Fomenting Friendship With Fermentation

Cue ominous music

In the heart of Hackney…..a storm is brewing……..a storm with a heart of fire….

Or rather, a Dark’n’Stormy is brewing…..

OK, I’ll just come out with it – I am brewing my own ginger beer.

As a long time ginger fan, I can hardly believe it’s taken me this long to get around to it, but there you are.

Spurred on by misty watercoloured memories of incredibly hot g-beer drunk straight out of a cobwebby plastic jug in the garage as a child, and intrigued by the mysteries of the “Ginger Beer Plant”, I ordered a sachet of gunk from the internet (although I feel pretty silly now because apparently it’s easy to make your own with yeast/ginger/sugar), put it in a covered jug, added 200ml pre-boiled cooled water and began to feed it.

live_ginger_beer_plant_paste

If you want to get technical, the gunk is a composite organism consisting of a fungus, yeast and bacteria, yummy yum yum. This, then, is the fabled “Ginger Beer Plant”.

Feed it!

Stage 1: You feed the greedy gunk with a teaspoon of ginger powder and a teaspoon of sugar every day for 7 days. It’s like the opposite of Gremlin rules because you get it wet, and it’s perfectly OK to feed it after midnight.

feeding_ginger_beer_plant

Some people swear by using grated ginger root rather than powder, and I intend to try that with the next batch, but I must admit I’m not too concerned with the opinions of root purists, quite frankly their sanctimony sickens me. You are not better than me, root purists!

To encourage good vibes at this stage of the process, you may wish to serenade the gunk, as you would play classical music to a favourite plant. You want it to feel warm, comfortable and nostalgic, so the music of Bread, Miki Imai or John Denver is recommended.

Stage 2: After 7 days, the gunk is fully fed, like a boa constrictor which has swallowed a deer. Combine in a big pan 250ml of boiling water, 500g sugar and 50ml lemon juice (I have heard it said that adding a handful of roughly chopped sultanas (straining them out afterwards) at this stage improves body and “mouth-feel”) – when the sugar has dissolved, strain the gunk through a muslin (a tea towel works if you don’t have a muslin specifically) into the mixture so the liquor is added, retaining the solid gunk for the next batch.

If you are using fresh lemon juice, strain that through the cloth also so you don’t add texture. The same goes for adding fresh grated ginger root to add heat at this stage if you wish.

straining_lemon_juice

Add 2 litres of cold water.

You can bottle it at this stage if you like, just be careful not to fill the bottles quite to the top and check them all daily for the next stage of the process, otherwise potentially POW you have explosive carnage on your hands. You can also let it ferment in a large container as I am doing, bottling it later.

brewing_ginger_beer

Stage 3: You let the liquid ferment for approximately 4 days, releasing excess gas daily (ha!). Taste on day 4 to see how it scores on both fizz and sweetness. The longer it ferments, the fizzier and more alcoholic it gets, and you can add strained grated ginger or ginger powder to increase fieriness if you like.

When you are happy with the result, bottle and refrigerate. The cold should halt the fermentation process and decrease the likelihood of explosive carnage. Don’t leave them too long, though.

Although you can purchase bottles for the purpose online, this seems like a sucker option to me. I am repurposing glass screw top bottles, first sterilizing them with boiling water.

repurposed_ginger_beer_bottles

Bear in mind that this will be on a level with cider, as far as alcohol content goes, so do exercise caution when imbibing.

The magical part comes when you consider the solid gunk you have left. It will be roughly twice the size it was when you started. This means you can go again, either making twice as much, or separating it into two parts and handing one on to a friend. To activate it, add 200ml pre-boiled cooled water again. In between times you can freeze it or refrigerate for a few days.

ginger_beer_plant

This was quite the neighbourhood craze in the 1970’s, where suburbia’s traditional soundscape consisted of the hiss of gas releasing from fermenting ginger beer, the rustle of pampas grasses in the front gardens, and the clink of car keys being thrown into bowls at parties. People listened to a lot more Demis Roussos vinyl records in those days, too.

!1

 A simpler time, and some would say, a better time.

 Bring some of that community vibe back by brewing enough ginger beer for everyone, and using the Peruvian Beer-Drinking Ritual.

 Gather in a rough circle and produce a large bottle or jug of g-beer, and one small glass.

 Person A fills the glass from the jug and passes the jug to person B, who is next to them.

 Person B waits with the jug while Person A drains their glass.

Person A flicks any froth from the glass to the ground then passes it to person B. (Just shake the dregs to the ground with a flick of the wrist).

Person B receives the glass and fills it, then passes the jug to person C, who is next to them.

Person C waits with the bottle until Person B passes him the drained, flicked glass.

Whoever drinks the last from the jug must get a fresh jug.

Brewing your own g-beer and passing on the main ingredient to others, especially when combined with this group drinking method, should be effective as a sharing and bonding tradition which will weave your community of friends and family tighter.

Another use for your new supply of g-beer is in a cocktail. Ginger heat blends well with whisky and spice, so try this:

Ginger Whiskers

Mixed spice simple syrup

Blended whisky

Ginger beer

ginger_whiskers_cocktail_ingredients

For the syrup: use equal parts of sugar and water. I’d recommend brown sugar or demerara for this if you have it. Bring a cup of water to the boil in a small pan, add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add a teaspoon of mixed spice powder, stir carefully together, then allow to cool in the fridge.

mixed_spice_simple_syrup

Shake a shot of whisky with a tablespoon or hard dash of the syrup in a chilled shaker, then pour over ice and top up with g-beer.

ginger_whiskers_cocktail2

One for long summer evenings as the shadows lengthen.

UPDATE: “Ginger beer plant and what you get by mixing up ginger with some water and sugar (commonly called ginger bug or ginger beer bug) are not the same thing. GBP forms a SCOBY similar to kefir or tibicos. Ginger bug is just the wild yeast and bacteria living on the ginger, but they generally do not form a polysaccharide matrix like GBP has.” – with thanks to mutedog via reddit

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