Ginger beer is one of the easiest and low maintenance naturally fermented drinks and, in my opinion, rather fun to make (science geek right here). The flavour is intensely beautiful to boot! I prefer to make my own because I can reduce the sugar content while maintaining that great flavour. But my favourite part is being able to add different combinations of fruits, herbs and spices to the mix when it goes into the bottle. Raspberries, blueberries, feijoas, tangelo juice, mint, lemon verbena, lemon balm, vanilla pod, cinnamon, whole cloves etc, there are so many different flavours to be added to create natural and delicous flavours. Or just leave the ginger tea as is for a traditional ginger beer. I have included the variations in the recipe for these two sodas pictured. On the left is a Tangelo Ginger Beer and on the right is a Raspberry & Lemon Verbena Ginger Beer. I’ve also made the Raspberry & Lemon Verbena version using Water Kefir. Both are delicious.
This drink is left in its ‘alive’ state with all of the beneficial bacteria and wild yeasts thriving. Those naturally present bacteria and yeasts are what give fermented ginger beer its powerful fizz and punchy flavour! These tiny but powerful microorganisms eat the sugar (sucrose) and break it down into glucose and fructose. These sugars then get turned into lactic acid (tangy flavour), carbon dioxide (fizz) and a tiny bit of alcohol (pretty minimal with ginger beer). The longer you leave ginger beer to ferment the lower the sugar content and the higher the tang, fizz and alcohol content. Although, you won’t get too much alcohol produced with this way of fermenting. It is comparable to that of water kefir, milk kefir and kombucha. Some of the fructose will remain and give it a subtle, perfect sweetness.
Before you can brew your first bottle of ginger beer you need to make a ginger bug. The ginger bug is the starter culture you will need to add to the ginger tea in order to inoculate it (culture it) and create a soda. It’s like adding yogurt culture to warm milk to make yogurt, or adding water kefir grains or a SCOBY to sugar water or sugar tea to make water kefir and kombucha (two other naturally fermented and delicious fizzy drinks!). The ginger bug takes a few days to become active but is actually very low maintainace and simple to make and keep alive. One ginger bug will be able to make many litres of ginger beer and you can even give excess away to others who are wanting to make their own ginger beer. As long as you keep feeding it as described below the ginger bug will keep indefinitely.
Naturally Fermented Ginger Beer
For the Ginger Bug you will need:
- a large piece of fresh ginger, preferably organic but not necessary (about the size of your hand)
- unrefined cane sugar (rapadura, demerera, muscovado or raw sugar work well)
- 375 ml (1 1/2 cups) filtered water*
*if you haven’t got filtered water, boil tap water in the jug (kettle) and allow it to come back to room temperature. This will help to get rid of most of the chlorine and kill any potential pathogens that could interfere with your beneficial bacteria and yeasts.
- Place 375 mls of filtered water and 2 TBLS of unrefined cane sugar into a clean 1 litre glass jar and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Finely grate or mince approximately 3 TBLS of the fresh ginger and place it into the sugar water in the glass jar and stir. Cover the jar with a piece of cloth or clean tea towel, a paper coffee filter or a paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Leave to sit in a warm location out of direct sunlight.
- Over the next 5-7 days, stir the mixture well with a wooden or plastic spoon (not metal incase it contains reactive metal that can kill the good bugs) and add 1 TBLS of grated ginger and 1 TBLS of unrefined cane sugar and stir well. After approximately 5-7 days (give or take a few) you should start to see little tiny bubbles forming inside of the mix in the jar. It should also smell slightly yeasty and fizz a little when stirred. If you haven’t got bubbles after 8 days, discard the mix and start again.
- Once you have an active ginger bug you are ready to make ginger beer! To use, stir the bug and scoop out 2 TBLS of ginger bug liquid (reserving the ginger sediment) for every litre of liquid that you want to make.
Storing and Maintaining your Ginger Bug!
- If you are using your ginger bug regularly you can store it on the kitchen bench out of direct sunlight and feed it daily as before. You can also put the lid on and store it in the fridge and feed it once per week if you are wanting to make less or take a break.
- If the liquid in the ginger bug is getting low, give it a stir and discard half of the ginger sediment, reserving the rest in the jar. Add 375mls room temperature filtered water and feed it daily 1 TBLS grated ginger and 1 TBLS unrefined cane sugar for the next 7 days until it is revived. Again, store it in the fridge, covered, and feed weekly or on the bench and feed daily depending on your needs.
- Your ginger bug is alive and needs all liquids to be cooled to room temperature before being added. Hot water will kill the ginger bug and it won’t produce ginger beer. Treat it lovingly!
- Friendly bacteria and yeasts don’t like reactive metals (aluminium, copper, bronze, silver etc) so it is best to stay away from using any metal equipment that will come in contact with the ginger bug unless you are certain it doesn’t contain any of these. Commercial stainless steel is fine as it is a relatively inert metal and doesn’t bother the bugs.
- If mould develops in the first few days when starting your ginger bug you can scrape it off and continue, but it can be a sign that something isn’t too happy. If mould grows again after scraping it off, throw away the bug and start again from scratch. White mould is okay, but green, red or black mould isn’t. Chuck the bug and start again if this happens.
Making your Ginger Beer
- 1 litre boiling water
- 1/3 cup grated/minced fresh ginger
- 1/3 cup unrefined cane sugar (rapadura, demerera, muscovado or raw sugar)*
- fresh juice of 1 lemon
- 2 TBLS ginger bug liquid
*You can also do half unrefined sugar and half honey if you wish. See below for flavour variations.
- Place grated ginger into a large heatproof bowl or measuring cup and pour over 1 litre of boiling water. Cover and allow this to cool to room temperature.
- Once the ginger tea has cooled to room temperature, stir in the unrefined cane sugar (and honey if using), lemon juice and ginger bug. Mix well to dissolve the sugar.
- Pour the mix into a clean 1 litre glass bottle designed for carbonation (flip top glass bottle or Grolsch-style bottle) and allow to sit uncapped at room temperature for secondary fermentation for 24-48 hours to culture, giving it a gentle stir twice daily. During this time cover the spout with a small piece of cloth or paper towel to keep out the fruit flies! Once it is visibly fizzy, cap the bottles tightly and allow to sit for another 12-24 hours at room temperature before transferring to cold storage (fridge or cellar). You can drink this ginger beer at this stage, but like all fermented foods the flavour develops over the next 2-3 weeks as more of the sugars get broken down. The patience pays off!
These variations are great to drink immediately following the 12-24 hours of secondary fermentation and should be drunk within 2 weeks due to the fresh fruit being used:
Raspberry & Lemon Verbena Ginger Beer – Once the ginger beer mix has been placed into the bottles, add 1/4 cup fresh or frozen raspberries and a few lemon verbena leaves and then proceed starting with number 3 in the instructions. The raspberries give an amazing colour to the soda, but will discolour after a few days.
Tangelo Ginger Beer – Make the ginger tea using only 500mls of boiling water and half to one whole vanilla pod split lengthwise (depending on how much vanilla flavour you want). Once cool, add the remaining ingredients, reducing the sugar or honey to 3 TBLS and stir in 500mls of fresh squeezed tangelo juice. Then proceed with the rest of number 3 in the instructions. The vanilla pod can be reused several times if rinsed and dried between uses. I have also used pure vanilla extract when I have run out of beans! Alternatively you can use 1-2 whole cloves for a different but lovely flavour.
- Ginger beer packs a serious punch in the fizzy department. Use bottles that are designed for carbonation and haven’t got any signs of damage. Explosions are not uncommon and can send pieces of glass flying. A gap between the top of the liquid and the lid can assist carbonation, but likewise it can create a lot of pressure at the top of the bottle. Fill the bottle to 1 inch (2-3 cm) from the top to prevent an over-production of CO2.
- Open bottles carefully over the sink by using firm downward pressure and a tea towel over the spout when unclipping and slowly allowing the pressure to escape.
- Use sterile equipment for successful batches of ginger beer. I use boiling water to clean equipment and VERY hot water and vinegar to clean the bottles.