As promised, I’m back with a follow-up to Wednesday’s recipe for Ginger Bug (a fermented soda starter – here’s the recipe if you haven’t read it yet). Today I’ll share my know-how for making homemade fermented ginger ale. Instead of the commercial process of injecting a sweet, flavored water with carbon dioxide, this recipe is a little more old school. The sweet, flavored water gets mixed with a yeast and enzyme rich fermented starter (the Ginger Bug) and allowed to rest for a few days while the yeasts turn sugar into carbon dioxide. It’s not alcoholic, because the fermentation period is so short, so this is fine for kids to drink!
This is some of the best ginger ale I’ve ever had, and I’m not just saying that because I made it…promise. It is similar to Maine Root or Reed’s Ginger Brew – strong ginger and citrus flavor without being too sweet. And because it’s been fermented, the drink hosts probiotic bacteria that are good for your gut.
It’s been warm here lately, so our batches of soda have been ready after just a day or two, which is fortunate because we are drinking this soda faster than we can crank out new batches. (Which maybe isn’t something to brag about, but there it is.)
Homemade Ginger Ale – makes 2 quarts
2 c. water
1-3″ ginger root, grated
1/4 c. plus 2 T. white sugar
1/4 c. turbinado sugar (if you don’t have it, just use 1/2 cup total of white sugar)
Add to the wort:
5 c. cold water
1/2 c. lemon juice (2-3 lemons worth)
1/2 c. active ginger bug
The first step is to make a wort – a concentrated flavor syrup. This step is mostly just important because if you simmered the entire 2 quarts of water to infuse the ginger flavor, it would take forever to cool to room temperature.
Combine all the wort ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, until the mixture is a golden brown and tastes very gingery. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 5 cups of cold water. Let the mixture cool to room temperature before adding the lemon juice and ginger bug.
Strain the mixture into bottles* (a cheesecloth-lined funnel works well for me), seal tightly, and leave it in a somewhat warm place to ferment (preferably out of direct sunlight). Since it’s been hot here, I just leave mine out on the counter. In the winter I will probably let it ferment on top of the water heater.
Let the soda ferment for 2-8 days, until it’s well carbonated. This will really depend on how warm your house is. If you bottle it in reused soda bottles, you can open the lid slightly (the same way you open a bottle of soda that is about to fizz and overflow like crazy) to check how carbonated it is after a day or two. It will hiss like real soda when it is ready. If you bottle in glass, you can pop one open to check the status, but just be aware that opening these bottles tends to release more carbonation and if you decide it needs more time, the “test” bottle might not be as fizzy as the others.
*A note on bottles: you can ferment the soda in glass swing-top bottles as long as they have a good tight seal (one we picked up at TJ Maxx did not work well, but reused Grolsch beer bottles have been fantastic). I strongly suggest making your first batch or two in old 1 or 2-liter plastic soda bottles, until you know how quickly the mixture ferments. Exploding glass bottles from over-carbonation would be no fun. With plastic, you can feel the bottle get tighter as pressure builds. Once we got a feel for how long the fermentation takes, we started using glass bottles.
Also, please make sure your bottles are clean and dry before bottling soda in them. Remember, you’re providing a warm, sugary environment – perfect for good yeast and bacteria grow and make delicious soda. That means it’s also perfect for naughty bacteria to grow. The good bacteria have a head start, though, from the ginger bug, which won’t leave much room for anything else. As long as you are smart about it, you will be fine! If it smells and looks like ginger ale, then it is ginger ale, and it is good to drink.