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)
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.
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.