Friday, 15 March 2013

Fermented Ginger Beer

Home made ginger ale?  Really?  And it's easy?  And if I ferment it long enough, it becomes alcoholic???  Bonus!!  Why didn't I hear about this before??

Of course, ginger is just full of good stuff; it has cancer-fighting properties, settles the stomach, reduces pain and inflammation, reduces heartburn, helps with migraines, menstral cramps, reduces cold and flu symptoms and just about a gazillion other things.  And as an added bonus, fermented ginger ale/beer is chock full of probiotics and beneficial bacteria.

Alrighht, so all that aside, I'm sure what you really want to know is--does it taste good?

At first, I had no idea.  It sounded like it would taste good.  I was still reading Sandor Katz' newest book and loving it, but the problem was... it wasn't a recipe book.  It was a book about fermentation, but more about understanding it than actual recipes, so he gets your taste-buds all watery...and then leaves you hanging.  So I thought, no problem, I can google it.

..Apparently not.  There is an alarming lack of recipes on the internet with really clear instructions on how to a)  make a Ginger Bug, b)  make Ginger Ale from it, and c) how long it takes to become an  alcoholic beverage.  So I had to wing it.  Great science is discovered through the act of "winging" it, let me tell you.

So, how did it turn out?  Freaking awesome.  Spectacularly bubbly and smooth.  But what about alcohol?  Turns out, after 5-6 weeks of secondary fermenting, it still does not have the alcohol content of American beer.

So, feeling like trying it?  THIS is the drink to give to your kids if they don't like kombucha but you want to get fermented foods into them.  Skip the water-kefir-soda and go for this stuff.  Our teens LOVED it.  All you really need is fresh ginger, and some raw, natural sugar.  Seriously?  Yep.

So here's what you do...


First you need to make yourself the 'starter', which in this case, is called a ginger bug.  It's not a bug.  Don't worry.  Even I'm not THAT crazy.  Yet.
Ginger bug on day 2

Ginger Bug:

  • fresh ginger root
  • raw sugar or white sugar
  • filtered water
  • starter (optional)*

Cut off about 1" of the ginger root and coarsely grate it or chop it fine.  Do not bother peeling it.  Throw it in a glass jar that holds about 2c water.  Dump in 1 Tbs sugar.  Add 1 Tbs starter of choice.  I used whey* the first time because I had some in my fridge.  Add about 1 c filtered water.  Stir well.  Cover with a cloth and elastic band.  Store on counter out of direct sunlight.

Stir twice a day.  Once each day, add 1 tsp more ginger and 1 tsp more sugar.  Stir it thoroughly each time.  The idea is to keep bringing air into the mixture.

In about 3 days, it should be actively bubbly before you even stir it.  That's when you know it's ready to move onto making ginger-ale/ginger beer.

*use any active ferment liquid you want; whey, home made kombucha, water kefir, liquid from another ferment like a fruit kimchi, etc.  Next time, I'm trying kombucha.


So, 3 days have gone by and your ginger bug is fizzy.  Perfect.  Now you will need:

  • 2" fresh ginger root
  • 2 litres water
  • 1 cup raw sugar or white sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon (optional, but good)
  • a glass container that will hold at least 2 litres
In a large saucepan, boil water with chopped ginger and sugar for about 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  When cold, add lemon juice and transfer to large glass container.  Add in your ginger bug.  Same as before, cover with cloth and a rubber band.  Let it sit out of sunlight for a couple more days until it is actively bubbling once again.


I know, I know, it takes time!  Patience, you will be rewarded.  

Strain your ginger beer into lock-top bottles (I bought mine at Ikea and they hold 1 litre).  At this point, it is ready to drink, so you can refrigerate them and drink whenever you want to.  But if you want to try to make them even better, and maybe a little tiny bit alcoholic, store in a cool, dark place for at least 5-6 weeks.  For the first 3-5 days, check in on them to make sure they haven't exploded, and please burp them.  They fizzing action will settle down enough to not be dangerous after a few days.  

After that, it's up to you.  If you truly want the alcohol content, you could try adding champagne yeast or brewers yeast before bottling, but if you do, pour it into a carboy and use a water-seal for 7 days before straining and bottling.  Let me know how it goes.  I haven't gone that far yet.  The first bottle was so fantastic, we gobbled it up in one sitting.  The second bottle is coming with me to the next Symposium planning meeting.  I should have made more.  There's no time like the present.  I own ginger.  And raw sugar.  And 'booch to activate it.  Hmm.....


  1. OH MY GOSH this makes me so excited! I love ginger ale/ginger beer. Have to try!

  2. How awesome! I can't wait for the end of it! OMG, this will be the first thing I'll do tomorrow morning! :D

  3. JUST bottled my first batch!!!
    Was wondering what sugar content is...tastes pretty sweet but i know a lot is consumed through fermentation. Just wondering as trying to stay pretty low sugar. I might add it to sparking water.
    Also, does honey work at all?


  4. I am attempting this today...however, I do not have any starter. I do have the juice of my pickled dill/garlic cucumbers I've home made but that's salty and I am not sure if that will throw off the flavor. Will not having the starter just make things take longer?

  5. Hi Elizabeth,
    I would avoid using the pickle juice--it will definitely make things sour-tasting. If you don't have whey or kombucha to start it, you can try going without any starter at all. The reason we use starters in some fermented recipes is to get things moving faster in an attempt to allow the good bacteria to stay ahead of the bad bacteria. It allows us to make ferments with less chance of failure. If it's hot where you are right now, it will be tricky--keep a close eye on it as it will go from perfect to sour in a day or less. I find it's a lot easier to go without a starter in the winter time just because a colder house gives more time/room for flexibility. Good luck!

  6. Melissa;
    Did you ever try this with the honey? I hear so many times that due to it's natural anti-fungal, anti-microbial properties, honey will not work in ferments. But what about raw honey? It has it's own raw cultures and could even supplement the starter culture. I haven't tried it completely in place of white sugar myself, but I do occasionally add raw organic honey to my ferments (like my hot honey dills) and things turn out just fine. Fermentation is a big science experiment--go for it!