Every single site I visted for how to make ginger beer is a sure recipe for exploding bottles. If you’ve ever tried to make ginger beer I imagine you have a few stories of sheds painted with the texture of glass and the smell of ginger. Nearly every site too claims that their recipe is for ‘non-alcoholic’ ginger beer. The real solution to the glass bottle hand grenade and a more realistic knowledge of alcohol content is I think just a little understanding of how yeast works. I’m no yeast expert at all, but really just a couple of facts will ensure you never have another exploding bottle again.
Yeast is a living organism, it’s a bacteria, and for its food it eats sugar. Like all living organisms, yeast has waste products. Once it eats sugar it farts carbon dioxide and poos out alcohol. The carbon dioxide ensures a carbonated drink. Unless you have a beer keg, the only way to carbonate a drink is by feeding sugar to yeast. But if the yeast is farting, it’s probably going to follow through at some point too, and produce alcohol.
This means that when you read a ginger bear recipe on another site that calls for 1kg of sugar to 3 litres of water, you have a sure recipe for exploding bottles. There are a few things people try to do to prevent this, one is to use plastic bottles. This is a good idea, no shattered glass, but you still can’t avoid having to spend 20 minutes opening the bottle only to have it froth all over your kitchen floor anyway. And by this time, the ginger beer would be very alcoholic. The other is to refrigerate the ginger beer after 1 week of having it sit out of the fridge. This basically puts the yeast to sleep and means it can’t eat the sugar at a fast enough rate to build the high pressures needed to blow up bottles. But who wants a fridge full of ginger beer? And the yeast still eats sugar in a fridge, just at a slower rate.
So the real problem is how do you sweeten the drink without the yeast eating all the sugar, turning the ginger beer into a cocktail or blowing up your shed? My solution is to separate out the sugar. That is, make a ginger beer with enough sugar to carbonate the bottles, then when poured add a ginger cordial to it to sweeten it. Sure it doesn’t sound as exciting, but much more stable and won’t have you up on charges of serving alcohol to minors when your kids want a drink. Here’s my recipe. Note this recipe hasn’t yet been tried. I’ll make it next week and will have some tasting comments after its bottle fermented for a month or so. This recipe makes 8 litres but will make much less if you need to. Vary the ingredients to your liking (except the ginger and sugar).
250g Ginger, grated
6 Lemons, rinds separated
20 Kaffir Lime leaves, torn
2 Cinnamon sticks
1 Packet Ale Yeast (you can use baking yeast if you can’t be bothered going to a brew store)
1 Lemon, peeled and peel reserved
1 piece of ginger sliced
10 kaffir lime leaves
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1. Rehydrate yeast in a cup of warm water and 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Set aside.
2. Place ginger, lemon rind, lime leaves, spices and sugar in a pot, add 2L of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Strain mixture and then pour into fermenter. Add 6L cold water, adjusting until temperature is below 30C, then pitch yeast. If you don’t have a fermenter (most don’t), just add more water to the saucepan (using two if necessary) and using a funnel pour into bottles.
5. Condition for 3 weeks.
6. For cordial, dissolve ingredients into a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. Strain into a glass bottle. Sugar may crystallise at some point, if it does, dissolve sugar again by placing the bottle into a sink of boiling water.
Drinking it now (22.8.2010). Tastes great. Does need the cordial to sweeten it. But tastes just like the best quality ginger beer you can buy.