What happened to my summer holidays? Just as I was getting my blogging mojo back it was time to go back to work and dive into a different headspace.
Through the hot days I’ve been experimenting with cordials and non-alcoholic drinks. To start with there was the delicious lemon cordial (50:50 lemon juice and sugar syrup, a little citric acid to help preserve it and a dash of rose water) and an interesting attempt to make elderflower cordial from dried flowers (nice but still a work in progress).
But the biggest production of the summer was making ginger beer.
I love ginger beer, a dry NZ one in particular unavailable anywhere outside of my homeland and quite difficult to get even when you are there (sold only in cafes etc not over the counter). I first made it myself in my childhood with lots of help from my mum, then at least twice after I moved to Australia. There are memories of sticky bottling sessions and exploding glass bottles, though this time there was only some of the former and thankfully none of the later.
I used Pip’s ginger beer recipe as a template but skipped on the vanilla.
To make the ginger beer bug/plant
1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger
1 rounded teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
Mix in a large jar that can hold at least 4 cups of water and cover with a piece of muslin (keep it in place with a rubber band).
Leave in a temperate place – remember yeast is activated best at body temperature. You want it to bubble a little; it’s a good sign.
Feeding the bug
Each day add 1 teaspoon of dried ginger and 1 tsp of sugar to the bug and give it a stir.
Add 2 cups of warm water to the bug.
Each day add 2 teaspoons of dried ginger and 2 teaspoons of sugar to the bug and give it a stir.
Making the ginger beer
After 14 days of feeding the bug it’s time to bottle. Timing is rather crucial so this might dictate when you’re going to start the bug. You also need to collect bottles. I did this the old fashioned way by using beer bottles (in this case Coopers which are good strong glass and don’t have a screw cap) plus some caps and a cheap gadget to knock the caps on with the help of a hammer. Pip used plastic bottles but I think glass is a healthier option (and the PET bottles I put in the dishwasher distorted with the heat). Whatever type of bottles you use make sure they are sterilized either through a hot dishwasher cycle (leave in there til dry) or use the sterilizing tablets that are sold for making beer. If I remember my chemistry correctly, a bottle that looks clean but has traces of bacteria can be one of the causes of exploding bottles.
This recipe makes about 14 litres of ginger beer so you need a big enough container to mix it all up in. Remember to make sure it is scrupulously clean.
Collect the gingery goop by straining the bug through muslin, give it a good squeeze. (You can use the goop as a started bug for another batch if desired).
Mix the strained fluid with:
48 cups warm water
1 cup lemon juice
7 cups (original recipe recommends 8 cups) of sugar*
Now start bottling. Do this with a friend as it’s a lot easier having one person bottle and the other to bang on the seals. I used a mix of stubbies and long neck bottles plus a jug and funnel to pour in the fluid. Leave about an inch of air at the top of the bottle.
Leave in a cool place for a week. If using glass, considering the small risk of exploding bottles, I'd not leave it in the house. After a week, test a bottle and see if it’s matured enough. I found it needed another few days to brew just the right amount of fizz.
However if you are making this in hot summer weather, like I did be warned. I transferred half the bottles to the fridge (a energy wasting beer fridge turned on just for this purpose) within a week of them maturing but left the others unrefridgerated in the shed for another couple of weeks – half of those fermented, so be warned.
I had a few issues with this recipe – the cup business being one of them. Are they teacups, US cups, whatever? Even when you work out what cup measurement you want to use, different sugars measure different weights. We used organic, raw sugar and calculated that 7 US cups of sugar = 1.75g. I.5g raw sugar would be the maximum I’d use again, probably less. I like my ginger beer drier.
If I make this again I’d cut down further on the sugar and make it even gingerier. I’d like to grate fresh ginger to extract the juice and add some of that (a couple of tablespoons?) to the final mix. I’ve also enjoyed ginger beer made with honey and more lemon…so there are infinite possibilities.
All drunk, the only record of the beer now are some empty bottles and these hastily scrawled labels done late at night with no finesse!