How to make home-fermented ginger beer
A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook. My food writing is collected at https://counter.kitchen.
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I do a lot of fermenting in general. I have never really gotten into alcohol fermentation, but I’ve been interested in fermented soft drinks. I played around with water kefir for a bit, but didn’t really find it to be much to my taste. I don’t drink a lot of soda, but homemade ginger beer is really good, and it makes outstanding Mules if you’re into that. It’s super easy, and you can dial in the amount of ginger you like.
Notes on the method
Traditionally, ginger beer is made with a “ginger bug”. This mixture of ground ginger, sugar, and water contains enough natural yeast and bacteria to ferment and produce CO2, which will carbonate a beverage. I’ve played around with using a ginger bug, but it requires a lot of maintenance to keep it going and it needs to be fed often with sugar, so I don’t think it’s really worth doing unless you make a lot or really like the flavor better. I prefer to take a bit of a shortcut and use regular commercial baking yeast, which is optimized to eat sugar and excrete CO2. I found this recipe from Epicurious. It calls for grating the ginger and squeezing out the juice, but an omega masticating juicer does an amazing job of ginger juice extraction and produces ginger beer with a much stronger ginger flavor, so I do that. The ginger juice freezes well in cubes, so you can juice a huge batch all at once and then make the ginger beer later easily.
The basic recipe is very simple — mix ginger juice (2–4tbsp depending on how strong you want it), sugar (1 cup), lemon juice (1.5 tbsp), and yeast (1/4 tsp) together in a 2-liter bottle, top it off with water leaving about an inch of head space, and let sit for a day or two to ferment and build up pressure which will carbonate the liquid. Then you chill, and it can keep in the fridge for a good long time. Some fermentations will develop an alcohol or vinegar tinge if left too long, but I’ve never detected any from using SAF yeast, even after a few months. This may vary with the kind of yeast you use.
My yeast brand of preference is SAF Gold, which is specially formulated to be sugar tolerant, and it works very well in this and also all kinds of doughs. I have also used SAF Red yeast for making ginger beer, and it works well but not as well. They’re similar or the same in price, so I don’t see any reason to keep the Red around anymore and I just use Gold for everything.
This process works ok if you just use the regular plastic cap, but I’ve been using E-Z pressure-regulating caps and I like them. They’re regular bottle caps with a small hole and a rubber sheet with a tiny slit, which allows buildup of enough pressure to carbonate the drink but will vent any excess to avoid messes if you accidentally forget about it. I switch it to a regular cap after opening it the first time. If you find that it goes flat after storing in the fridge for a little while, you can leave it out for another day at room temperature and it should carbonate again if it hasn’t been too long.
An important note about glass bottles
It’s less likely with a commercial yeast ferment than it is with a natural bug ferment of unknown strength, but ferments done in glass bottles can explode violently. I don’t see any real benefit to doing them that way and possible very dangerous downside, so I recommend against using glass for this.
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