Beer is done. We’ve drunk it, put it in kegs, and used it to augment our enjoyment of everything from table tennis to the month of October. What else can we do with it? Answer: nothing. Beer is the modern-day recumbent bicycle—anachronistic, fetishistic, and favored by people who don’t own a television.
Ginger beer, on the other hand, is on the come. We’ve just started to figure out what it can do. Dark and Stormys are yummy, but they’re just the opening salvo, the first paragraph of our ginger Jules Verne. It can, however, be hard to find—especially the high-quality/not-in-an-orange-aluminum-can stuff.
Fortunately, ginger beer is cheap and easy to make at home. It does need to rest for 48 hours, which is just enough time to dispose (one way or another) of all that regular beer that’s clogging up the fridge. A couple of the things I needed were hard to find: I had to get champagne yeast from a home brew specialty store (although it can be ordered online), and I had to search for a bottlecap or cork combination that would ensure an appropriately tight seal. Once those items were in hand, the rest was a breeze—almost as easy as popping the top on one of those orange cans.
Here’s the one bit of actual cooking: whipping up a quick simple syrup. Heat ½ cup sugar and ½ cup water together on the stove over medium heat. Once the sugar dissolves, set the mixture aside to cool—it should be at room temperature when it’s mixed with the other ingredients.
While the simple syrup cools, carefully measure out the needed amounts of all the other ingredients: ginger juice, lemon juice, yeast. It’s important to be precise: Just a slight deviation from the recipe will impact the flavor of the ginger beer. Ginger juice, if you were wondering, is literally just liquid extracted from fresh ginger—just place a bunch of freshly grated ginger in a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl, and press on it with a wooden spoon to extract the juices.
Once the simple syrup has cooled to room temperature, use a funnel to pour it into a 22-ounce bottle. Then add the ginger juice and the lemon juice.
Finally, add a pinch of champagne yeast to the bottle. For this drink, a pinch should consist of around 25 yeast crystals. Now, you might be asking, why champagne yeast? Well, for starters, it’s sturdy, it hasn’t failed me yet, and it’s inexpensive. I pay about a buck for a packet that will make five gallons of this stuff. I’ve never tried making ginger beer with any other kind of yeast—honestly, I took it on recommendation from a friend and never messed with the recipe since.
After making several batches of inadequately carbonated ginger beer, I discovered that the bottle needs to be completely full of liquid before it’s sealed. Oxygen hinders carbonation, so add lukewarm tap water to the brim to displace the air and fill the bottle.
Here’s the most important part: seal the bottle tightly. I tried sealing with all shapes and sizes of corks, caps, and toppers with varying degrees of success; in the end, a bottle capper worked best.
And that’s pretty much it. Shake the bottle well to mix up all of the ingredients, then store it in a warm dark place for exactly 48 hours. When time is up, move the bottle to your refrigerator to stop fermentation. Once the ginger beer is chilled, well… I like to mix up a Dark and Stormy, kick back, and think of all the things my brew can do that regular beer can’t.