Wild fermentation is wild indeed
Making ginger beer is incredibly easy, most of what it takes is time, first waiting for the ginger bug to get started and then leaving the bottled product for a few weeks to ferment before drinking. In fact it seemed so easy that as I looked at the bottles sitting on my kitchen counter I could not believe they contained anything worth getting excited about. I shook them and peered at them to see if there were signs of carbonation but all i really saw was a little bit of sediment floating around in the liquid. I was so sure they were going to be disappointing that I delayed opening them for quite some time after the two weeks required for the ‘beer’ to ferment. Finally I cracked open a bottle, and with a celebratory pop and fizz the ginger beer proved me very wrong. This certainly is a drink to get excited about. It feels like a bit of magic actually getting all that complex flavor and all those bubbles out when so little went in.
Indeed contrary to my expectations, the bottles quite ‘fizzethed over’ when I opened them. I should have expected this, I suppose, since the recipe included a warning note to just that effect, which I clearly paid no attention to. So I’m taking this chance to let you know, the carbonation will be strong. And if you are lucky enough to be friends with a professional photographer who agrees to spend a day taking photos with you for your blog, you should be extremely wary of opening a glass of homemade hooch onto her extremely expensive lens. In any event, I don’t think any lasting damage was done to either the lens or the friendship, and as you can see from the photos, the day we spent with Tamara Staples in her studio was very productive indeed!
I got the instructions for making the beer from Sandor Katz’s fabulous ‘Wild Fermentation’, a book which I highly recommend both for its simple instructions in making all things fermented, from sauerkraut to vinegar as well as for the inspiring and informative tone which leads you to want to turn your kitchen into a veritable laboratory full of bubbling and fermenting potions. I’m planning to work my way through much more of the book, though I fear I may get sidetracked by the need to make constant batches of ginger beer.
The first transformative step is to make a ginger bug – a simple mixture of sugar and grated ginger in a cup of water which is left open to the air to soak up the local strains of yeast. Sure enough after a few days the mixture was foamy and bubbly and then I just kept feeding it until I was ready to make my magic drink. Talk about local eating, not even the strawberry planters at the front door can hold a candle to the locavore street cred of harvesting little yeasties right in the kitchen. I’d continue to wax lyrical about the whole process but its just past 5pm and the time is right for a dark ‘n stormy, so I’ll have to leave you now!
- Gingerroot for the ginger bug + 2-6 inches of ginger root for the beer
- Approximately 2 cups sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
First start the ‘ginger bug’ by adding 2 teaspoons each of grated ginger (skin and all) and sugar to 1 cup of water. Stir well and cover the mixture with cheesecloth to keep out the bugs and leave the mix in a warm place. Add the same amount of sugar and ginger each day or two until the mixture starts to bubble (mine took just three days) and then continue to ‘feed’ the bug until you are ready to make the beer
Boil 2 quarts of water and add the grated ginger (2″ will yield a mild ginger flavor, 5″ will be pretty intense, which is what I did!) and 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Boil for 15 minutes then allow to cool
Once the mix is cool, strain out the ginger and add the lemon juice and the strained ginger bug (if you are going to continue making ginger beer continuously you can keep a few tablespoons of the active bug as a starter and replenish it with more water, ginger and sugar). Add enough water to make 1 gallon.
Bottle in sealable bottles (even recycled soda bottles will do, but beer bottles with swing tops are great or get a bottle capper and use regular beer bottles). Leave the bottles to ferment in a warm spot for at least two weeks, then refridgerate before drinking.