I'm not a big soda drinker, but on these hot days I love nothing more than drinking a naturally brewed, cold ginger ale, preferably near a river or lake. I'm rather sensitive to sugar, and often find store-bought sodas, even natural ones, to be far too sweet. I'm also a big fan of the magic of fermentation, and the idea struck me to share this knowledge in a simple kit that anyone can use. I'm starting with ginger ale, but I enjoy making a variety of herbal sodas that I will soon offer and share as well.
Here are the direction (in full) that I provide with this kit. Enjoy!
Ginger Ale Kit
What You Get:
- Powdered Ginger Root for at least 5 Gallons of Ale
- Champagne Yeast for at least 5 Gallons of Ale
- Reusable Cotton Tea Bag
- Fancy Airlock (balloon)
The kit (bottle not included).
What You Need:
- Fermentation vessel (empty bottle of desired volume, glass or plastic)
- Lemon Juice
- Sweetener of Choice (honey is preferred but cane sugar, agave etc. can be used. Avoid artificial sweeteners as they do not ferment as well)
- Lots of thirsty friends
A Brief History of Soda:
Wise folks the world over have created fizzy, herbal tonics for centuries. These sweet medicines are popular in many cultures (as is herbal wine making). In fact, it was not too long ago that soda pop could only be found in the local drugstore. Many of our favorite American colas started out as herbal recipes, but have since been replaced by artificial colors, flavors, even sweeteners. Now you can bring this ancient tradition back into your home and taste what you've been missing!
A Not-So-Scientific Explanation:
The magic behind home brew is done by yeast, a little organism with a big sweet tooth. Yeast have few wants in life: warmth, water and sugar. Give them these and they'll ferment to their heart's content, fizzying up whatever you ask them to. Knowing this, there are but a few variables in home brew. Temperature can either speed up or slow down the activity of your yeast, as can sugar content. For these reasons, it's important to keep a close eye on your ale to make sure the yeast don't go overboard with your bubbly request! For soda making, your fermentation times will be rather short. This means you don't have to really worry about foreign bacteria competing with yeast and souring your brew. However, cleanliness is still important. Leave the balloon airlock on your brew unless you are taste testing.
A Few Cautionary Notes:
NEVER cap a fermenting vessel! You are creating a soda bomb by doing this, which can pose a threat to life and kitchen. ESPECIALLY don't do this with GLASS. Always use the provided balloon or other suitable airlock.
Ginger ale can quickly become ginger wine! DO NOT LET YOUR ALE FERMENT TOO LONG! You will create an alcoholic beverage not suitable for children. Please watch your brew carefully and taste test for readiness.
Basic Ginger Ale Recipe:
1 Tbsp Powdered Ginger Root or 2-3oz fresh grated Ginger (fresh ginger makes the best brew)
¾ C Honey (or 1 C Sugar)
1 gallon water
¼ tsp Champagne Yeast
3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
This recipe creates a mildly spicy, lightly sweet soda. Adjust Ginger and Honey according to taste (you can always add more after it's brewed).
1. Heat water until boiling. Put Ginger in cotton bag, tie tight and add to hot water (if using fresh ginger, simmer the roots for 10-30 minutes according to taste). Remove from heat.
2. Add honey and stir to dissolve (If you choose to use sugar, you may have to re-heat the brew to fully dissolve the sugar). Steep ginger by allowing to cool to warm bath temperature. If the brew is to hot to touch, it's too hot for the yeast to survive! Remove ginger bag from the brew.
3. Put about ½ cup warm ginger brew in a small mug and add the champagne yeast. Stir to dissolve the yeast.
4. Add dissolved yeast mixture and warm ginger brew to your CLEAN fermentation vessel. Stretch the balloon over the top and let sit in a dark, warm corner. Your brew should be ready to drink in 1-3 days depending on temperature (warmer temps mean more active yeast). In cold months, you can wrap your brew in blankets and place near a heater or wood stove to shorten the fermentation time.
Fermenting ale creates carbon dioxide, inflating the balloon!
5. Check the taste of your brew at least every 6 hours after the first day. The balloon should begin to grow as the little yeasties eat the sugar and produce carbon dioxide. Leave balloon on your bottle except when taste-testing to keep out unwanted microbes.
6. Once you have achieved your desired taste, add lemon juice and refrigerate your ale. This will deactivate the yeast (but it wont kill them, so keep it cold!). You can add more honey/ginger if you're not happy with the flavor.
A Final Reminder: There is a VERY fine line between fizzy, yummy soda-pop and herbal wine-cooler! The transformation can take place in a couple hours. If you are doing this project with kids, be especially careful to not let your brew ferment into an alcoholic beverage, lest the adults will be drinking alone! Proper home brew is beyond the scope of the family-friendly kit, but I will offer herbal home brew kits in the future.
Perfect with a slice of Lemon!