Introduction: The REAL Ginger Beer Recipe!

About: Hi, I'm Tim. I work on the railways during the day, run a scout troop and have a blog (see above website link) where I discuss my allotment and projects!
This instructable features making ginger beer from a real GBP plant, not yeast which has been in existance for probably centuries.  If you've drunk commercial ginger beer it's nothing like this, it has a much smoother, tangy, fuller flavour than the sharp crisp versions made with just yeast.

Oh how so many people have been fooled into making authentic, real ginger

Tsk tsk!

Traditional ginger beer was made using a ginger beer plant. This is NOT
something that you can easily make yourself - it must be possible to make
it yourself because someone hundreds of years ago by chance seems to have
created it. If a recipe calls for yeast it is not REAL ginger beer!

I have heard dark rumours that you can make one by blanching ginger and
leaving it with wild yeasts to ferment (just like a sourdough starter).
Why is this do you say? It's because a real ginger beer plant is a
symbotic relationship between yeast and bacteria creating a unique flavour
you cannot achieve with just brewers or baking yeast.

It is only in recent generations (read: 1887) that a gentleman called
Harry Marshall Ward looked into the sybiotic relationship and had he have
known it was going to pretty much consume the rest of his life, he'd
probably not have bothered. He named the process 'symbotic fermentation'.
I call it good beer!

It is however extremely difficult to get ginger beer plant as its use has
almost entirely died out. I assume from some of my research that it is
due to the WW2 where rationing made it almost impossible to maintain the
plant. Some did survive however as there are small countries that still
brew it traditionally and small internet shoppes which if you're looking
for it will sell it to you - but be warned, there are those who are
cashing in on your ignorance who sell you '100 generations old ginger beer
yeast' which is for all intensive purposes, just yeast. Just old yeast...

When a plant has made a batch, traditionally you could split it and give
it to friends, family or strange people on the internet.

So the first thing you need to do is go forth, find a supplier. There are
a few links on Wikipedia (thanks to a bit of fervent editing I updated the page anonymously a few days ago). Go forth, make purchases or put begging comments
in the bottom of this instructable and when I've got enough, I'll do my
best to send some out.

FYI unfortunately I've been terrible getting samples out to people (mine just isn't growing at present). Instead I'm going to post links to people who are producing good samples commercially rather than promising any out- T

Step 1: Equipment List

Right starting at the top!


2ltr of water chlorine free water (I used bottled which isn't environmentally friendly but because I just don't drink soft drinks anymore I needed the bottles! Also I didn't have time to make chlorinated water, see the process below)
400g of sugar
lemon juice (so having a lemon is a good idea)
Either a dessertspoon of ginger powder or two inches of fresh ginger
Ginger Beer Plant


Fermentation vessel capable of handling more than 2ltr of water (could be bowl)
muslin cloth, elastic band
2l plastic bottle or several flip top beer bottles
general kitchen equipment like a tea spoon, scales, fine grater etc
Saucepan if using fresh ginger

Sterilising powder
Petroleum Jelly
Bung and airlock
Sample measure

How to dechlorinate water
Dechlorinating water - dead simple, put in bowl, leave overnight for chlorine to evaporate. This is better for pet fish and often tastes nicer. It also won't kill your delicate ginger beer plant.

Step 2: Clean!

First of all have a clean kitchen!

So clean it monkey!

Next make sure all your gear - whatever you're using is very clean. This is where the optional sterlising powder comes in useful. I'm used to making beer which takes a loooong time so requires everything to be exceedingly clean or you can end up with an iambic brew which can be good, can be awful.

Follow the instructions on the side of the sterilising powder. Mine said '10ltr of warm water with three to four teaspoons of sterlising powder shaken about for 10 minutes so that it coats everything with sterilising death'. Note sterilising doesn't clean, it just kills. If you've got a dirty lump inside your fermentation vessel it'll still leak bacteria everywhere.

Washing up liquid and hot water does a good enough job - this stuff only takes about four days to make and you'll be transferring it after two.

Step 3: Scalding the Ginger & Grating

This step is only for those using fresh ginger root. The reason for scalding is to kill any bugs. Give it a quick wash then drop it in a saucepan of boiling water for a minute or less. Watch your fingers after you drain the water away - it's still damn hot.

My pictures show 2x2" of ginger. I'm doubling the quantities in my recipe as I'm making twice the amount so I get twice the ginger beer plant so I can send it to twice the people. My next batch will be 5 gallons!!!

Grate the ginger finely

Step 4: Getting Everything Together

Add water to the fermenting vessel.

To juice the lemon, I use the following method. Bung in microwave for about 10 seconds. It probably won't even be warm to the touch. Slice it in half and stick a fork in it. Twist fork and you'll get much more juice out (because the microwave gets the internal structure of the lemon breaking down I guess). I also grated a bit of zest (the skin - just the yellow bit) into the pile of ginger. Put a measure of lemon into your water. I'd use a teaspoon or two.

Add the ginger (and if you've been daring a bit of the lemon zest) into your square of muslin cloth. pull the sides together and secure the corners into a package with the elastic band.

Add the sugar to the water and stir. I used 400g (Well, actually I used 800g because I'm using twice the ingredients all round)

Step 5: Measuring the Gravity of the Situation

Ha ha ha. I find myself so funny.

Right, back to the serious business of beer making.

By adding all this sugar we've increased the gravity of the water. In this case I've increased it to just over 1.062. If you need to learn to read a hydrometer, read the side of the packet. It's a complicated business which involves looking at the big scale at the side and noting down the number. (actually there is more to do that if you want it really accurate).

The easiest way is to use a sample measure which you fill up with liquid from the fermentation vessel and stick your hydrometer in it. Then read the number off the side as I've previously mentioned.

Why do we want to do this? Well as the ginger beer plant starts breaking down the sugar it'll break it down to alcohol which reduces the gravity.

If I measure the gravity at the end of the fermentation I'll know how alcoholic it is by going into my favorite search engine and typing 'homebrew gravity alcohol calculator' and picking the snazziest applet I can find and filling it in.

This is optional and has nothing to do with the final result and you can skip it if you don't care what you're drinking.

Step 6: Adding the Ginger Beer Plant

The first image shows real ginger beer plant. You'll notice the grains are much bigger than usual yeast. This stuff has been in my fridge about a week or so in a plastic bag. It smells yeasty and slightly alcoholic.

Just drop it into the mix with your won ton style grated ginger (See 2nd pic)

Now I like my fermentation vessel airtight. I do this because it stops anything getting into the barrel to cause infection. Like animals, insects, small children etc.

The best way is to have a proper beer fermentation device. These have lids and to get a good seal you need to lubricate the rubber ring with petroleum jelly. (pic three and four) so go lubricate that ring if you can!

The airlock is the final bit of the airtight mechanism. If I just stuck a solid lid on it, the CO2 which is a by product of alcohol production will quite literally blow the lid off. You just put a bit of water in it and it lets pressure out without letting wild yeast or insects in.

Final pic shows it all barreled up.

Step 7: Wait... 2 Days!

Find something to do. Write an instructable.

Unfortunately you'll have to wait two days for the next bit because it's still brewing... Meantime why not use the remaining lemon to make traditional non-sparkling lemonade!

Add the remaining lemon juice, some sugar, cold water. Stir. If it needs more sugar, add more. It's not very scientific and tastes good.

Now wash up again!

See you Saturday evening...

Coming soon:
Bottling - what to do and what not to do (including exploding bottles warning)
Final alcohol reading

Step 8: First Bottle

Update 3rd May 2009 - 2.5 days after primary fermentation started

As I mentioned before I wanted to make two bottles on this brew - I needed to really double the size of the Ginger Beer Plant (GBP) because I've got quite a few people who want some.

So this morning (about half an hour ago) I bottled up my first bottle and tested the gravity.

The starting gravity was 1.62 and the current gravity is 1.50 which gives me a 1.51% vol brew.

Not bad for something that's only two/three days old.

And I tell you now, it's tasty. Oh yes is it tasty...

The current batch isn't horrendously gingery, it's actually very palatable and still very sweet as the GBP still hasn't taken hold. But during my filtering of the batch I noticed the very first few bits of GBP, translucent white in colour (nothing like the brown stuff I held in my hand at the start of the experiment) sticking to the filter.

The size of the grains was about 1mm - quite small but much bigger than normal yeast. I expect the stuff at the bottom of the barrel to be much bigger.

I will be adding more images and following the final bottle of the brew (the stuff I'm trying to make quite, quite alcoholic) in this instructable, but watch for the next one which will explain the cultivation of ginger beer plant so you can grow lots of the stuff and give it to all your friends.

The important part is not to fill the bottle completely, leave a couple of inches at the top empty. Squeeze the bottle so the ginger beer comes right up to the rim of the bottle then put on the lid. As the mixture continues to ferment on your worktop it will gradually fill with CO2 and pop the bottle out. When the bottle is hard open the bottle and let the pressure out (carefully...) then either stick it in the fridge or alternatively repeat the squeezing and leaving if you want a drier ginger beer. Best way is to keep testing it to make sure it's drinkable.

More pictures to follow.

Step 9: Final Results

I made the original brew on Thursday 30th.

Today I bottled up the 2nd bottle and took the gravity. It was 1.034 which makes it 4.2%

Quite alcoholic.

Tomorrow I will add a few 'bottling' pics. All I've done now is add a bit of sugar (About a teaspoon) to a plastic bottle and squeezed out the air. Tomorrow I'll see if the bottle is hard, and if it is put it in the fridge.

Step 10: Sources

There are several places that offer GBP to buy.  I apologise that I didn't get out as many samples as I would like, but between instructables, selfsufficientish, my blog and google I've been badgered from here to there to supply them.  I have sent out about 30 samples and with all but one never heard anything back on them despite promises of passing it on etc.

Therefore here are a number of links you can buy it commercially from.  I do not have any interests in these companies.  Confirmed are links where I know for definate they're sending out the real stuff, if the others want to be confirmed I'd like to trial your plants and happy to send them back.