. For more info on the health benefits of fermented foods, check out Health Benefits of Fermented Foods (And Why You Absolutely Should Eat Them).
Besides supplying probiotic health benefits, homemade ginger beer also typically contains far less sugar than commercial varieties, as well as being free of additives.
In fact, if one takes everything into account, ginger beer is a veritable health tonic. Ginger itself is renowned the world over for its health benefits and healing properties, and has found its way into many tonics and natural remedies. Of course, commercial soda companies no longer use ginger – but if you are going to be making home style ginger beer, you won’t be able to do without it!
So, let’s get down to the business of making ginger beer at home. First we need to talk about the ginger bug, as that is where it all starts.
The Ginger Bug
If you have never heard the term ‘ginger bug’ then you might be scratching your head in confusion. Not to worry, the ginger bug is easy to explain, especially if you have already been trying your hand at some other types of ferments.
What the Ginger Bug is:
Unlike many other fermentations, ginger beer does not have a condition specific starter culture which takes on a structural form. Kombucha is fermented using a SCOBY and kefir is fermented using kefir grains. This is where the ginger bug comes in. The ginger bug is the starter which gets the fermentation going. However unlike other starters like SCOBYs and kefir grains, where you need to get your hands on some to make more – you can make your own ginger bug from scratch.
What the Ginger Bug Does:
The ginger bug’s role is to inject your unfermented ginger beer with the necessary microbes in order for fermentation to take place. If you have ever dabbled in sourdough bread making – the ginger bug is just like the sourdough starter culture.
Making a Ginger Bug From Scratch
Making your own ginger bug is pretty simple, but you do need some time. 5-7 days to be exact. Besides that, you will need the following.
What you need:
- Average size piece of fresh ginger
- 2 cups of filtered water
- Glass jar
- Dishtowel or other cloth to cover
- Rubber band to secure cloth
Grate the ginger until you have 2 -3 tablespoons of it. If it is organic you can grate the ginger with its skin. If it is non organic then peel the ginger first (root vegetables can store agrochemicals in their skins). You can also use powdered ginger, but then it MUST be organic, as non-organic spices are usually irradiated, which ensures that the naturally occurring bacteria which you are looking to cultivate will have been killed.
Now, in the glass jar, combine the 2-3 tablespoons of grated ginger along with your 2-3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 cups of water. Stir with a non-metal spoon until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Cover with a cloth, and leave to sit for 5-7 days at room temperature. Everyday, add an additional 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, and 2-3 tablespoons of ginger.
To keep out any vinegar flies or other insects which might be attracted to the sugar, you can secure the cloth covering with a rubber band. Place the developing ginger bug preferably at some distance from any other ferments which you might have going. Different types of fermentations can cross pollination, which ultimately results in altered microbial compositions, and affects the fermentation results.
How to see if your ginger bug is ready:
The exact amount of time it will take for the ginger bug to be colonized adequately with microbes will depend on the temperature in which it is developing. If the temperature is a bit low it might need a few extra days. If the temperature is warm, it might be ready within the minimum amount of time.
The way you can tell how much microbial activity is going on is to look for bubble action. If the mixture fixes when disturbed, and has a sharpish yeasty tang, then it is most probably ready!
How to Make Ginger Beer
Once your ginger bug is ready, it is time to make some ginger beer! First off, here is a list of what you will need. I have put in two different option for fermentation containers, 2 gallon glass jar, or 16 Grolsch style fliptop bottles. If you have the fliptops on hand and are keen to pour your ginger beer straight into these, go for it. They will ferment fine like that with the lids closed. Just remember to burp them daily like you would the 2 gallon.
I have made the recipe instruction for the 2 gallon jar, in case some of you do not have any fliptops. If this is the case, consider getting your hands on some, as they make for really great portable bottles for your homemade soda.
- Saucepan or pot
- Metal sieve or strainer
- 2 gallon glass jar
- 16 Grolsch style fliptop bottles
- approximately 2 x 8 inch pieces of ginger root
- 1.8 gallons of filtered water
- 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
- 3 cups of sugar (white or brown)
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups of ginger bug
As far as the quantities of ginger and sugar are concerned, feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your liking. The ginger can be changed to almost any quantity within reason, however do not change the amount of sugar too drastically. The probiotic bacteria and yeast need the sugar to feed on, so using to little can impact the fermentation. Too much sugar can cause some of them to become sluggish. If you prefer your ginger beer really sweet, or really sour, rather use the fermenting guidelines below, under the heading ‘How Fermentation Time Affects The Brew’.
Grate the ginger root, making sure to remove the peel if it is not organic. Once grated combine the ginger in your pot with 1 gallon of water, the sugar and the salt. Bring this to the boil and simmer gentle for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically to allow the ginger to diffuse into the hot water. It’s kind of like making ginger tea!
Take the pot off of the heat and add the remaining 0.8 gallons of filtered water. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, and then strain out the ginger bits.
Now it is time to add the ginger bug. Strain out the 2 cups and pour it into the mix. Make very sure that the brew IS at room temperature before adding the ginger bug, because if it is still too hot, the high temperature will kill the microbes, and fermentation will not take place.
Next, pour in the lemon juice and give the whole thing a stir. Using your funnel, pour the mix into your glass jar, screwing the lid on tightly.
Leave the jar on your countertop for between 2-10 days. The aim of the game here is to allow for enough fermentation to take place for good levels of carbonation to develop, as well as reasonable probiotic counts and a tangy flavor profile. However, while this is happening the carbon dioxide is building and the pressure within the jar will rise. Fermentation can develop such high levels of pressure that they can cause glass bottles to explode! Therefore it is a good idea to crack the top once a day or so to let it escape.
Refrigerate! Once you have achieved a good level of fermentation, then you can transfer your jar to the fridge to stall the microbial activity. Here it can continue at incredibly slow rates there, but no doubt your home style ginger beer will be way too good to survive in the fridge for an extended period of time! If you have fliptop bottles or some other suitable glass drinking bottles, you can transfer the ginger beer from the 2 gallon jar into those before storing in the refrigerator. That way whenever you want some ginger beer, it is in easy grab-and-go bottles.
How Fermentation Time Affects The Brew
The less time you allow the brew to ferment, the milder and sweeter it will be. As fermentation takes place, the microbes process the sugar source, and at the same time produce natural acids. Therefore, the longer you allow fermentation to continue, the less sugar your batch will contain and the more tart it will taste.
This means that you can play with the fermentation time to suit your taste. If you like your ginger beer a bit more sweet with less tartness, then stop it on the early side. If you want a high level of probiotics, less sugar, lots of carbonation and a tangy taste, then make sure that your leave the batch to ferment fully.
How Temperature Affects Rates of Fermentation
There is a universal law regarding fermentation and temperature, and that is that the warmer it is, the faster the fermentation process. On the other end of the spectrum, low temperatures cause fermentation to slow down quite a lot. Therefore it is important to take into account what temperature you are fermenting at. If it is cold in your house, allow for extra time to ensure that fermentation takes place fully. If it is super hot, then you should monitor the level of fermentation and transfer the batch to the refrigerator as soon as it has reached the level which you like.
Also, if the temperatures are high and fermentation is happening at a rapid rate, this will mean that the pressure building up in your jar is happening faster too. Therefore, the warmer it is, the more diligent one should be with regards to burping your jar and letting out pressure. Exploding glass jars can be a serious hazard if anyone is in the vicinity when it happens, not to mention a huge mess!
As you can see, making your own home style ginger beer is fairly simple. It does not require you to go out and buy a whole lot of home brewing equipment, and depending on the temperature does not take that long to mature.
Besides having a far more complex and subtle flavor profile than commercial soda pop, ginger beer which is made at home is not only a tasty drink, but a super healthy one as well. If made via its traditional method of fermentation, homemade ginger beer can be packed with probiotics, have low levels of sugar, and contain the health benefits of ginger.