Start to Finish: 30 minutes active; 3 to 4 weeks feeding and fermentation
Servings: 1 liter
Ginger ale and ginger beer are two different products. The former consists of carbonated water and ginger-flavored simple syrup, whereas the latter is a fermented beverage with relatively low alcohol content -- 2 to 4 percent, max. Ginger beer has a sharper gingery "bite" than ginger ale, thanks to the fermentation of fresh ginger.
Technically not a beer -- beer uses hops for flavor and fermented malt for alcohol production -- ginger beer is closer to cider, and doesn't require the intensive labor beer does. You can go from fresh ginger, water, sugar and yeast to ginger beer in one to two weeks with no special equipment needed.
(Recipe adapted from Food52.com)
Pour the warm water in the quart jar. Sprinkle the champagne yeast over the water, and stir it until it dissolves.
Stir in the lemon juice, ginger and sugar. Cover the quart jar with three to four layers of cheesecloth, and secure it with twine or a rubber band.
Set the mixture, called the plant, in a warm place. Ideally, the temperature should be between 59 and 86 F. Shoot for the 75 to 85 F range, as warmer temperatures encourage faster fermentation. A location near a heat vent or refrigerator works, as does an electric blanket wrapped around the jar.
Feed the plant 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of grated ginger each day for a week, stirring in the sugar until it dissolves. Feed the plant for another week if you want a stronger flavor.
Sweeten 8 cups of purified water with sugar to taste; it should taste about as sweet as regular soda. Bring the water to a boil and let it cool to room temperature.
Using the cheesecloth as a strainer, strain the plant into a measuring cup or bowl. Next, pour half the plant into one of the sanitized plastic bottles and the other half in the second bottle.
Add half the sweetened water to one bottle and the other half to the other bottle. The bottles should be no more than three-fourths full to allow for carbon dioxide buildup. Tighten the caps on the bottles.
Set the bottles in the warm place where you stored the plant; this is when the conversion of sugar to alcohol starts.
Check the bottles every couple of days. When the bottle is too firm to compress, unscrew the cap slightly -- just enough to hear a faint "hiss" -- to release some of the carbon dioxide.
Let the ginger beer sit for another two weeks. Taste the ginger beer and adjust the flavor as needed with more sugar or water. Transfer the beer into bottles, if desired.
Add spices to the plant as you see fit. A cinnamon stick and a few allspice berries, for example, pair well with ginger and set your batch apart.
Brewer's and regular yeast will work in this recipe in the same quantities. However, expect a slight "yeasty" aftertaste if you use them.
Only bottle ginger beer in plastic soda bottles; glass bottles will explode. You can transfer ginger beer to glass beer bottles after it stops fermenting.