Monday, September 10, 2007

From the Kai Lab: Ginger Beer

Ginger beer: nature's own champagne! This spicy, yet refreshing drink shares the same esteemed position in my book as properly cured bacon, Valrhona chocolate and being groped on a crowded bus. There are a gazillion recipes available, most of which are very similar. This delicious combination of ginger, lemon and sugar is easily made as you'll soon see.

You're going to need:
Bottles - plastic screw-top soft drink bottles will work very well. However, I used a dozen 330ml glass Tui stubby bottles. The size is convenient - you'll easily consume the contents and won't end up with half-consumed bottles of beer.

Bottle steriliser - obtained from your local home brew store; 250 grams cost me $6 (you're only going to use a few teaspoons of it with this batch)

Large jar and some fabric to cover it (muslin or similar - DO NOT use a jar lid or anything solid - the bug you're going to make needs to breathe)


Large pot

To make the ginger beer bug:
1.5 teaspoons of dried yeast (I got mine from the home brew store, although you can buy the same kind from your supermarket)

2 teaspoons of ground ginger

2 teaspoons of sugar

600 ml of water (try and use spring or bore water - your town supply will have chlorine in it and while the amount is minute, it may impede the development of the bug)

To make the beer:
3.5 litres of water (see above for water)

500 grams of sugar

The juice of 2 lemons

Let's make the bug: place the yeast, ginger, sugar and water together in the jar and mix. Cover with your fabric and place somewhere warm. After twenty four hours, feed the bug a teaspoon of ground ginger and a teaspoon of sugar. Do this everyday for ten days. You should see it slowly bubbling away, the gas being carbon dioxide, a product of the yeast feeding on the sugar. Note the layer of sediment below.

On the tenth day, prepare your bottles. Clean and soak in the sterilising solution. It wouldn't hurt to put your other tools, like the funnel, into the solution too. When done, thoroughly rinse with cold water.

To make the beer, place one litre of water and the sugar into a big pot; heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the rest of the water and the lemon juice.

This next step is a little tricky: pour off the liquid in the jar, while trying not to disturb the sediment. Strain this liquid through some cloth into the pot. Resist the urge to assist the liquid by squeezing the cloth - you want the liquid reaonably clean.

Give the liquid in the pot a quick stir. Pour the mixture into the bottles

Once poured, cap your bottles. Incidentally, I found my bottle capper for $20 on Trademe, and it came with a big bag of caps. Don't press down too hard or the bottle neck will break (I lost one on my second attempt).

Once your bottles are all securely capped, store them somewhere cool and dark (retirement home managers tend to get a bit narky if you take them there, so try somewhere else). Keep them there for a couple of weeks and for goodness sake, don't shake them.

Wondering what to do with the bug? Divide it, place the other half into another jar and continue to feed them both as before - you'll soon have twice the beer you started with! Better still, give one of them away.

Once the two weeks is up, pull the bottles out (as many as you need) and chill thoroughly - this stops the activity of the yeast in its tracks. Before you open your bottle, tip it upside down so as to allow the layer of sediment that's formed to be evenly dispersed throughout the bottle (if you're a bit squeamish about this sort of thing (*snort*), you could decant the bottle or simply filter it through a napkin as you pour it into your glass). Now open and and enjoy! It should be pointed out that it'll be quite fizzy when it's opened and will pour out of the top unbidden - it's not called nature's champagne for nothing.

So what does it taste like? Is it like a bought one? Stay tuned as my first batch (v1.0) will be sampled this coming Sunday...

Look at these rioting students rampaging through the streets of Dunedin - if only they'd had some refreshing ginger beer instead...

Fancy a little experimentation? Add honey at the beer preparation stage, preferably something mild so it won't compete with the flavour of the ginger. Also, adding a teaspoon of liquid honey with your daily dosing of sugar and ginger makes the beer taste incredibly smooth (hat tip: Kerry). With my next batch, I might try using root ginger, to see if there's a significant difference in taste.

Addendum: found a great ginger beer at my local farmers market - "Honey Buzzz - Honey 'n' Ginger Beer" one of the great products produced by Hawkes Bay microbrewer, K.E.A. Brewing ltd (Williams St, Hastings).
Also, if you're using glass bottles, make sure they don't have a thread. The bottle capper has difficulty getting a good grip because the thread is in the way. My bottles did and that was the reason why I had breakage, not to mention some difficulty making an effective seal.


Barbara said...

I grew up on this stuff. My mother always had a batch brewing. Sometimes we would even get a glass with a scoop of icecream in it. It was a treat to have a glass of Fanta when we visited the city.

Nigel Olsen said...

Hiya Barb! That's a spider, isn't it? I can remember when soft drinks were a treat and not a pantry staple *waves fist at neighborhood kids, "get off my lawn!"*

Nigel Olsen said...

According to an email from David, the beer should be quite drinkable within 3-4 days. The sediment you'll find in the bottle is the yeast, dead having consumed all the sugar (it won't hurt you or taste funny). The carbonation remains, kept in place by the bottle cap.

Mary said...

Hiya Nigel,

You'll be craving this after a summer in the kitchen :-) My varsity alcohol experimentation days saw me re-using champagne/Lindaur bottles. No seam, tough as and even though yo say youll never drink the whole 750ml.. it evaporates anyhow...

Anonymous said...

Hi Nigel!

We have used your recipe many times with great success. The one complaint we have had from drinkers is that the brew smells of too much yeast - any ideas?

Máire said...

Blessed ginger beer - I've just had two batches not get fizzy even though the bug was going strong before they were bottled. Any ideas please.......???M

Nigel Olsen said...

I don't know...there could be some kind of contaminant in the bottles, so make sure they're sterilised before you use them. Where abouts are you keeping the bottles once they've been filled? If it's somewhere too hot or cold then that could be a factor.

Anonymous said...

Try putting two rasins in the bottle at bottling for extra fizz.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nigel
I have made your ginger beer with great success!
But couldn't wait for two weeks so had it after the first.
My question is:
Is this alcoholic?
Thanks a lot for this recipe.

Anonymous said...

on the 8th day of feeding the bug it started smelling fermenty or vinagery is this bad?

Nigel Olsen said...

Sebastian - Yeast eats sugar, which basically sums up the fermentation process. The by-products of fermentation are carbon dioxide and alcohol, so yes it is alcoholic but in what amounts, I'm not sure.. I'd hazard a guess & say they're quite small.

When home brewing ordinary beer, the wort (similar to the ginger mix used here) is allowed to ferment until the yeast has eaten all of the sugars in the solution. Once done, the yeast is suspended in the beer, so when priming sugar is added during bottling, the yeast eats it and gives off more alcohol and co2 (under containment). No additional sugar is added to the ginger beer at bottling, so the yeast consumes whatever sugar is present (not a lot) & then dies. This would account for the short-lived amount of fizz in home brewed ginger ale, because there is actually very little co2 given off by the yeast as it has very little to eat. So again, I'm assumng if there is any alcohol, it tiny.

Anon - no, that's a good thing as it show's that the culture is alive & active.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nigel
I love my ginger beer but can someone tell me why we dont add more yeast as well as ginger and sugar to the divided bug after bottling to keep it going. Surely after multiple divides over time the yeast is gone or does it self propogate?

Nigel Olsen said...

Anon - No worries! The yeast will self-propagate, as long as it has something to eat.

Anonymous said...

do u have to use glass bottles can u use plastic

Nigel Olsen said...

Yeah, totally use plastic! At least you won't run the risk of exploding glass bottles.