Everybody has some consumable they are a connoisseur for. Some folks know all the different names of the heirloom tomatoes and which are best for sauce vs. sandwiches. Others will have 8 kinds of olive oil in their pantry, one for every occasion. Then of course, there’s chocolate and cheese and vinegar and wine, all simply thrilling to those whose passions are ignited by these pleasures.
My husband is a Vosges (look it up) guy. My daughter loves her Harrod’s teas. I am partial to Marini’s salt water taffy.
But we all love Ginger Beer. Yes, it must be capitalized.
Here’s the problem: pretty much all the good Ginger Beers are expensive, which makes sense when you consider that there’s a lot more to it than adding carbonation to sugar syrup, as in regular soda manufacturing.
For many years, we’ve enjoyed Reed’s Ginger Brew or Bundaberg. There are others but these are the most readily available here in the hills. Both are tasty, but neither has the amount of kick that we like in our favorite beverage. And at almost $1.50 a bottle for either one, these stayed on the “when we can afford it” list.
Wanting to experiment with making my own, I picked up Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. I fell in love immediately. The book is a combination of philosophy and chemistry, plain talk about sauerkraut and miso, yes, but also Katz’s Radical Faerie community in Tennessee. Most interesting is how he looks at our role in micro-ecology:
By eating a variety of live fermented foods, you promote diversity among microbial cultures in your body…by fermenting food and drinks with wild microorganisms present in your home environment, you become more interconnected with the life forces around you. Your environment becomes you, as you invite the microbial populations you share with Earth with to enter your diet and your intestinal ecology.
I love the idea of working with the prevalent energies of our own space; asking the micro-creatures we live with to take up residence in our food (and in us!) Fermentation is cool because you can see and hear and smell the life happening, so quick! Like magick. And there are lots of things we can ferment, but we’ll talk about cheese and yogurt and kombucha another day!
Right now it’s all about the GB. So with a big loving smooch to Mr. Katz, from whom this recipe originally came, here we go…
What ya need to make a gallon of awesomely delicious, living Ginger Beer:
- Organic Ginger, maybe 6 ounces or so (One could also use conventional Ginger, but I’ve heard that the irradiating that they do to it slows down the process)
- Sugar, about 2 cups for the whole shebang (I usually use pure cane sugar, sometimes the kind that I keep with a vanilla bean in it for flavor)
- Juice of 2 Lemons (AKA just under ½ cup)
- Water (This should not be chlorinated water (chlorine kills the good bugs!) so if you use tap water, either leave it out on the counter overnight before using, or boil it for 20 minutes or run it through your Brita or other filtering system)
- Stainless-steel, glass, or wood utensils
What ya do:
First, make the Ginger Bug (I love that name!):
Add about 2 teaspoons of grated or finely chopped Ginger and 2 teaspoons of Sugar to 1 cup of Water. Cover it with cheesecloth or butter muslin and leave in a warm spot for a few days, but out of direct sunlight.What’s happening here is that you are creating a hospitable environment for the Yeast present on the Ginger or attracted out of the air to grow. This is an invocation. You made a welcoming place and have invited this spirit to come and work with you. Be aware of your partnership.
Every day spend a few moments with the Bug. Give it a little more Ginger, a pinch more Sugar. Stir it up. Say a prayer of kinship. Within a couple of days to a week, you will see tiny bubbles forming on the surface of the water. This is your Yeast, living it up and getting fat and happy in the delicious home you’ve made for it! Now you can make your Ginger Beer whenever you want.*
Second, make the Brew:
Boil 2 quarts of Water. (“Hello, fire!”) Add about 2 or 3 or 4 ounces of grated or finely chopped Ginger. I usually use 4 and it’s quite spicy! Add 1 ½ cups of Sugar. Boil for an additional 15 minutes. Let it cool.
Next, strain out the Ginger from the mix, add the Lemon Juice and ¼ cup of the Ginger Bug. Add enough water to make 1 gallon. I usually do this by using ½ gallon Mason Jars, adding water to the mix til they’re full. That’s because I have ½ gallon Mason Jars. If you have 1 gallon apple juice containers instead, use those!
You’ll want to make sure everything is mixed up good, but not too aggressively. Remember there are living beings in that brew.
Finally, bottle it up, using very clean resealable, reusable bottles. I like to use recycled amber bottles from Grolsch beer, or Virgil’s root beer.**
Leave it in a warm place for a week or two. I usually put the bottles in some kind of tray, maybe an old cook pan, just in case of leakage. Look at it every day. Say hello. Be happy that the miracle of microscopic life is happening right there in those bottles! After 1 week, pop the top and see how it is. I like to use smaller bottles so when I uncap one, if it’s not ready, I still have lots more to leave set for longer.
Making Ginger Beer is really easy and such a great end result. I love to see the yeast growing, love the process of mixing it all together, love the pretty bottles full of healthy deliciousness. I encourage you to try it and let us know how you do!
*If you want to keep your Bug around, keep feeding it a little sugar and a little ginger every couple of days, or put it in the frig and only feed it weekly. You’ll also want to keep adding a bit of water each time, so you don’t end up with just a jar full of sweet, soggy ginger! You can also do this once you’ve taken out enough to make a batch of Brew.
**Or, if ya have to buy new bottles, these are very cool: