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Flashbrewing: Traditional Yule Ginger Beer/Ale
Article ID: 15579
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: December 22nd. 2013
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We didn't have quite enough handmade goodies last year for Yule, so I felt it was necessary to whip something up. I had a bunch of fresh, organic ginger that I couldn't use all of before it dried out, which inspired me to toss together a quick batch of ginger beer for the season. I'm familiar with the theory, but I had never given it a try before.
In the time my journeywoman took to finish one of her tasks, I had completed the entire initial setup. I cleaned and sanitized the reused one-gallon cider jug for my experiment, cut up enough ginger into slices that could fit easily into the jug's mouth, and I added the lemon juice, sugar and water. I know it's common to boil the water and sugar to help reduce wild yeast, but all I had available was bread yeast anyway, so it didn't really matter if I got a few weirdo flavours in, too. By leaving out the step of boiling and cooling the syrup, it completely reduces the prep time and makes this a snap! An investment in beer or ale yeast of course yields a more specific, controlled, and professional result, and you may want to boil the syrup for that...
With the ginger slices, lemon juice, sugar, and enough water to fill it mostly to the top, (but still leave some room for bubbling) , I put the bung on. It releases the gasses as the mixture ferments. If you don't have a bung, a cloth with a rubber band around it will do. It's largely to help it bubble without getting foreign material in the mixture.
Four days later, I filtered out the ginger and left the grouts on the bottom. A funnel with cheesecloth in the spout recovers the most liquid, but takes longer for the gravity to drain everything in. Or you can use the cheesecloth filter over a sieve, which is much quicker, if a bit messier... There were surprisingly fewer grouts than is usual with beer, but the result is still really cloudy. It stands to reason, because bread yeast doesn't flocculate as much as beer or ale yeast, so there are fewer byproducts that fall out, and more therefore stay in suspension.
I poured the result into a large plastic pop bottle since it can handle pressure. I only did one, and left the rest in the jug, just in case this part didn't work out as well as I hoped. I wanted it quickly, so the bottle can be the secondary fermenter almost immediately. I should have waited, though. It was carbonated almost the next day, and I had to keep releasing the pressure to keep it from exploding. (Fortunately, the pop bottles have a lot of give.)
By the time Solstice and my guests arrived, we were able to drink fresh ginger beer 8 days after it was first brewed. It had slightly too many sugary notes and not quite enough ginger zing, but that of course improved with age. After 11 days, all the sugar notes were gone, with a fine zip of ginger. There is a slight yeast note, but only in the nose, which my husband prefers in a beer anyway. The colour was lovely, and very homemade, but it never clarified any further.
All in all, it was a glorious experiment, rated highly successful by all who imbibed. It was largely gone by Solstice, but I saved enough of it to continue to ferment and carbonize in the bottle. In the first week or so, that seems more than long enough for a good fizzle. I served it without chilling.
I have naturally done this since, of course, and it is still just as easy as described. I have used almost any kind of flavouring and nutriment I found in my fridge: apples, grapes, spices.... For ingredients that don't easily fit into a cider jug, or can't be retrieved afterwards, I use a 1-gallon glass jar, the kind restaurants use to get their condiments and pickles in. Wide mouth, enough for at least two full bottles of brew, but small enough so that you won't cry too much if it doesn't work out. Mistakes seem to come from not including enough flavouring, or leaving the batch sit too long or it gets contaminated, or not allowing enough time to ferment in the bottle. These are fairly simple to counter, especially if you keep some notes and dates on each batch in your lab book. Always recommended for the home brewer!
Here's the recipe I used:
1/4 cup fresh organic ginger, sliced
1 tablespoon organic lemon concentrate (juice of one lemon will do)
2 cups organic sugar
1 tablespoon quick rising bread yeast
Enough filtered water to mostly fill to top
Let sit between 1-7 days. Filter. Serve in 1-2 weeks. Bottle a day or two before serving if carbonation is desired.
The lemon is partly for flavour, and partly for nutrient for the yeast. Though there was almost no bubbling over, like there is in beer and ale making, I still left some air in the top for it when I poured in the water. When everything is in, put on the cap of the jug and shake by inversion a few times, just to get the sugar all dissolved. I did that a few times every day or so for the first few days, just to be on the safe side, but then I left it alone so it could grout up. Bung it or cheesecloth the top, and let it sit. I put it by the register to keep it warm, but not too toasty. I filtered it after 4 days, but I could have left it a bit longer. It seemed to be perfect by 2 weeks, and I had no desire to add more sugar to ferment after it had used up all the yeast, since I let it do so in pop bottle instead. No extra sugar!
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