Reminiscing about Ginger Beer

Earlier this year, I ran out of steam while posting about my amazing trip to South Africa.  For those interested in our final stops,  I’ll add a few more posts and photos of our final stops over the next few days.  In some respects, this was a lost summer for me – or it feels that way.  I was busy, but not with the things I normally do.  No hiking, or birding, and very little photography.   Things are turning around though and a recent post on another blogger’s site reminded me of a really good day in South Africa when I enjoyed, for the first time, ginger beer.

Homemade ginger beer is an easy to make and special treat.  Like rootbeer, ginger beer can be produced as a soft drink and served to children and adults alike.  Shortly after returning from South Africa, I started searching the web for recipes.  I found a few, here and there.  And then I read this post on Jackie Hill’s The Slowvelder blog and could resist the urge any longer.  Jackie’s recipe is simple and easy to make and the results are amazing!

Start by grating about 2 – 3 inches of fresh ginger root into a container large enough to accommodate about 5 quarts (or 5 liters) of water.  As with all of the best homemade recipes, the exact amount of ginger to use will vary by your taste.  Experiment with more or less until you get the result you’re looking for – I enjoy the ginger beer that mildly sweet with a slight spicy finish, and this amount of ginger root does the trick for me.

Next, add the zest of a lemon.  Careful not to add too much of the white pith, which can be bitter.  After zesting the lemon, squeeze the juice into the mix.

Three cups of sugar are added to the grated ginger root, lemon zest, and juice.  Once again, you can experiment with the total amount of sugar – add a little more or less depending on your taste.  Toss in a handful of raisins with the sugar.

Add 5 quarts (or liters) of water.  The first quart of water should be boiling, which will help quickly dissolve the sugar and begin releasing all the wonderful aromas of ginger and lemon – your kitchen is going to smell amazing!

After the liquid has cooled to slightly warmer than room temperature, add a packet of yeast, cover, and allow the mixture to sit in a warm place for 8 – 12 hours.  I elected to leave mine overnight.

The mixture should begin to bubble during the fermentation process.  If your batch doesn’t bubble, throw it away and start over!  This was mine after a night in a warm room.  Next, scoop out the biggest chunks, and then pour the liquid through cheesecloth or a clean washcloth.  I use clean 2-litter soda bottles, filled to leave about 3 inches of head room, to continue fermentation.  Store them in a warm place, away from direct sunlight, slowly releasing the pressure once or twice a day.  Open the bottles very, very slowly or, alternatively, be prepared to clean ginger beer from all nearby surfaces and change your clothing – you need to trust me on this step!  The longer you allow the fermentation to proceed, the stronger (higher alcohol content) the beer will become.  Again, experiment until you get the taste you want.  I start tasting small amounts of my ginger beer after 24 hours in the bottle and refrigerate when I get the taste I’m looking for – refreshing, slightly sweet with a mildly spicy finish.  Refrigeration all but stops the fermentation process.

Now comes the best part – enjoy your chilled ginger beer over ice.  Add a slice of lemon or lime, or nothing at all.  Ginger beer should keep for about a week once refrigerated.  For me, this is a little piece of South Africa I brought back to New Jersey – for good!  The taste takes me back immediately to that incredible country.  Now, I need to find an authentic peri-peri sauce recipe!!

And, finally, thank you Jackie for sharing your ginger beer recipe. Some day I would like to share a glass with you after a day exploring the bushveld around your game reserve!

4 thoughts on “Reminiscing about Ginger Beer”

  1. I am so thrilled you tried it Greg, and glad it was a success. I think I’ll make another batch tomorrow. It’s getting cooking hot here now so an icy glass of fresh homemade ginger beer goes down really well. I look forward to sharing that glass with you soon! (and thanks for the mention)

    1. Thanks Jackie…I am making my third batch right now! Even though it’s starting to turn cooler here in the northern half of the globe, it’s still a great treat. Besides, I’ll use the fall and winter to perfect my recipe, just in time for next summer. I do hope that I make it back to South Africa some day.

  2. As kids we used to make this, and store it in Dad’s “Empty” Tallie beer bottles. when they exploded they could do some real damage, but I can still taste it!

    1. Hey Ron…We had a lot of “homemade” stuff growing up, but I don’t remember having ginger beer ever – until South Africa. Just delicious…it’s a family favorite already!

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