Monday, January 18, 2010

ginger beer

A special hello to those who've Stumbled on the blog. Scroll down to the end of the page for the ginger beer recipe or click on the recipe finder in the sidebar for other delicious, simple and healthy treats to make.

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.

The Recipe

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

Week 1:
Each day add 1 teaspoon of dried ginger and 1 tsp of sugar to the bug and give it a stir.

Week 2:
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.

* Modifications

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!

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Blogger Lucy said...


With honey would've been amazing - next time?

Never made the stuff. Clearly it makes huge quantities. Ever made a smaller amount with success?

1:31 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Yes honey, NZ honey I reckon.

Smaller batches? I just don't know. An old school friend who contacted me said she'd made ginger beer without all the bug feeding and with grapefruit - Cathy if you read this, can you send me the recipe?

2:06 pm  
Blogger Gastronomy Gal said...

Oh- I loved my grandfather's home made ginger beer and wish he was still here to make it. You did a great job = obviously told by the empty bottles. I'm so impatient!!

1:32 pm  
Anonymous Zootalaws said...

Living in a 'dry' Muslim country, a lot of us Kiwi expats are brewing alcoholic ginger beer.

For a couple of reasons - the raw materials are really easy to get, and cheap! Ginger beer is refreshing and looks enough like a soft drink to not get you in trouble with the authorities down at the beach, etc.

Suffice it to say, on the equator finding somewhere cool to store your brew is nearly impossible - with night-time temperatures of around 25C, this stuff brews fast and furiously.

The biggest problem I have had is getting the gas down - I have stretched some Coke 1.5L bottles till they look like a weird rugby ball - no explosions yet, but my mucker has had an evening of cleaning out his kitchen cupboards - a PITA, especially when the first to notice are the ants!

I am brewing in our laundry - a wet room with standing tap and a flexible wall-mounted tap designed for sluicing the room down. I haven't had any disasters yet, but mostly because we started off small and drank it within a few days.

My second, third and fourth batches got bigger and bigger as I got more bottles and a bigger brewing vessel.

My recipe is:

Raw ginger plant (no dried ginger here) - about 4 lemons - juiced and zested. Limes and/or oranges to taste. Mandarin adds a nice depth note.
Spices - I have used star anise, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, a hot fresh chili, cloves. All in different quantities and combinations.
750gm of fresh young ginger to 20L of water
One bakers yeast sachet (7gms?) to get the bug started
3 250cc cups of caster sugar to 20L water

I process the ginger and juice and zest the lemon. Put the ginger, lemon zest, sugar and spices in a pot with 5L of water and boil - then simmer for half an hour.

I taste it at this stage to make sure I have the flavour I want - if not, this is the time to make those changes.

Strain this mixture (I use a coulis strainer - the kind for making purees) and add to cold water to make up to 20L

I don't add the raw yeast - I used it at the beginning to make a bug - I add double what is there in water, then put half of that in my brew (when it's cooled). Then continue on feeding and watering the bug as normal.

Once it is all in, I give i a stir and leave it covered under my kitchen bench. 5 days later its smelling pretty alcoholic...

At this stage, it is pretty sour/dry and flat. I adjust the sweetness and decant it into clean coke/sprite bottles. They are remarkably robust - I have it on good authority the bottle can take around 100psi, the cap around 40. All my friends explosions have been of the cap blowing off and massive outgassing variety. I don't think you can keep reusing the soft drink bottles indefinitely - if they have 'rugby balled' they go to the recycle bin...

In this climate, a couple of hours later and the bottles are starting to feel hard. Time to get it into the fridge.

A couple or five days later, it is ready - too much fizz is the norm, rather than being flat and there is a definite kick.

We have experimented with 'soft' GB, way too much fizz, so I need to adjust the amount of yeast and the time it spends in the warm.

6:12 am  
Anonymous Zootalaws said...

The alcoholic brew is more difficult due to the sugar all being converted to booze - so it is sour and tart. Adding sugar at this stage gets it fermenting again, but we like a reasonably sweet brew - it's a fine juggling act.

I have just finished my latest brew - one star anise, half a cinnamon stick, teaspoon of coriander seeds and a split ripe red chili - it is full of flavour and the chili gives it a bit more bite than you get from the ginger alone. I have a packet of juniper berries, which is one of the flavourings used by Fentimans in the UK. I will replace the star anise with a few Juniper in the next batch. Star anise is STRONG! I used four or five at the beginning - now I just use one.

I have refrigerated half of the latest brew within a couple of hours of decanting it, the other half I will leave 24 hours to see if there is a marked difference in the gas content.

One thing I am not doing is going mad with sterilisation. This stuff doesn't hang around, so I am less concerned with dying than I am with getting the process started and finished in reasonable time.

After all, brewing was one way our forebears made untreated water palatable - the yeast is remarkably good at killing off bad bugs. The bottles get a good wash with sunlight and hot water then are air dried. my brewing vessel (a 25L bucket) similarly gets a good scrubbing and a rinse with weak ammonia solution and left to stand an hour between brews and is only used for this - no dirty nappies :)

So far there have been no dodgy tummies or other symptoms that can't be attributed to an overindulgence in alcohol - I have had a couple of cracking hangovers and would love to perfect the recipe to get it to the stage where I know how much alcohol I am making... Using my yardstick of houw many 5% alcohol euro-brew pints I can drink to how silly I get, I suspect it is near 4%...

6:14 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Howdy Kiwi. I love the spices you are using. Hmm coriander seeds...interesting! Can't wait to hear how the juniper berries work out.

A couple of thoughts on fizz. Heat. I'm guessing you are in a hot climate. Some of the ginger beer I made last summer and left in an outdoor laundry (where the temp ranged between 20-40c) "turned" (started to ferment, some to the point there was no fizz at all), while the ones that were refridgerated within a few days of bottling were fine.

Also the sterilization thing, its not so much about tummy bugs but the bacteria can cause super fizziness or early fermentation. The batches I made 20 years ago as a student with beer bottles that had just had a bit of a hot wash and air dry, tended to explode more frequently. I had no exploding bottles using the dishwasher to sterilize them. Oh and I tried putting PET bottles through the dishwasher but they got distorted.

On PET bottles. Healthwise I don't like them. They are designed for single use. I wonder if chemicals leach out of the plastic, especially with the alcoholic versions. I stick to old fashioned glass.

8:46 am  
Anonymous michael said...

question: when are you guys putting these spices in? into the original plant? or to the finished product? as in boil them in the water? thanks

11:23 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Michael, reading Zootalaws method sounds like they throw it in at the beginning.

Personally, I'd follow the beer brewing route and add one piece of spice to the bottle, when bottling.

2:43 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

excellent, i like that bottling idea.
personally when i make my plant i use:

ground ginger, fresh ginger, vanilla bean, sultanas, yeast, sugar (white). for 5 days.

now i am experimenting with different sugars, this time i split the batches and have done raw sugar, plain sugar and honey.

the other thing i wanted to experiment with was the lemon in the final stage. i understand from my reading that lemon is used as a steriliser and for the fizzing process.

i am tempted to try using orange at the end instead of lemon, but i have the feeling that it will not have the same result. i am thinking of doing a small batch to test this, but i don't want to do anything that might be silly with yeasts and bacterias.

has anyone tried substituting the lemon juice for orange? does it work?

4:13 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Michael get back to us with your experiment results. I like lemon/lime mainly as it cuts the sweetness. Not sure if orange would do it? Cumquat or bitter orange though could be very interesting!

4:40 pm  

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