I am not advocating anything illegal here. I merely want to point out that unless authorities ban ginger, sugar and water, anyone under the age of 21 or living in a dry state such as Tennessee can make alcoholic ginger beer pretty easily.
Ginger beer tastes like grown up ginger-ale with a spicy kick that burns the back of your throat in a pleasant sort of way. I haven’t actually measured the alcohol content (apparently I need a hydrometer) but I would guess by my ginger beer’s effects that it comes in around the low to mid single digits.
To make ginger beer, you first need to make a ginger bug, a starter that will ferment your drink and transform ordinary ingredients into delicious bubbly goodness. I have read ginger beer recipes that call for commercial yeast and they probably taste good but I prefer to ferment everything in sight via the microbes present on food, in the air, and on my hands. Have you watched the Portlandia clip “We Can Pickle That”? My younger daughter says I’ve crossed that line.
You’ll find my instructions for ginger bug here. Basically, you grate up a tablespoon of ginger, combine it with a tablespoon of sugar and 1 cup or so of water and feed your bug more ginger and sugar daily for about five days until it bubbles vigorously, smells yeasty and the ginger floats (notice the floating ginger in my bug in the pic below). At that point, you can start your ginger beer (or other fermented drinks like this lemonade or this hibiscus soda).
Ginger Beer Ingredients
- Water. I don’t have a problem with chlorine in my water but if you do, fill a large vessel with water half a day or so before you’ll brew your drink and the chlorine will dissipate. You want to do this because chlorine kills microbes. Without microbes, your drink will not ferment.
- Sugar. I usually use evaporated cane sugar for my ginger beer. Any type of plain sugar will work.
- Ginger. I have messed up ferments by adding too much salt, by fermenting them too long (mushy dill pickles anyone?) or by just neglecting them and failing to notice problems like a mushy top layer (at least you can scrape that off and fix it). But only once did a ferment refuse to bubble to life—my attempt at pickled ginger. I later read in The Art of Fermentation that non-organic ginger may be irradiated, which kills the microbes. I must not have used organic.
- Lemon (optional). Occasionally I toss in some lemon if I have it on hand. Add a few tablespoons or to taste.
- Measurements. I roughly follow a ratio of 1/2 cup sugar : 4 cups diluted ginger-water : 1/4 to 1/2 cup ginger bug liquid
1. Cut up five or six inches of organic ginger into 1/8-inch pieces. You may want your ginger beer less or more spicy than mine. You don’t have to peel the ginger but I do so I can then make candied ginger out of the ginger pieces. I follow this Alton Brown recipe and flavor kombucha with my candied ginger. So good!
2. Place the ginger and three cups or so of water in a pot. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
3. While your ginger simmers, stir your ginger bug up. Be sure to incorporate all the white yeasty residue at the bottom of your ginger bug container into the liquid. This is microbe gold. Strain out about 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid from your ginger bug.
4. When the ginger has finished simmering, strain out the ginger pieces. My liquid reduced by half.
5. In a large vessel, combine sugar and ginger water. I added 1 cup of sugar. After the sugar dissolved, I added about 7 cups of room temperature water to dilute and cool off my very strong ginger water. You can make a big vat of ginger water in a large pot but it will take a while to cool down. YOU MUST LET IT COOL BEFORE PROCEEDING TO THE NEXT STEP. Heat will kill your microbes and your ginger beer won’t ferment. No beer for you!
6. Once your mixture has cooled to room temperature, add any lemon juice and the liquid you strained off your bug.
7. Pour into clean, flip-top bottles. Set them aside for a few days before transferring to the refrigerator. Drink them within a week or so.
If you let your ginger beer ferment longer, it will contain more alcohol. But be careful! The carbon dioxide building up in the bottles can cause them to explode. I have never had this happen (and hope I never do) but to be safe, I usually put my bottles in a cupboard to contain any possible disasters. I usually “burp” my bottles every couple of days—open them by rocking the lids back and forth gently and slowly to let out carbon dioxide.
After you brew ginger beer a few times, you’ll get a feel for how much ginger and sugar to use and how long to ferment your drink. I suggest you take notes to help figure out what works best in your kitchen.