Fermenting Your Own Ginger Ale with Wild Yeasts

I know lengthy recipe posts can be a droll, but if you’ve never made your own fermented beverage, it is essential to know a little before you get started! This post is for the beginner and I hope you enjoy!

Pouring an ice cold glass of my own ginger beer! Listen to that fizz! (Sorry for other background noise.)

Before Co2 carbonation, the only drinks historically carbonated were beers and wines. This is because Co2 is a byproduct of fermentation, and when trapped inside the fermentation vessel, the beverage stays carbonated. It is entirely possible to replicate this process at home by making your own fermented and (mostly) non-alcoholic sodas. I say mostly because, much like vinegar, there are trace amounts of alcohol produced by the fermentation process, but the amount is minuscule compared to a traditional alcoholic drink.

In the modern era, we have commercialized yeast to make stable, consistently flavored beers and wines, but before commercialized yeast all drinks were made using wild yeasts, which can be captured by numerous methods. One method used to make homemade sodas is to make a ginger bug. This is made much like a sourdough starter for bread, except the base ingredients are water, ginger, and sugar. Daily, equal parts ginger and sugar are added to the ginger bug. Wild yeasts occur naturally on ginger and so ginger bugs are ready fairly quickly. After 7-14 days of feeding and nurturing your ginger bug with daily feedings of ginger and sugar, you’ll have a bubbly, gingery, alcoholic-smelling soda starter. This starter is then added to your soda base, bottled up, and left to ferment for a couple of days to ensure a nice fizzy drink.

I initially wanted to try fermenting my own sodas because I was curious, but along the way I have come to love the process for so many reasons. First, I feel a bit like a mad scientist brewing up interesting concoctions. Because the sodas are carbonated using fermentation (wild yeasts), they contain live active probiotics. The sodas typically use less sugar, which I prefer the taste of, but you are making this for yourself so you can use more or less to suite your tastes. The ingredients are real and very fresh, so unlike regular soda, there is some nutritional benefit aside from the probiotics. Finally, if you’re concerned at all about your carbon footprint, making your own soda is a little- to no-waste means of making a tasty drink, with no bottle or can to add to the garbage bin afterwards.

There are numerous websites and books which instruct you to make a ginger bug. Some add equal parts water, sugar, and ginger daily, and some start with a set amount of liquid and add only sugar and ginger daily. I have tried both, and both work great. Using a set amount of liquid is a bit easier though. The ingredients types also vary slightly in terms of water filtration, sugar types, and organic vs non-organic ginger and sugar. Again, I’ve used a combination of all various of ingredient types with no noticeable affect on outcome.

To Make the Ginger Bug

I had made a ginger bug years ago, but eventually gave up. Sometime last year I decided to try again and I used the Ginger Bug recipe from Nourished Kitchen. I use organic ginger (unpeeled), water filtered with a Brita pitcher filter, and plain white sugar. Many folks will tell you that you can store your dormant ginger bug in the fridge, taking it out once a week for a few hours to feed it, but I can assure you mine has fared very well being fed only once every 2-3 weeks! If you wait as long as I do between feedings, I recommended feeding at least twice in a 12 hour period prior to using in a soda to ensure it is extremely active. Wait at least 3-4 hours after feeding before use in soda.

Here is time lapse of my active ginger bug a few hours after feeding it with some sugar and ginger.

Ginger Soda Recipe

This recipe makes approximately four easy-top home brewing bottles worth of ginger beer. Each bottle holds roughly two liquid cups.

Ingredients

  • 7 cups of filtered water
  • 2-3″ piece of fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 cup plain white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 long zested slivers of lemon or lime peel (optional, but boosts citrus flavor without the ned for more sugar)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon or lime juice or combination of both
  • 1/2 cup ginger bug, fed at least 4-6 hours prior to use to ensure an active starter
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Pitcher
  • 4 home brew easy top beer bottles (as seen in the previous video)
  • Funnel

Instructions.

  1. Make a “wort” by boiling one cup of the filtered water along with the ginger, white sugar, molasses, salt, and citrus zest. Cover, bring to boil, and lower heat to a simmer, simmering for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  2. In the meantime, juice your lemon or limes. Pour the remaining six cups of water in a pitcher along with 1/2 cup of lemon/lime juice.
  3. Grab a strainer and position it over the pitcher. After the wort has simmered for 10 minutes, pour your wort over the strainer and into the pitcher to catch any large ginger and zest chunks.
  4. Empty the strainer into your compost or trash. Grab a measuring cup (I use a glass Pyrex two-cup measuring cup), position the strainer over the measuring cup, and pour out 1/2 cup of the ginger bug. (Don’t forget to add 1/2 cup of water to your ginger bug and feed it). Add the 1/2 cup of ginger bug to your pitcher and stir well. Discard any ginger from the starter.
  5. Make sure your home-brewing bottles have been washed well with hot soapy water. I like to rinse mine with a mild bleach water to ensure any bad bacteria is not present. When I am ready to pour, I put mine in the sink to catch any accidental spills. Put your funnel in the opening of your first jar, and start pouring. Fill each bottle until there is roughly 1″ of headspace left. If you happen to come up short a little liquid, don’t worry, it should still carbonate well.
  6. Place the bottles in a room temperature space, out of direct sunlight, and let sit for 24-48 hours. A lot of pressure can build up so it is vitally important that you do not forget these bottles, or you could risk the bottles exploding. After 12-24 hours you can gently pop open the lid to check for carbonation by sight and sound. You can always let it sit longer if it’s under-carbonated but there’s not much you can do if it is over-carbonated. I recommend testing this outside because if it is over-carbonated the liquid can bubble out of the bottle much like a volcano.* Finally, the time it takes for carbonation to occur depends on how active your ginger bug was, and the ambient room temperature. The cooler the temperature, the slower the fermentation.
  7. If you have bottles with a good quality rubber seal, these should stay well carbonated for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. If the soda goes flat, simply let it set on the counter again for another 24-36 hours. The resulting drink won’t be as sweet, but at least you’re saving all of your hard work.
  8. ENJOY!

*Ages ago when I was first getting the hang of carbonating my own drinks, I had tried to make a soda out of strawberry juice. When I popped the top the resulting eruption was so powerful it spewed straight into my ceiling creating the largest kitchen disaster I’ve ever made. There was no strawberry soda left in the bottle, and I’ve never tried to make strawberry soda again!

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