I remember drinking bottled ginger beer on the rare occasions that my mother allowed us to drink soda. It’s strong gingery, spicy taste was wonderfully refreshing. I hadn’t had it for years until lately, when a friend brought some to a picnic. The kind she brought was from a small brewer and it had a richer flavor to it than what I remembered. Apparently ginger beer, which doesn’t have to contain alcohol, has made a resurgence in popularity. Some is carbonated, and some is fermented or has alcohol added.
My friend remembered her mother making a big, cloudy, thirst-quenching batch of it, but didn’t have her recipe. I had found some recipes and she and I made different batches, her with more success.
What I learned was that fermented ginger beer relied on wild yeast and was traditionally brewed in Europe by passing on the starter. World War Two was the death of the tradition.
I tried a batch of ginger beer hoping to catch wild yeast spores, but it didn’t work. I also tried a batch adding brewer’s yeast, but that didn’t work either. I made a batch with brown sugar and spices that was slowly added to day by day for a week. The results were not what I was looking for. The brown sugar was too sweet and didn’t complement the ginger flavor, and the drink itself too sharp to be pleasant.
The best recipe so far, which my friend made with success, was of course the easiest. It is from Martha Stewart Magazine, and except for the shredding of the ginger, very easy to make. It has only four ingredients.
- 2 pounds fresh ginger root (get the plumpest you can find or it will be fiberous and hard to cut)
- 1 gallon boiling water
- 1½ cups freshly squeezed lime juice (about 8 limes. Yellow limes are just limes that are ripe and are much jucier).
- 1½ cups white sugar
- Cut ginger root into 1-inch pieces and place in bowl of a food processor or Vita-Mix, and process until finely chopped. If you have neither machine, you can use a grater with the largest holes, but watch your fingers!
- Transfer the chopped or grated or shredded ginger to a large pot or bowl
- and add the boiling water.
- Allow to stand for one hour, or overnight.
- Drain through a fine sieve. If you would like the drink less cloudy, line the sieve with a double thickness of damp cheesecloth. Compost the solids or spread them on the ground around your plants for mulch.
- Add lime juice and sugar, stirring to dissolve.
- Serve over ice, or plain, or mixed with orange juice, or whatever suits your fancy. Refrigerate to store. I poured mine into mason jars. Stir or shake before serving. Makes 16 cups.