Thursday, 15 September 2016

Recipe: Naturally Fermented Ginger Beer - Getting the Bug

It all started with a book...

I had come across food fermentation at Savour Kilkenny last year and was intrigued by the idea, so when I spotted this book for sale on a trip away earlier this year it seemed like a good starting/continuation point.

For me fermentation isn't really about the much touted health benefits, it's about taste and my need to experiment with food, drink and processes. It was about how these wonderful and varied bacteria breed, interact with and - hopefully - improve food, changing it into some more tasteful in the true sense, and something more interesting and complex too.

The book deals with every aspect of food fermentation but right now I'm focussing to the drink side of the book, as the thought of having a naturally fermented beverage was appealing ... and ginger beer seemed like a good starting point...

The first step is to produce a wild yeast/bacteria starter called a Ginger Bug. This involves grating 5cm of ginger root - including the skin. A tablespoon of this along with a tablespoon of sugar is then added to 250ml of water in a sterilised lidless jar. Cover the jar with muslin or similar and add an extra spoon of both per day for 5-6 days, mixing well. Leave it out of the light at room temperature.

It should be ready in a week or so, there should be plenty of small fine bubbles breaking the surface when you stir the mixture.

My first batch didn't ferment at all but the second batch with organic ginger did, presumably it still had the necessary bacteria on the skin whereas the regular ginger had been cleaned or irradiated?

Then it was time to make the ginger beer itself, for this I varied a bit from the recipe in the book, as I often do!

20cm of Grated Ginger Root
4 Litres of Water
500g of Sugar
8 Crushed Juniper Berries
8 Crushed Green Cardamom Pods
8 Crushed Black Peppercorns
100ml strained ginger bug liquid

  • Add the ginger and all of the spices to 2 litres of water and bring to a gentle simmer for 30 mins.
  • Sieve the liquid into a larger saucepan and leave aside.
  • Add the other 2 litres of water to the saucepan with the ginger and spices, and simmer again for 30 mins, add this strained liquid to the bigger saucepan and discard the ginger.
  • Mix the sugar with the ginger liquid until dissolved.
  • Allow the mix to cool to room temperature before adding to a sterilised demi-john.
  • Add 100ml of strained ginger bug liquid to the demijohn and shake and swirl gently before adding a stopper and airlock

(I had much of what I needed from my homebrewing escapades but your local brew shop should sort you out for equipment.)

Then you need to wait, and then wait some more...

Mine took an age to get started, and the whole process took 3 months from bug making to bottle opening!

When the airlock stops bubbling (and if you're lucky enough to have a refractometer you can more accurately check when it's really done) pour the liquid into sterilised 500ml bottles and add a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar to each one, cap, shake and leave at room temperature for a couple of weeks to carbonate before placing in a fridge to arrest the fermentation process.

(Warning: This is a naturally fermented product so beware of exploding bottles! Keep them secure and safe for the warm conditioning phase - use common sense during the whole process!)

So what does it taste like?

The wild bacteria give it a refreshing sour twang and the spices and ginger combine to give sharpness and heat. It ended up at 3.5% abv so it's not overly alcoholic and it's easy to drink. Carbonation is a little low but pleasant enough, I might leave the bottles back out for another two weeks to see will it increase.


Well next time I might add more spices, as they don't come through as strong as I'd like - especially the juniper. I might also add honey or brown sugar to give another layer of complexity and body too.

Maybe some chili?!

But overall I'm happy with my experiment - and can thoroughly recommend that book!

Happy fermenting...


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