Ginger Beer

Enjoying a long, cold glass of ginger beer on the veranda in summer with the cicadas singing in the background is a fond memory for many.  A loud explosion emanating from the kitchen cupboard in the middle of the night is a less romantic memory many of us have for ginger beer.  However, enthusiasts are quick to reassure that a bottle of ginger beer need not become an explosive device.

Mrs Barbara Crisp has been making ginger beer for more than 35 years from a recipe found in the CWA (Country Women’s Association) cookbook. Her failsafe method is as follows:

MAKING THE PLANT
8 or 9 sultanas
juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon lemon pulp
2 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons sugar
2 cups cold water

Add all the ingredients to a large screw top glass jar (use one large enough to hold three cups of water). Stir, screw on lid and leave in a warm place to ferment.  In warm weather this takes approx three days, under cooler conditions five to six days. A little froth on the top of the mixture & tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the jar indicate fermenting is taking place (this can be seen clearly by holding the bottle up to the light). Once fermentation begins, the plant must be fed with four teaspoons of sugar & two teaspoons of ginger every day for one week. (Do not miss a single day or the plant will die.) Once the week has passed, the plant is ready to use to make ginger beer.

MAKING THE GINGER BEER
4 cups sugar
4 cups boiling water
juice of 4 lemons (medium sized)
28 cups cold water

Into a bucket place the sugar & boiling water, stir until sugar has dissolved, then add the lemon juice. Line a large strainer with muslin or cheesecloth. Strain the liquid from the ginger beer plant into the bucket. Gather up the edges of the cloth & squeeze dry. Set aside the residue (this will be used later to make a new ginger beer plant). Add the cold water to the bucket & stir well. Fill screw top bottles leaving a 2.5 – 3cm (1”) gap at the top of the bottle. Clean, dry plastic screw top bottles may also be used.  This quantity makes approximately 10-12 bottles. Screw the tops on the bottles & store in a cool place for approximately two weeks.

Divide the residue from the ginger beer plant in half and place in two jars (or throw one half away) Add two cups of cold water to each plant & feed as above.

THE FERMENTAION PROCESS

Careful monitoring during the fermentation process is the key to maximising the flavour & avoiding exploding bottles. The yeast occurring naturally on the surface of the sultanas increases as it feeds on the sugar in the plant mix. In the process, carbon dioxide is formed, precipitating carbonisation as well as producing a very small amount of alcohol.

The sugar added to the plant & to the drink mixture itself, continues the fermentation process until the appropriate taste & degree of carbonation is achieved.

If too much sugar is added to the mixture the number of yeast organisms will multiply dramatically, possibly causing the bottles to explode. Exploding bottles tend to be more common in recipes using bakers yeast (rather than sultanas).  The sediment that accumulates in the bottom of the bottles is mainly dead yeast cells, the aftermath of the fermentation process.

In the cold weather, temperatures may be too low for fermentation to start. A temperature of around 25ºC is needed to break the yeast’s dormancy & start fermentation.

Mrs Crisp’s recipe is to be recommended.  She claims to have never had a bottle explode. To avoid any likelihood of explosion, we recommend:

•    Follow the recipe very carefully (use standard measures) and
•    Store bottles in a cool place out of direct sunlight.

For many years, Mrs Crisp has stored her ginger beer in the laundry under the tubs on a concrete floor. If you are still worried about the risk of explosion, use plastic bottles.

COMMERCIAL BREWING KITS
If you don’t have time for Mrs Crisp’s tried & true method, why not try one of the ginger beer concentrates available commercially from home brewing companies?  The process is slightly simpler and does not require a ginger beer plant.  Try a google search for ginger beer home brewing kits in your area.

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