Bob is our ginger beer plant. He’s a living, breathing organism. We started him a month or so back, and after one false start, tonight we had our first taste of him.
I had a lot of trouble finding and understanding ginger beer recipes online, so I thought I’d write up our process here, in case it’s useful to others.
Step 1: the plant
- 8 sultanas/raisins (our recipe said exactly 8, but I suspect you could just use a random small number — they provide the yeast)
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tsp lemon pulp
- 4 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp powdered ginger
- 500mL water
Put them all in a large jar, and cover loosely with a cloth (we use a napkin and a rubber band). Keep it in a warmish place — ours just sits on the kitchen bench and is fine, but I guess my point here is not to keep it anywhere that’s uncomfortably cold or hot by human standards. We put Bob outside on a hot day, once, and killed him. Oops. So don’t do that.
Step 2: feeding
Daily, add 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp ginger, and give it a good stir. After about 3 days you should start to notice it’s fizzing a little bit when you stir it.
Keep doing this for 7-10 days (probably more like 10 days the first time, because it took a little while to get going). It can skip a day, but don’t skip too many or it’ll die. I recommend making a chart and putting it on the fridge or somewhere handy to track when you’ve fed your plant. Ours has seven boxes where we note the date and add a checkmark for each feeding.
Step 3: splitting
This is where we got awfully confused early on, so I’ll try and explain it clearly. By this point you should have about 600mL of stuff in your jar: 500mL of liquid and a layer of sludge at the bottom. Your goal is to split this evenly in half, making sure you get about half the sludge and half the liquid into each resulting batch.
To do this, we have a big 1L pyrex jug and a smaller 500mL one. We put a sieve over the large jug, and line it with the cloth that was covering Bob’s jar. Then we strain Bob through it. You can gather yours up and give it a gentle squeeze to hurry it along (wash your hands first!), but don’t wring it completely dry.
Now you should have about 600mL of liquid in the large jub, and a napkin covered in ginger sludge. Halve the liquid by pouring half of it into the smaller jug. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should wind up with about 300mL. Top this up from the tap to bring it to 500mL.
Now get a spoon and scrape out about half the sludge from the napkin. Again, doesn’t have to be perfect, and there’s no need to actually count the raisins or anything. For us, it’s just about a spoonful. Whatevs! Dump your spoonful of sludge into the smaller jug and give it a stir. This is your new plant.
Rinse out the jar you were using for the plant, pour the new plant into it, and cover with a fresh cloth. Give it some sugar and ginger to get it started, and continue to feed it as per step 2. As you can see, you have set up an endless cycle of ginger plant feeding and splitting.
Step 4: make the beer
Now you should have around 300mL of gingery liquid in a jug, a sieve, and a napkin with ginger sludge on it.
In a large saucepan (and seriously, I mean large — our big pasta pot isn’t really big enough, and we need to fudge things using a large mixing bowl as well) put 1L water, 1kg sugar, and the juice of 4 lemons. Heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
Now you’re going to add 6L more water, along with your gingery liquid. In theory you’re meant to wait for the sugar syrup to cool down first, but if you’re impatient like me just add a couple of litres of cold water to it and continue with the rest.
Put your sieve over the big pot with your gingery sludgy cloth still in it. Now pour all that water through it — 6L in total, or like 4L if you dumped 2L in at the start like I did. This can be kind of slow as it strains through the cloth, depending on how thick and tight-woven it is and how much sludge you have, so again, you can gather up the corners of the cloth and give it a gentle squeeze if you want. This will also push more ginger through, which I personally think is a good thing.
Finally — or really, at any point during these proceedings, as long as it won’t get frightened by the hot sugar syrup — add your ginger liquid back in.
You should now have between 7L and 8L of ginger beer. If there’s any sediment or pulpy lemon bits, give it a stir so it’s all evenly distributed.
Step 5: bottling
Clean your bottles thoroughly with hot water and dish soap, then rinse them well. We just use recycled 1.25L soda bottles and find that 6 bottles is a pretty good fit for one batch of ginger beer.
Pour the ginger beer into the bottles. A funnel and a smallish jug are good for this. Don’t fill them all the way to the top — leave about 5cm headspace. This air gap is compressible and will help prevent your bottles from exploding under pressure.
Screw the caps on tightly, then store the bottles somewhere dark, laid on their sides, for 2 weeks. We keep ours in the cupboard under the laundry sink. From the second batch onward, you will probably find it useful — indeed, necessary — to label them with the date they went in.
Step 6: drinking
The bottles are under pressure. While they’ve been napping in the cupboard, the yeast has been converting some of that sugar into CO2, and you’ll find that there’s a pretty exciting whoosh-fizz as you unscrew the cap. Do it over the sink, unless you want to be wiping up spills. You might think you’re good at opening soda bottles, but seriously, we made a mess because ours was so fizzy.
We found that our ginger beer made to this recipe was lightly gingery, somewhat lemony, and had a mild fizz in the glass. We definitely would have liked it to be gingerier (if that’s a word), so we’ll be experimenting with that a bit more in future, adding more ginger powder to Bob each day, or maybe trying out some grated ginger in the sugar syrup at beer-making time. If we bugger it up, it’ll only take 7-10 days to get it going again.
We don’t think we can drink 7L of ginger beer a week, so if anyone wants to take some off our hands, we’re happy to swap for other things: empty 1.25L bottles and lemons would both be nice, actually, as we’re going through a lot of them. We’re always up for a produce or preserves swap too. So if you’re local and would like some ginger beer, let us know and we can set up a handoff.