Ginger beer. It brings back memories of summer holidays when I was about 12 or 13. My father religiously maintained the ginger beer plant and then nearly every weekend, any friends of ours who happened to be at our house, my two sisters and I would be enlisted as the child labour to process and bottle the ginger beer. In retrospect, the recipe my father used was meant to be non alcoholic but my science background makes me wonder, as alcohol levels depend greatly on sugar content and length of fermentation. I believe after many months of plant production and errors in measurement.
Anyway, there is a great stall at the Jan Powers Markets (Powerhouse, Newfarm) selling ginger beer. My two year old son and husband were very impressed with the brew and I must admit it reminded me of those summers 20 years ago. The taste of real ginger, a little bit of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, certainly a thirst quenching and satisfying drink while walking around the markets. Next time I go to the markets, I will be locating the ginger beer stall first, but this weekend my task is to make a batch of my own. My dear old dad doesn't have the recipe he used but online there are hundreds if not thousands of variations.
It is great a activity for kids too (not just for slave labour). Not all learning is done at school and the process of making ginger beer has some gems - measurement, process skills, problem solving and not to mention- fermentation. Try out some different recipes and do some taste comparisons - you will get either a great sweet reward or at the other extreme, an explosive mess, but the kids will be excited by it anyway. These school holidays are a great time to try as the latter result is less likely in the cooler weather.
I am going to give this recipe a go this weekend as it looks similar to my fathers and ones I have tried in the past. For the Ginger Beer Plant: A clean jar, cloth lid and rubber band 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
2 tablespoons sugar 1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons ground ginger
For the Sugar Syrup and resulting Beer:
4 cups sugar
1.5 litres cold water
4.5 litres warm water
1/2 cup strained lemon juice
Strainer, muslin cloth, funnel, large metal or plastic spoon, large boiler, measuring equipment, large glass /jar for plant filtrate.
sturdy bottles for about 8 litres of beer (glass beer bottles can be dangerous if the mixture gets a little too carbonated, well cleaned recycled soft drink bottles are good as they will generally only distort with pressure. If you want new bottles you can try brewing stores or packaging companies like Plasdene (Northgate) who will sell direct to the public).
Step 1: Making the Ginger Beer Plant (7 day process)
In the jar mix all of the ingredients, cover the jar with the cloth lid and rubber band and store in a safe place in the kitchen at room temperature. Don't use a screw on lid as the plant needs to breathe but you don't want dust and insects to get in.
Feed the plant everyday by adding 1/2 teaspoon of both sugar and ginger. Kids will love to watch the plant bubble like a volcano after a couple of days.
Step 2: One week later
strain the plant through some muslin cloth, retaining the filtrate in the glass. The filtrate and half of the plant will be used for the beer and the remaining half of the plant will be discarded.
In the large boiler bring the cold water to the boil and add the sugar. Dissolve the sugar, turn off the heat and add the 4.5 litres of warm water (can be from the hot water tap) and lemon juice. Allow the mixture to cool. If it is too hot the Ginger Plant filtrate will die when added.
When the mixture is hand warm, add the filtrate and stir with the large spoon. It is best not to use a wooden spoon as the wood fibres might have other flavours or contaminants that will alter the brewing process.
While waiting for the mix to cool, put the remainder of the plant into the clean a jar with 1 cup of water and feed each day for a week again to make another batch.
Bottle the brew, leaving about 5 cm from the top of the lid to allow for gas. Store in a safe location. I have put mine in the past in an Esky in the laundry so if the the bottles expand and rupture the mess will be contained. My father put his in an old tucker box freezer (not turned on of course) for the same reason but he used to used glass bottles - the mess was truly spectacular.
Leave the bottles to ferment for 3 -7 days. This will depend on the temperature and when the bottles feel very firm refrigerate to stop or slow the fermentation. Sometimes when you open a bottle it can be like opening sparkling wine/bubbly so it may be better done over a sink.
Remember - the alcohol content is minimal but not 0% and it by no means is sugar free so be mindful when giving to children. Looking back at my childhood though - I think we drank it constantly for one Christmas and two of the child labour force (they stayed with their grandma across the road every holiday) are now doctors. It didn't appear to do us any harm and we had a ball making it and drinking it!
Ah yes the joys of ginger beer making. My mum and I used to make it quite a bit when I was younger but the novelty wore off. Then I got into making beer and thought for a change I'd try ginger beer again. Well I can tell you now that today's beer bottles are not as strong as they used to be! We stored the bottles in my Parents wine cellar and one bottle must have exploded causing others to also explode. We actually had to pull shards of glass out of the plaster ceiling!! So storing your glass bottles in an Esky is probably a good idea. And yes I concur, ALWAYS open the bottles over the sink!
BTW - I tested the alcohol content on one batch and it was above 5% alcohol so definitely not for the kiddies. (It fermented for a couple of weeks)