Ginger Ale for Life: A How-To

You read it correctly. Lifetime supply. Ditch the Canada Dry because you’re about to learn how to make your own. It’s surprisingly simple and gives you yet another reason to pull out the whiskey and make a crafty adult beverage…or perhaps even multiple adult beverages.

This whole process relies on the magical transformative science of fermentation. The microorganisms and natural yeasts already surfing through the air aboard particles of dust do most of the work. You just have to provide the landing pad. As genuinely interesting as the history and chemistry of natural fermentation is, let’s get down to brass tax (this recipe comes directly from a book called “Wild Fermentation” – my notes are in parentheses). I also used this similar recipe as a guide because it includes helpful photos.

Timeframe: 2-3 weeks

Ingredients (for 1 gallon/4 liters):

  • 3 inches or more fresh ginger root (*An inch? Think hefty tablespoon. And only 3? The other recipe calls for 9,    which I think yields a better flavor.)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 lemons (*I’ve also used limes and oranges with positive results)
  • Water
  • (*In my second batch I substituted about half the amount of sugar for honey and really liked it)

Process:

  1. Start the “ginger bug”: Add 2 teaspoons grated ginger (skin and all) and 2 teaspoons sugar to 1 cup of water. Stir well and leave in a warm spot, covered with cheesecloth (*I have found that a perforated napkin works just as well) to allow free circulation of air while keeping flies out. Add this amount of ginger and sugar every day or two and stir, until the bug starts bubbling, in 2 days to about a week (*You’ll start to see tiny bubbles on the surface, usually around the edge of whatever ends up floating).
  2. Make the ginger ale any time after the bug becomes active (*If you’re hoping for more carbonation, wait a day or two after the appearance of the bubbles). If you wait more than a couple of days, keep feeding the bug ginger and sugar every 2 days. Boil 2 liters of water and 1 ½ cups sugar (*Here I used a ½ cup sugar and the rest honey). Add about 2 inches of ginger root  grated, for a mild ginger flavor (up to 6 inches for an intense flavor – *I was hoping for a mild flavor and found that 2 wasn’t nearly enough). Boil this mixture for about 15 minutes. Cool.
  3. Once the ginger-sugar-water mixture has cooled, strain the ginger out and add the juice of the lemons and the strained ginger bug. (If you intend to make this process an ongoing rhythm, reserve a few tablespoons of the active bug as a starter and replenish it with additional water, grated ginger, and sugar. *This is way easier than starting all over from scratch again, by the way). Add enough water to make 1 gallon (4 liters).
  4. Bottle in sealable bottles (*A plastic milk jug or recycled soda bottle with a screw top works just fine). Leave bottles to ferment in a warm spot (*Totally fine to put out in the sun – keep in mind that the warmer it is, the faster it will ferment) for about 2 weeks.
  5. Cool before opening. When you open ginger ale, be prepared with a glass since carbonation can be strong and force liquid rushing out of the bottle (*I have yet to achieve this much carbonation).

Additional notes:

  • Check the bottle periodically for pressure. You should notice that the outer walls are stretched a little tighter each day. Just carbon dioxide doing its thang.
  • Try making multiple batches at once. Tweak the recipe and experiment a little bit each time until you find what you like.
  • The ginger ale is great to drink alone, but adding a splash of whiskey really does make for a great drink. Ya know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Dig the whole natural fermentation thing? There are tons of other recipes worth checking out. I just made a tangy bowl of sauerkraut and some hearty sourdough pancakes that were like my nerdy little pets I cared for while the bacteria grew. So go, be free, and harness the power of fermentation!

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