How to Make Your Own Ginger Beer
Natural carbonated beverages made at home, using
fermentation, are fun, delicious, and healthy.
By Michelle Branco
Eating a diet of whole foods that are both
delicious and unprocessed has been an important goal for our family as our
children grow up. Like many families, it is a work in progress and we are
learning all the time.
Some of the changes have been easy – fresh
seasonal produce actually does taste better, after all. Some of the changes
have been harder. For example, I have been unable to unlearn my love of soft
drinks. There’s something about the sweet fizzy rush that I just can’t seem
to kick. Sparkling water with some lemon or even some fruit juice is a fair
substitute, but there’s something about the sweet fizz that just isn’t
captured in a spritzer.
After trying a natural ginger beer one day, I
decided to see if I might make a batch at home without any refined sugar at
all. Memories of the exploding beer bottle in a childhood friend’s garage
gave me some pause, though – so I worked up my courage with some research
about how one might go about carbonating beverages using home fermentation.
There are several approaches to fermenting
ginger in order to carbonate the beer. The traditional approach is to use
the Ginger Beer Plant, which is, in fact, not a plant but a SCOBY: an
organism that symbiotically combines bacteria and yeast. The same type of
organism is used to cause fermentation in drinks such as the dairy-based
kefir and tea-based kombucha. While there are a small number of producers
who sell the Ginger Beer Plant, the supply is small.
Water-based kefir drinks are also another
option that some home brewers have had success with. Water kefir grains are
similar to dairy kefir grains, but are not interchangeable. Their appearance
is quite different, with a firmness and translucency that reminds me of
chopped well-cooked cauliflower.
Several online sources directed me to a
whey-based fermentation process for water-based drinks. Since this was
readily available, I ran a couple of experimental batches using different
proportions of whey. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any consistent
results and the quality was poor. It would seem that it is possible, but
prepare for some failures.
|Read more about fermented foods
While the health benefits associated with the
beneficial bacteria in the live cultures such as kefir are worth seeking
out, procuring and caring for them poses a barrier that can be hard to
overcome when you’re not entirely sure how much you’d like to invest in the
The results from commercial yeast, which most
cooks have in their kitchen already, are fairly reliable and can be an
encouraging nudge to try different methods down the road. The reliability of
the yeast also allows experimentation with honey as the sweetener rather
than more processed sugars.
Remember that the yeasts need sugar to survive
and that honey’s anti-bacterial properties inhibit their growth somewhat.
Thus, the drink will be sweeter at the beginning of fermentation than at the
end – you may need to add additional sweetener at the end, in fact.
There is always some alcohol produced in any
anaerobic fermentation process – even in bread making. While the exact
alcohol content will vary, the levels for these types of recipes are far
lower than in traditional beer or wine making. They are typically well under
0.5%, which is considered non-alcoholic.
Homemade ginger beer is nothing like the ginger
ales commercially available. The carbonation is subtler; it’s quite a lot
livelier and can have a strong bite to it. Over ice, that makes for a
refreshing drink, but you may find that cutting with carbonated water makes
it more palatable for kids who are looking for that familiar sweet fizz.
Recipe with Yeast
1 big piece ginger root, more or less peeled, cut
into small pieces (about 1/2 cup of pieces)
water, preferably spring water (without chlorine)
2/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp lemon juice (optional)
1/2 tsp commercial yeast
Place ginger root pieces
and 1 cup of water in blender. Blend on high until you have a purée (adding
more water as necessary to keep it moving).
Bring remaining water to a boil and add honey, stirring until dissolved.
Add in ginger and stir until blended. Remove from heat. Stir in cream of
tartar and lemon juice if using.
Let cool until lukewarm warm. Strain through a fine strainer and pour
into a 2L plastic pop bottle. (I actually used water bottles 700ml and 1.5L
each). Add yeast and swirl until dissolved – adding additional water if
needed, leaving a couple inches of head space.
Cap bottle(s) and place in a quiet corner – avoid shaking them and keep
them away from curious hands. The plastic bottles will start to firm up
after about 24 to 36 hours – when they are hard, it means the carbonation is
complete. Keep testing them and don’t forget about them.
The sediment at the bottom of the bottle is safe to drink, but not
appetizing. Decant the ginger beer carefully and slowly to minimize the
cloudiness. Place in the fridge until well chilled – and enjoy!
Michelle Branco is a freelance writer and
blogger. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding,
product safety and, of course, food. Her much-put-upon family serves as lab
assistants, taste testers, and clean-up crew. She is also an International
Board Certified Lactation Consultant and when she’s not at the keyboard or
experimenting in the kitchen, she runs a private lactation consultancy
practice at Latch Lactation.