25 January 2012

Making ginger beer from scratch

We had a nice supply of ginger beer going over Christmas. It's a delicious soft drink for young and old, although there is an alcoholic version that can be made with a slight variation on the recipe. Ginger beer is a naturally fermented drink that is easy to make - with ginger beer you make a starter called a ginger beer plant and after it has fermented, you add that to sweet water and lemon juice. Like sourdough, it must ferment to give it that sharp fizz.

To make a ginger beer plant you'll need ginger - either the powdered dry variety or fresh ginger, sugar, rainwater or tap water that has stood for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate off. You'll also need clean plastic bottles that have been scrubbed with soap, hot water and a bottle brush and then rinsed with hot water. I never sterilise my bottles and I haven't had any problems. If you intend to keep the ginger beer for a long time, I'd suggest you sterilise your bottles.

MAKING THE STARTER
In a wide-mouthed, sterilised jar, place 1½ cups rainwater and add one dessert or soup spoon of ginger and one of sugar. You don't have to be exact but be mindful that if you add a lot of ginger you'll have a strong tasting drink and if you add too much sugar it will be very sweet.  Every day for seven days add those amounts of ginger and sugar and mix it in well. Fermented foods and drinks thrive in aerobic conditions, so make sure you give it a good stir and mix in a lot of air.


Depending on how much natural yeast is floating around your kitchen, by about day three you'll notice small bubbles appearing in the ginger mix each day when you add the ginger and sugar (see photo above). That means the natural yeasts in the air you're breathing have colonised the ginger beer plant, they're eating the sugar and giving off carbon dioxide - the bubbles.


Leave the mix sitting out on the kitchen counter during the entire seven day process and cover it with a loose weave cloth or net to allow the yeasts to enter but keep out insects. This is an entirely natural and very healthy process. Fermentation needs a warm environment to flourish so any Australian or New Zealand kitchen in summer, or any northern hemisphere heated kitchen in winter would provide the right temperature.



On the seventh day, feed the plant, and using a wire strainer and some muslin, cheese cloth or loose weave cotton, strain the ginger mix through the cloth into a large bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as possible into the bowl. This is what flavours  the drink and continues to ferment it in the bottles. If it hasn't started fermenting, give it another week - keep feeding it and see what happens.


When all the ginger starter is in the bowl, add four litres of water, 2 - 3 cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. Mix well until the sugar has dissolved.


Bottle this using plastic bottles and let them sit on the kitchen counter for a couple of days to continue fermenting and develop the fizz again. Then add the tops and put the bottles in the fridge.


When it's cold and you can see bubbles on the side of the bottle (see above), it's ready to drink.

If you want to make an alcoholic version of this, add ¼ teaspoon of brewers yeast that you can buy at the local brewing shop. The instructions and recipe for the River Cottage alcoholic ginger beer is here.


Once you have made the starter and strained the mix into your bowl, the remains of the starter can be used again to start off another batch. Throughly clean and sterilise the jar again, drop the old starter into the jar and repeat the above process. This time the mix will ferment quickly, probably on day two.

I know there a lot of germaphobes out there who are probably cringing while reading this post, but I encourage you all to try this. It's a similar thing to sourdough and yoghurt, using beneficial yeasts and bacterias to start the fermentation. This is better for you than a lot of the other soft drinks/sodas and it's a great drink to have over Christmas or at social events when you want to offer a non-alcoholic refreshing drink to both adults and children.

Comments are closed on this post.

51 comments:

  1. I made some for the first time this Christmas everyone loved it.

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  2. My friend Blogless Sandy is going to be beside herself reading this! She made a couple of starters for us 3 weeks ago using your old post. I've since divided my starter and given half to a friend at work, so the ginger beer is alive and well down here in Melbourne!
    The boys love it!
    One question: I notice you say to leave the bottle tops off. Why? Is it to stop explosions? We've been putting them on, and venting the gaS from the top if the bottles get a bit 'taut'. . Blogless sandy also divides her plant each week, whereas this time around I've put all of the solids back in my jar to see if it makes a difference to the taste.
    Thanks! I've been giving bottles away to friends and everyone's loving it.

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  3. This is so cool! I must make this, as I am a nut for ginger. Thank you.

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  4. This is so interesting, Rhonda! I have everything needed on hand already--I do believe I will give the non-alcoholic version a try. Thanks.

    I already make sourdough, yogurt, etc.--I am very excited to learn this new skill.

    ~Julie

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  5. I've been meaning to make ginger beer from your recipe for quite a while now. I guess this is just the reminder I needed!

    I've only ever had the modern, sweet soda pop version of American ginger ale, but I love a good, fizzy fermented beverage. So, I'm excited to see what this tastes like.

    Does using powdered ginger over fresh change the flavor at all?

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  6. This sounds like fun. Although I don't ever seem to be able to make sourdough, I have been successful with kieffer. I have never had ginger beer before I wonder how it will taste.

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  7. I really like ginger beer so I'll be following your recipe to make my own this summer...

    Thank you!

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  8. Hi Rhonda,

    I gave this ago from your old tutorial at the beginning of December. On about the third day i got bubbles, but the next day was a really hot one, so I put the air conditioner on which was really effective in cooling down the kitchen. After that - no bubbles. Not even any fermentation-like activity (that I could see). Could I have killed off the starter with the cool temperature?

    I ended up throwing it out as it really did not look "alive" in any way.

    Any ideas,
    Sincerely,
    Jen

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  9. Wean of the WoodsJanuary 25, 2012 6:23 am

    I've been thinking of doing this for a long time - your pictorial instructions have definately helped - I'll be starting tomorrow - thank you

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  10. This looks wonderful, how do you know this is truly non-alcoholic? Thank you, Renee

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  11. Have been eager to give ginger beer a go since finding my grand dads recipe in my books yesterday during a clean up. I can still remember the plant sitting on our kitchen bench when I was a little girl.

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  12. Hi frogdancer. I leave the tops off to continue collecting yeasts. When I see that it's fizzy and healthy, I put the tops on and put it in the fridge. There is no one way to do this. If what you're doing works, keep doing it. After you use the same starter a few times, like sourdough, the flavour develops more.

    Catie, fresh ginger has a sharper taste. If you're used to drinking commercial ginger beer, the powdered starter is closer to that taste. If you use fresh ginger, grate it up to a pulp and put it in a cloth to squeeze out the juice. You can add the pulp too but I think you get a cleaner taste without it.

    Jen, I doubt the change in temperature would have killed the culture. Did you give it a good mix every day? You can do it more than once a day to bring in more air. Did you have a layer of ginger over the top of the culture? Often the ginger rises to the tops and starves the mix below of oxygen. I think that is what happened. If you try again, just stir it more often. Fermenting liquids love oxygen.

    Renee, the only way you'd be able to tell that it's not alcoholic is to test it. I have been drinking this for many years and given it to children and none of us ever felt even slightly intoxicated.

    Kate, is granddad's recipe similar?

    Good luck with your drinks, everyone!

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  13. Good timing! My kids & I bought a bottle of ginger beer yesterday and I was telling them how much better homemade tastes & we thought we should make some! My mum used to make huge quantities of it, but I recall sultanas in the plant - perhaps to help with yeasts? And like beer brewing she added sugar to each bottle. I also recall a story of my parents coming home to a toilet full of ginger beer after a large batch exploded (glass bottles).
    Cant wait to start!
    Thank-you!

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  14. This brought back fond memories .... my grandmother used to make it. We kids were never allowed a taste and there seemed to be a 'hush-hush' about it, which makes me suspect it was the alcoholic kind. Lol! Your instructions are so good that I'm debating whether or not to try making it ... guess I'm a little cautious about the taste - would it be along the lines of bottle ginger ale?

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  15. Tracey, if your starter doesn't develop for some reason, adding organic sultanas or grapes aften brings in the yeasts you need. Once they're in there and have started feeding, they multiply and you're off.

    Kate, ginger ale and ginger beer are two different drinks. Ginger beer is a greyish colour and if you can imagine lemonade that tastes of ginger, not lemons, that's it.

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  16. ahh we are just about to try making this! i've got a recipe that uses some sultanas to start the fermentation process (not sure if that'll make it alcoholic or not)

    i haven't made it since my childhood... and i have been collecting bottles, but i'm wondering now whether i should be using the bottles i've collected?

    I've managed to get my hands on some glass swing top grolsch bottles... they're pretty solid little bottles, but now i'm worried they might explode? should i have been collecting plastic bottles instead? don't want to cause glass explosions or lose my lovely bottles!
    amy

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  17. amy, I can't advise one way of the other, love. I have Grolsch bottles here too and I love them but I tend to use plastic for this. Most of the time the ginger beer won't be strong enough to make anything explode but I have had bottles that do almost explode when I take the lid off. The contents shoot out like a rocket. I have heard of glass bottles exploding in the past. If you store your bottles in the fridge for a week or so before drinking, you should be right.

    This is a natural process and you can't tell what yeasts or bacteria you'll capture. Sometimes it's mild, sometimes it's far from it.

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  18. Perfectly timed Rhonda! Over the next few days I wanted to make a ginger cordial but I think this would be much more fun. Being smitten on making sourdough, I love my bacteria :-)

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  19. No aussie summer would be complete without the making of ginger beer and exploding bottles .... ahhh the good ole days.
    Must make some so my children can now enjoy this experience :) thanks for posting this Rhonda.
    Cheers Julie

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  20. Sorry, I deleted this by mistake:

    Gooseberry Jam said...
    Hi Rhonda, I made this Ginger beer from your tutorial also just before Christmas and it was delicious! I used the fresh ginger though and it had a lovely bite to it. It was so refreshing. I plan on trying the ground ginger next time to see the difference.
    Do you know if I want to make a double batch can I just double the ingredients or should I make another separate plant?

    P.S Looking forward to adding your book to my reading list very soon.

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  21. Hi Karen,

    I don't think it would matter either way but if I were to do it I would make two batches. I'm not sure why, it just sounds right. The powder version takes like the commercial ginger beer. Good luck with your brewing.

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  22. Hi Rhonda....i love ginger beer and used to make it many years ago but always had trouble with the glass bottles exploding.
    Our lovely neighbours gave us a few bottles at Christmas and again they exploded ( only just missed the twins as i had them inside on kitchen bench)
    I'm going to give your recipe a try as i would love to have some again but am really worried about them exploding...i guess i could try the plastic bottles but do you have any tips about storage or what i might be doing wrong?
    I was so upset to have not been able to taste the neighbours as i could tell they were so proud to have gifted us some and i didn't have his vbottles to return either!!
    Thanks for taking the time with such a great tutorial.

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  23. I made ginger beer last year and didn't care much for it...too spicy from the ginger. My dh loved it though! I guess I just might have to try it again using less ginger or maybe trying the powdered ginger (which seems to be milder) instead of fresh ginger.

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  24. I think Rhonda mentioned it but to keep bottles from exploding (as easily), refrigerate them for a few days after the initial bottling/resting a day at room temperature uncapped. Under refrigeration, the fermentation slows but still proceeds without drastic, sudden changes in pressure.

    Personally, we just cap our ginger beer right away and let rest for 24-48 hours, testing the plastic bottles for tautness. Once taut/too hard to squeeze, we chill for 3 days and then consume. We haven't had a bottle rupture yet but we do use only plastic bottles.

    We have also used both ground, dried ginger and grated fresh. The dried ginger seems to have a more mellow flavor while the fresh ginger has more snap, zing or pallet cleansing effect. I like them both for different reasons.

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  25. Hi Rhonda, I tried making this a few months ago (during winter) but I had no success so I suspect our house was too cold. I have another batch underway and this time I definitley have some fermentation going! I just wanted to check, is this meant to develop a sort of 'gooey' texture? It smells just like ginger beer so I am looking forward to trying it :)
    ~ Nicola.

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  26. Rhonda, I like Jen (comment a way up the page) had the air conditioner on one day, and seem to have killed my plant. It was so healthy and smelt fantastic, then after a day with aircon on, nothing, no bubbles or movement. It mustn't like being subjected to sudden cold. Anyway, I'll start again today, fingers crossed. LOL, if it gets too hot again, I'll put it in the garage while I aircondition the house. Thanks so much - Jo

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  27. Hi!

    I am relatively new to the fermenting world. I currently have 3 liters of Kombucha brewing, a sourdough starter sitting in the fridge (so far 2 batches of bread made recently), and Ginger Beer aging in 9 Grolsch bottles. I used the oven with the light on to get a nice warm temperature for the lacto-fermented Ginger get going. This was in a glass Corning Ware pot with a cover on it. Next to that I had the Sourdough rising, also covered, but with a plastic shower cap (which works great!). When I looked at the Ginger the next day, it had a thing dry film on it. No weird smell. When I toughed it with a spoon, it broke up into fragments. I have since bottled it and had it in the fridge after almost a week in room temp. There is some ginger sediment at the bottom but also some suspended floaty particles in the top 1/4" of the liquid. I tried some on Saturday night and it had a bit of fizz, was still quite sweet. It was only mabe 2 hours later that I felt some reaction on my lips. No swelling, just a tingle. Any comments of what's up with my brew? Is this a normal reaction when home fermenting? Should I dump the works?

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  28. Hi Everyone. What a wonderful post. I've been reading up about making my own ginger beer so I'm going to give it a go... I've a couple of questions though. How long will the bottles full of ginger beer keep for, and do they have to be kept in the fridge? I've been buying an organic mass produced ginger beer for a while and I love it. I remember an aunt used to make her own back in the 80's so I'm gonna give it a go. Thanks for the post.

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  29. James, it's best to store them in the fridge. When you leave them out, depending on the yeasts, most of them continue to ferment and you might have a bottle explode. That's why you also need to use plastic, not glass, bottles. I'm not sure how long it will last in the fridge. At least three months, that's as long as I've kept it.

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  30. To make alcoholic gb do I put the yeast in when Ive added water to the starter??? Or in the bottles when bottling up advice would be great

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  31. I've been looking for a good old fashioned ginger beer recipe that does not call for the addition of yeast or ages and that actually included easy to follow reps. Top marks for this, have bookmarked and will be recommending to others.

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  32. Hi Rhonda Jean
    I read the recipe after Brisbane received a drenching last weekend. Does it have to be rainwater?

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  33. If you use heavily chlorinated water from the tap, it may not encourage the growth of the natural yeasts. To use tap water, pour enough into a jug and leave it overnight for the chlorine to evaporate off.

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  34. Hi Rhonda Jean. I have a batch fermenting on its 2nd day but it seems to be a bit sludgy and the liquid doesn't appear clear like your photos. I have been giving it a good shake a couple of times a day to try to disperse the floating top. Should I keep going or have I killed another plant.
    Any suggestions are appreciated.
    Thank you
    Cheers

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  35. Stir it with a fork a few times a day, feed it and leave it alone with a cover over it. It will develop if you've followed the instructions and the temperature is right.

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  36. In your instructions you state "on the seventh day, feed the plant .." Excuse my ignorance but what do you mean by feed the plant?

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  37. Robert, these are instructions for making a ginger beer plant - that's what this concoction is called.

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  38. Hi, I love this post. I've been on the land for most of my (longish) life, and over the years have tried to live as naturally as possible. Of course, there are lots of times in this busy world when it's convenient, and even necessary, to buy commercially made goods, but it's so nice to see you, Rhonda, taking the time and effort to impart your knowledge. Good on you. Lyn

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  39. Hi Rhonda,

    Your recipe is very similar to mine except when I bottle (definitely plastic now)the brew I add 1-2 sultanas and this really starts the fermentation process. I prefer this method as I try to stay away from yeast as much as possible. I think Ginger Beer on a hot day beats any other drink hands down.

    We are going back to our sailing life and your preserving recipes will be a great help in stocking our pantry for long hauls.

    Cheers

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  40. Great recipe, have made the non alcoholic one with much success. When do I add the yeast to the alcoholic one?

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  41. ooooh, lovely. I want to make this. I've been reading a book on fermentation and saw this in there, too. And I just started a kefir jar, too, with a start from a friend. I'm enjoying exploring fermentation!

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  42. I'm about to give this recepie a shot tomorrow night If i wanted to make a larger batch (say 18L) should i just scale up the recepie?

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  43. Rhonda great post.
    I will have to check out your other recipes.
    With regards to the plant, how long can you store if for between. brews?
    Also how do you store it keeping it alive?
    Cheers

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  44. Hi Rhondda

    Thanks for the page. Very good work. Any chance of some advice. Mine didn't work. So I left it by the window and forgot about it. Now it is all bubbly and smells like its fermenting 14 days plas since last feed. All my ginger is floating on the top. Good, bad or indifferent? Btw how is nz? Spend a few years there myself

    William

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  45. I'm very silly! When feeding the mix I've added the water every day along with the ginger and sugar! Should I give this up as a failed batch or wait and see if it grows? Been in the jar for 3days now.

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  46. I am trying to determine which part of the mix is the actual Ginger Beer Plant. I've had a healthy natural ferment using the ginger and sugar recipe given earlier and I've been looking for the gelatinous grains which others have referred to.

    I think I see some grains about the size of salt crystals on the bottom of the jar. Do these get bigger as you repeat the process?

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  47. Sorry Rhoda, I am Greg and I posted the previous comment. Actually I'm in NY and the weather has been warm and steamy so plenty of yeasts are floating around. I used the recipe to create the GBP by starting with sugar and ginger and adding each day. After a week I added the liquid in the starter to a mixture of 2 liters water to a cup of sugar and a hefty amount of ginger. Well it took a day before I became worried about the plastic container exploding and the next day I had a wonderful sparkling ginger beer. Again, I suspect my starter is rich with yeasts but the so called authentic GBP has a much wider array of bacteria and yeast symbiotic.

    My question is whether there is a difference in the beverage produced by the genuine ginger beer plant which looks like gelatinous grains as opposed to the sediment like yeast.

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    Replies
    1. Greg, the ginger-sugar-water mix is the ginger beer plant. It sounds like it made up well for you. I think the gelatinous grains you're referring to are kefir grains.

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  48. Hello Rhonda, Thank you for all you do!! I have a question, I am on day 7 of my ginger beer (NA) I am in the US, it is hot out, but we do run the Air in the house, but at 80 degrees. I used grated ginger root, and white sugar, and I have never seen bubbles of any kind in my ginger beer - I was going to go a day 8 of feeding, and then process - but I am worried this isn't fermented at all - should I process and drink anyway? It smells nice, but no bubbles. ever.
    Thanks!!

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    Replies
    1. Let it sit there till it ferments. Are you stirring it every day? Leave the cover off during the day and put it on every night and see how you go.

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