Small Batch

How to Make Alcoholic Ginger Beer from Scratch

by • March 14, 2014 27 Comments

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It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Food52's Community Manager Catherine Lamb shows you how to make alcoholic ginger beer with everyday kitchen staples. Cheers to you!

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

There are two types of people in this world: people who like their ginger beer sweet, subtle, and unassuming, and people who like their ginger beer to kick them hard in the back of the throat. (I guess there are also people out there who don't like ginger beer, but for now I'm going to pretend they don't exist.)

You know real ginger beer if you've tasted it. The second you take a sip, it stomps on your tongue with steel-toed boots, taking glee in reminding you how spicy raw ginger truly is. 

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

My version of ginger beer is like the unfiltered, uncensored, hardcore stuff, but with a teensy little bonus: alcohol. While England has been sipping on alcoholic ginger beer for hundreds of years, America has just begun to discover this gem. Well, Brits, your secret's out.

More: If you want to booze up classic ginger beer, look no further than the Dark 'n Stormy.

In addition to its spicy, addictive taste and its boozy bonus, alcoholic ginger beer is also plain-old fun to make. If you dream of being a full-fledged brewmaster but lack the time, equipment, and beard, ginger beer is the perfect starting point. With only a jar, some pantry staples, and a few clean soda bottles, you can have a solidly delicious brew in only three weeks. It might take some experimenting to get it right, but the journey is half the fun. This recipe is really more like a set of guidelines -- you must follow your instincts. 

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Makes several liters of ginger beer

2 1/2 cups (600 milliliters) warm, filtered (or pre-boiled) water 
1 1/2 teaspoons champagne yeast (available at your local brewing store or on the Internet)
Freshly grated ginger
Granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
1 jalapeño, sliced (optional)
1 large glass jar
2 to 3 clean plastic soda bottles

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

First thing's first: Start by making a "plant" for your ginger beer. Stir the yeast into the water until dissolved. Add in 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, 1 tablespoon sugar, the lemon juice, and the sliced jalapeño, if you're using it. Stir to combine. (The jalapeño will give your ginger beer that kick you can feel in the back of your throat -- if you don't want it that strong, feel free to omit it.)

More: Here's a nifty trick for peeling ginger with a spoon.

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

Pour the mixture into a glass jar -- one that's large enough for the liquid to fit comfortably, with a bit of extra space. Cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel and secure it with a rubber band. Place the jar in the warmest place in your house: next to your heater, near the refrigerator, or by a heat vent.

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

Every day for the next week you'll have to "feed" your plant. First off, feel the bottle -- it should be slightly warm. If it's too cold, your yeast will go into hibernation and stop working, and if it's too hot your yeast could die. They're a very temperamental bunch.

Take the towel off your jar and add another tablespoon of grated ginger and another tablespoon of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then replace the towel and put your plant back in a warm place. Do this every day for a week -- just think of it as a babysitting job.

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

After about a week, you should see small bubbles floating to the surface of your plant. You can keep your plant at this stage longer: The more you feed it, the more concentrated the ginger flavor will become. Don't stress too much about measurements -- you can adjust your flavors later.

Homemade Ginger Beer on Food52

Now it's time to bottle! Think ahead to how many bottles of ginger beer you'll want to make. Make sure to use plastic soda bottles -- glass bottles could explode from carbonation.

Estimate how much water you'll need to fill these bottles two-thirds of the way full. Then, dissolve enough sugar into the water so that it tastes very sweet -- as sweet as soda. Don't worry about overdoing it; the sugar is there to act as food for the yeast, so most of it will get eaten up and turned into alcohol. You can always adjust the sugar content later.

More: Got extra ginger left over? Candy it!

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Ginger Beer on Food52

Using a cheesecloth, strain the plant out into a large measuring cup or bowl. Next, use a funnel to add the sweetened water to the bottles until they are two-thirds of the way full. Add about a cup of the plant liquid to each clean, dry soda bottle -- more if you want your ginger beer stronger, less if you want it less intense. Stir with a chopstick to combine. You can dip your finger in and taste here to see if the flavor concentration is to your liking. If it tastes watery, add more plant liquid. 

Seal the bottles tightly with their caps and put them back in the same warm place where you once kept the plant. Squeeze the bottles daily to test how they're carbonating.

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

After a few days, they should become difficult to compress; when they feel like a rock and are impossible to squeeze at all, slowly start to unscrew the cap just until you hear hissing, but do not open it all the way. Whenever the bottle is impossible to compress, let out the carbonation, then seal it back tightly.

In a week and a half to two weeks, the yeast should have eaten up most of the sugar in the bottle. This means your ginger beer is ready to open up and taste! There's not a hard and fast rule for how to tell when this is done -- you've got to go by intuition and trial and error. If you have multiple bottles, open one up and taste test after a week and a half. Add more sugar or lemon juice if you think your ginger beer needs it.

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade Alcoholic Ginger Beer on Food52

Serve ice cold with citrus wedges and a rum float if you're feeling dangerous. Make sure to consume the whole bottle within 24 hours after opening -- feel free to enlist a friend or two for help. You should probably throw a party to show off your incredible brewing skills.

More: Top-notch ginger beer deserves top-notch ice -- here's how to make it.

Ginger Beer Recipe: Homemade alcoholic ginger beer on food52

It's impossible to gauge the alcohol content of your ginger beer, but it should be a bit less than that of a light beer. Enjoy!

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Catherine Lamb

Tags: small batch, how-to & DIY, ginger beer, alcohol, beer, brewing, yeast, ginger, drinks, cocktail, soda

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Comments (27)

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21 days ago Haryspeax

Even after 4 months of rehab at Canada Drug rehab ( http://canadadrugrehab.ca ), countless AA meetings and alcohol counselling in Vancouver, where I live, I still crave for the taste of ginger beer. And no-it’s not an addiction. It’s more of a ginger tongue thing.

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3 months ago Rob

Can+one+keep+feeding+the+plant+indefinitely+while+only+using+2/3s+of+it+at+a+time+for+the+fermenting+stage?+

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5 months ago Morgan

After the plant was finished fermenting, I noticed a viscous slightly brown cream-like substance at the very bottom of the jar. I didn't add it to my bottles, but I'd like to know if anybody has any clue what it is? I'd like to keep experimenting with this recipe and I'd like to know whether the addition of it would be good or bad for my beer? Is it yeast? Undissolved sugar?
Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

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5 months ago John F|

It's sediment I presume. When you make wine you syphon the wine off into a clean demijohn leaving the sediment behind, which is discarded.

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about 1 month ago Will Steinriede

I believe it is yeast. It builds up as you ferment non alcoholic ginger beer too. From my experience if you add it to the bottles it will settle again. Just like some micro brew beers have the yeast at the bottom of the bottle. I just don't drink it :)

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6 months ago Joetown

Could I carbonate it?
Either through using soda water or injecting a co2 cannister into the bottle?

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7 months ago saltpeter

I'm doing this this week... quite excited. Not sure if I get the math though... doesn't seem you can get "several" bottles out of this if there's 2.5 cups of plant liquid and you're supposed to put 1 or more cups of plant liquid in each liter bottle.

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8 months ago Claire Wilson

I have made my own gingerale plenty of times and am wondering, what is the difference between making it an alcoholic "beer" vs just a soda? Also, is there any way to make a ginger "hooch" that is even stronger than just the beer? Is the only difference fermentation time-- in that case, could you just keep adding sugar and yeast and it will keep producing alcohol or would this effect "run out" at a certain point?

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4 months ago Joey

With the beer version, you're adding yeast so the sugars ferment. Soda is just left as is so it is sweeter, the alcoholic one will be drier.

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8 months ago Paul Bouma

I think I have a pretty good grip on a recipe for the "plant." It is known by other terms as well. I'd like to research those terms, if someone could share them (or it). My next query comes from a measurement of the plant that I would add per gallon so as to allow this initial yeasted extract to ferment further in a carboy with an airlock, prior to adding a carbonation sugar and bottling in snap cap bottles. Can someone advise?

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9 months ago kelly

So excited to try this! How long would it keep in these plastic bottles and do you think there would be any problems using frozen ginger? Thanks!

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9 months ago Catherine Lamb

I've never used frozen ginger, so I'm not sure it would retain the same spicy bite as fresh... maybe something worthy of asking the hotline?

In terms of how long it keeps, I'd recommend no longer than 3 days. If you need help getting rid of it, invite your friends over for some dark 'n stormies!

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10 months ago Robert Marsh

Can the plant be reused after bottling it?

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10 months ago Robert Marsh

*leftover plant

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about 1 year ago Htet Htet

Any particular reason to drink it all within 24 hrs? Will it spoil otherwise?

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about 1 year ago Kt4

I'm guessing it's only because it will lose all its carbonation. I wonder if it could be adjusted for smaller bottles. Perhaps using the same beer bottling techniques my friend does with his homebrew beer.

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over 1 year ago Winnie

Can I substitute regular dry active yeast for the champagne yeast?
Cause champagne yeast isnt readily available in my country..

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over 1 year ago Keith Glass

Check the web for any place that sells home-brewing or wine-making supplies. REGULAR yeast will NOT yield the desired results..

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7 months ago Virinder Kaur

I actually substituted instant yeast...I think you'd have to be on your toes in terms of how long you allow the fermentation to go on...but it tasted quite good, regardless. There are also quite a few recipes online that do use regular yeast. It might call for a bit more experimentation on the brewers' part, however. Happy brewing! :)

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over 1 year ago Tawnya Hartberger

Love the article, but would it be possible to include actual temperature info for those of us who live in different climates?

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over 1 year ago Catherine Lamb

For the water? From what I've found it's really just by feel -- everything should be warm to the touch, but not burning hot. I can dig a little deeper and try to find more details!

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12 months ago Alan

So about 25 cel?

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over 1 year ago AlohaHoya

I have been looking for this information for SO LONG...having lived in Qld. Australia...and love my Dark N' Stormys.... Thank you SO MUCH!!!!

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over 1 year ago Catherine Lamb

Dark 'N Stormys woohoo!

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over 1 year ago jph

What size soda bottles did you use?

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over 1 year ago Catherine Lamb

1 liter bottles!

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over 1 year ago Julie Myers

Julie is an Editorial Assistant at Food52.

Catherine Lamb - you really are a kitchen scientist! This is so cool.