How to Make Inexpensive Ginger Beer or Cider for the Holidays and Gifts
Ginger beer--or cider, if you'd prefer to call it that--is perfect for the holidays. It's bright, fizzy, aromatic, and full of the flavors of fresh ginger and lemon. The drink also is amazingly easy to make. Added to all that, you can have ginger beer/cider that's ready to drink in a couple of days. Is the ginger beer alcoholic? Yes, but not very--less than "regular" beer. If you're looking to get a buzz from it, you'll probably be disappointed. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a mixer with a bit of carbonation, you'll have it. You'll also have an incredibly tasty drink "as is." So never mind those ginger beers from the store (which are ridiculously expensive, loaded with sugar, and not all that good). Make your own ginger beer, and you'll have an authentic version with real ginger taste, wonderful fizz, and far better flavor. What to serve with it? Almost anything. Try it with cheese, crackers, and sliced apples for an easy, conversation-starting beginning to your meal. Or serve it alongside your dinner or dessert. Just try it. It's surprisingly easy and good! Enjoy!
Homemade Ginger Beer or Cider -- Makes about 2 Liters
8-9 cups of non-chlorinated water (filtered, spring, or distilled)
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
1/2 cup of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into small pieces (I use a knob of ginger
that's about 4 inches)
Grated zest from 1 lemon, plus enough juice to equal 1/3-1/2 cup, depending on how
"lemony" you like your ginger beer
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast (the kind you make bread with, like Red Star or
Fleishman's is fine, and you can also use champagne yeast)
1 or 2 large, well cleaned, plastic bottles with screw caps (soda bottles work well--DO NOT USE GLASS BOTTLES)
Heat 4 cups of water, the cream of tarter, the ginger, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large pot until boiling. Stir in the sugar, reduce the heat to medium, and keep stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, partially cover the pot, and let the ginger mixture sit for an hour or two.
Add the remaining 4-5 cups of water (depending on how strong you like your brew--I use 5 cups) and let the mixture cool until it comes to room temperature or a little above (75-85 degrees F). Add the yeast, stirring it in well. Cover the pot with a lid and let the mixture sit for 3-4 hours. Strain the mixture into a large pitcher (not directly into the soda bottle unless you want a mess on your counter), catching the ginger in the strainer (you can save the ginger to make crystallized ginger--I'll post a recipe for how another day). Pour the mixture into your plastic bottle(s), leaving about one-third of the bottle empty, to allow for gas build up (the fermentation process will produce carbon dioxide gas).
Cap the bottles and put the bottles in a dark, warm (room temperature is fine) place for 24-72 hours (depending on how sweet you want your ginger beer--less time/sweeter ginger beer, longer time/drier ginger beer). During this time you MUST "BURP" the bottled ginger beer one to three times a day. That means you should carefully loosen the caps of the bottles to let some of the built-up gas escape (do NOT point the bottles at your face). You can also ferment the ginger beer with no top on the bottles or with the top on loosely to allow the gas to escape. I like the gas build up and "burping" my bottles as I get to monitor the fizz. Yes, I know I need to get a life. Once the ginger beer has brewed to your satisfaction, refrigerate it. The refrigeration will slow (but not stop) the fermentation process. The ginger beer will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator (getting drier in taste) but is best used within a week or two.