In 2006 I was in the U.S. Virgin Islands for my best friend’s wedding. It was an amazing and magical trip, mostly spent on the island of St. John, swimming, snorkeling, hiking and having fun with our friends in a super luxe villa provided by the extremely generous bride and groom. The wedding was days after I finished my final, grueling semester of grad school, so this trip basically reminded me what it felt like to enjoy life. There was also the goodness of seeing my best friend wed a very lovely and worthy man.
Foodwise, we mostly had communal meals of ridiculously expensive but wonderfully-prepared pasta (no one was gluten-free in those days), but a couple times we ventured to solid, cheap local spots on our own and tried some knockout dishes. Fungi, which is not a mushroom but a kind of delicious mush made from cornmeal, sorrel and, of course, the “real” ginger beer were the stand-out menu items. My immediate reaction was, “I have to learn how to make this stuff!”
Ginger beer I still make today, and let me just tell you, no store-bought ginger beer has anything on the stuff you make at home. These days, I play around a little bit more (other ingredients, etc,), but the basic recipe is so simple that it’s hard to change.
One serious disclaimer: do not use a glass container for bottling this. We’re talking serious risks here. You are intentionally cultivating the pressure in your bottle and your container really can explode. With plastic, this could be messy. With glass, it could be dangerous. Even once you’ve reached your desired fermentation level, you will notice that it’s still fermenting in the fridge (albeit much more slowly). So again, glass is probably a bad choice here.
As with all ferments, the timing of the fermentation process will vary according to the season and the temperature of your home. Keep your eyes and fingers (to test pressure) on it. They won’t lead you astray.
- 4-7 T unpeeled, grated or finely-minced, unpeeled organic* ginger, divided (you will use 1-2 T per day of the culture-making process)
- 4-7 T sugar, divided
- 2 cups room temperature water
- Mix 1 T ginger, 1 T sugar and 2 cups water until sugar is dissolved.
- Cover it as you would a sourdough starter (cloth, coffee filter, etc secured with rubber band)
- Let it sit at warm room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Stir whenever you think about it, or about once a day.
- Feed it with an additional T of sugar and a T of grated ginger every day
- Repeat this process every day until you see it bubbling. In the summer, this takes 2-3 days in my house. In the winter it’s sometimes nearly a week
Ginger Beer (Makes 2 gallons. Recipe can easily be halved or quartered):
I like my ginger beer REALLY gingery, and I like to make a big batch so that we can age some and drink some. It’s a great thing to do before a party for a truly spectacular Dark and Stormy.
- 2 gallons of water (separated)
- Ginger, grated (I use 1.5-2 very large rhizomes. A good amount to try for your first batch of this size would be one large rhizome. Definitely reduce amount of ginger if you halve or quarter the recipe.)
- Sugar (I use 3 cups for this 2-gallon recipe. Some people like it sweeter.). Remember to not freak out about the sugar. Some of the sugar gets converted (which is the actual fermentation process). If you fear sugar, let it ferment a bit longer. You’ll just be an alcoholic instead of a diabetic. Your choice. I kid.
- Ginger beer starter, chunks strained out. 1 T of liquid or more reserved to continue feeding for future batches.
- The juice of 1 large lemon
- Get out a very large pot, and pour in 1 gallon of water
- Add your grated ginger to the pot
- Bring to a boil
- Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes
- Remove from heat
- Let it cool until it’s a comfortable temperature for straining out the ginger
- Once you’ve strained your ginger, add your sugar and stir until dissolved
- Add the remaining one gallon of water (this excellent quick cooling tip comes directly from Sandorkraut. PLEASE buy his books.)
- Once the mixture is cool enough (room temp) add your starter liquid, straining out the ginger chunks.
- Squeeze in your lemon juice (if you’re going to make a dark and stormy with this, you might sub lime here).
- Mix it
- Put it in a large container and cover with cloth that will keep bugs out.
- Stir it whenever you think of it, and keep an eye out for bubbles. Once you see those (1-5 days) it’s time to bottle your brew for full carbonation.
- Pour it into your prepared bottles and seal them.
- Keep the bottles at room temperature until they get hard.
Check bottles every day to see if they’re hard. Once you can press them and they don’t give at all, stick them in the fridge! Leave them to chill for at least 6 hours and then take a taste. Be prepared for massive pressure when you open your bottle! They’ll still ferment in the fridge, and you should periodically check them to see if they’re too pressurized. Opening the bottle to release pressure and making sure they aren’t too full are good ways to prevent the big burst. Again, this has NEVER happened to me. I love ginger beer and I’ve made it many times. I just want you to know about the risks.
I definitely age mine sometimes, and I’ve never had a problem, but if you want to be sure you won’t risk explosion, drink them within a week or so.
*Why is organic ginger so important? Well, ginger that is imported is sometimes irradiated, and irradiation will kill the bacteria that you need to kickstart fermentation. If your ginger is organic, you know it hasn’t been irradiated. My strong suspicion for any failed batch of ginger bug is that the ginger was not organic. You also want to look for healthy, plump rhizomes with smooth skin. Older wrinkly ones that don’t look fresh might not get you where you need to go.