Ginger Beer

Remember that ginger beer your Mom used to make for you back in those endless summers of your childhood? No, me neither!

Actually my Mum did make Ginger beer but I have no idea how she made it and as she's not around to ask so a while back I did a search on the web and found several recipes. Some of these involved crushing root ginger, squeezing lemons and all manner of cruelty to plants which is against my cooking philosophy as I'm more of a packet of ground ginger and bottles of lemon juice concentrate kind of guy. I'm still experimenting with the subtleties but what follows is the current state (?) of my art.

Setting up a "plant"

First thing you need is a 'ginger beer plant' and for this your going to need:

Shove (that's a technical culinary term) the above ingredients into a container (an old coffee jar works for me) and put it somewhere warmish, but away from direct sunlight. Don't screw the lid on too tight because although you don't want any crud (another technical term) getting in there, you DO want the carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation to get out.

Different recipes that I've seen suggest diferent kinds of yeast. Baking yeast is common but I've also seen lager yeast and other suggestions. My first plant used baking yeast but I wasn't too happy with it. Most of the recipes probably have roots back in the days when yeast was yeast was yeast blah blah blah. My guess is that yeast has become a bit more sophisticated since then and baking yeast is now some super hybrid designed to generate as much gas in the first half hour as possible to make your dough rise. After that... who cares? it's going in the oven right? Obvioulsy not in our case. We want the stuff to work and go on working for weeks. My first plant (the one with bakers yeast) seemed a bit sporadic and I suspect that this is why. More recent plants have used Boots wine yeast. Nothing fancy, just the 'cheap stuff'.

Anyway, on with the recipe:

Each day for the next 7-10 days (opinions vary but I tend to go for 7 as it's a convenient weekly cycle) you should stir another rounded teaspoon of ground ginger and one of sugar into your plant. At the end of this period you can use your 'plant' to make up a batch of 'beer'. Just before that, however, a couple more notes:

Regarding the ground ginger: you will find this amongst the spices at the supermarket but this tends to be in fancy little (and I do mean little) containers. With a little effort you should be able to find somewhere that sells it by weight from a big jar. By doing this you'll probably get about 4 times as much for your money.

Regarding the sugar: many of the recipes that I've seen say to use caster sugar because it disolves easier. It also costs a site more than the ordinary stuff and has never made any difference to my efforts. I use the ordinary stuff.

Converting your plant into a batch of beer

For this you will need:

12oz sugar (granulated of course)
The juice of 1 lemon (or the equivalent in concentrate)
4 pints water

At about this point, every ginger beer recipe I've ever seen warns you that bottled ginger beer can be pretty fizzy stuff, explosive even, and they're NOT KIDDING. It's essential that to use bottles that are designed to take it the pressure, and that have pressure release stoppers. My solution is to re-use plastic, screw-top, fizzy drinks bottles. I usually use 2 of the 2 litre bottles for each batch which leaves a nice 'air gap' at the top and, trust me, you ARE going to need that when you try to open the stuff. Open it SLOWLY it's VERY fizzy.

I start by putting a pint of cold water into each of my plastic bottles. Then I add the equivalent of the juice of half a lemon (I use bottled concentrate) to each bottle.

Next I put 6 oz of granulated sugar into a pyrex measuring jug and fill it to the 3/4 pint level with boiling water. A quick stir is all that's needed to dissolve the sugar. After topping the jug up to a pint with COLD water, I add it to one of my plastic bottles before repeating the procedure for the other bottle.

A couple of points worth noting:

  1. My jug has markings in fluid ounces as well as pints and by pouring in sugar up to the 6 fluid oz level I save myself some washing up!

  2. First time I ever did this I used a full pint of boiling water and added it to the plastic bottle before I'd put the lemon juice and cold water in. The plastic bottle was NOT happy!

You now meed to add the juice from your 'plant'. Most recipes suggest filtering it through muslin. I now keep an old cotton handkerchief especially for the purpose. The trick is that you don't want to filter it too well so don't bother trying wine filter papers (like I did once. Duh!) You want a small amount of the yeast to make it through in order to ferment a bit more in the bottle and add some fizz. Note that the filtering takes a while so you're advised to set things up so you can leave it to get on with it.

The last step is to set your plant up ready for the next batch. The crud that has collected into your filter should be split in two. Half goes back in the jar with a pint of water to be 'fed' for another week or so. The other half can be given to a friend or thrown at the neighbours cat, as the mood takes you.

The bottled ginger beer should now be left for at least a week before drinking. Apparently it will be okay for about three weeks after that but I couldn't say. If mine ever gets to stay in the bottle past week two, I'll let you know. :-)