Intro: Homemade Ginger Beer With Wild Yeast
We love ginger beer, and wanted to try making some at home. Turns out that it's really easy! You just need a few ingredients and a little patience.
- One large piece of ginger. We put a lot of ginger in, so this can be "to taste."
- Sugar, 2 cups. I measure it out at the beginning and put it into a separate container for convenience.
- Lemon juice from 2 lemons
- Filtered water, a little more than a gallon
- Bottles. I used two wire bale bottles (from Trader Joe's holiday ginger brew) and three 22oz beer bottles. Make sure your bottles can accommodate slightly more than a gallon of ginger beer.
- Quart sized mason jar with screw-on ring
- Cheesecloth that fits over the top of the mason jar
- Medium sized pot for boiling water
- Basic bottling setup: StarSan sanitizer, measuring cup + funnel (or a bottling bucket or siphon), bottle caps, capper tool
- This recipe uses wild yeast, the yeast that naturally occurs and floats around in the air. Your local yeast may go like gangbusters, or it may hardly fizz at all. Consider it an experiment!
- Once you've bottled the yeasted beer for the second fermentation, there is a chance that the pressure can cause the bottle to explode. Be sure to use proper bottles, store them somewhere that any potential mess is contained, and put your brew in the fridge as soon as it's done fermenting.
Step 1: Starting the Bug, or First Fermentation
The "bug" for a fermented drink is just like the starter for sourdough bread. It's a little colony of yeast that you raise in a safe, warm environment until it's ready to get to work carbonating your beer.
To start the bug:
- Take your ginger and cut off about 1/2 of it, setting the rest aside. Peel your ginger with a spoon and chop finely.
- Put about a cup of lukewarm filtered water into a very clean mason jar. Add the ginger and 2 tsp of sugar, and swirl it together gently.
- Put the cloth over the top and use the ring or rubber band to hold it down. Place your bug somewhere dark and warm-ish, like a cabinet over the stove.
- Add an additional 2 tsp sugar each day for about a week, or until it you can hear it fizzing.
When you hear a constant fizz and start seeing bubbles or foam, the bug is ready to go. My most recent batch took about 10 days.
Step 2: Prepping for Second Fermentation
Now that your yeast is all fired up, it's time to move it into its new home.
Preparing the brew
- Get out a pot and boil 1/2 gallon of filtered water. While it's warming up, peel and chop the other half of your ginger root.
- Add the chopped ginger and the rest of the sugar (should be about 1 1/2 cups) to the water. Stir until sugar dissolves, then allow to cool to room temperature.
- Add the started bug and the lemon juice.
- Strain the mixture into a large container. I used a fine colander lined with cloth to catch all the bits.
- Add another 1/2 gallon of filtered water to the container, so you have about a gallon of sweet, gingery pre-beer.
While the brew cools down, start sanitizing your bottles.
- Mix up your StarSan in a large bucket
- Fully submerge all your bottles and bottling equipment (measuring cup and funnel) for at least 2 minutes. No need to rinse.
Step 3: Bottling and the Hard Part....waiting
To bottle the beer:
- Slowly pour your pre-beer into each bottle, filling to the base of the bottle neck. A bottling bucket with a spout makes this very easy, or just use a measuring cup with a pouring spout and a funnel.
- Pop on a bottle cap, and rinse off any stickiness on the outside of the bottle. Put your bottles somewhere dark and cool to continue fermenting. I keep mine in a large plastic box just in case anything gets explode-y.
This second fermentation can take a couple weeks or a couple months, depending on your yeast and environment. You may want to use smaller bottles for your first batch, so you can open one each week (after 3 or four weeks to start) and see how the carbonation is coming along. I almost tossed our first batch when it was flat after a month, but after 2 months it was fizzy and delicious, so just be patient.
Once your brew is fizzy, move it into a refrigerator to slow the fermentation. Open a bottle and enjoy!