Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ginger Beer Plant 101

With my summer (beer) brewing hiatus well underway it is time to get something new fermenting, Ginger Beer Plant (GBP). GBP is the original way that people made ginger beer (ale) at home, it produces more interesting byproducts than forced carbonation or a regular yeast (including some acidity) and it will not over carbonate the finished drink after it is chilled.

GBP is like Kombucha in that it is a gelatinous symbiotic colony of microorganisms, in this case our old friends Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces. Although in this case they are different species than are common in beer production (hilgardii and florentinus instead of delbrueckii and cerevisiae according to Wikipedia).

Unlike Kombucha, GBP creates mainly lactic acid and likes to ferment anaerobically.
This should lead to a beverage that is more tangy than bracingly sour or vinegary (my main complaint about Kombucha).

I bought my culture from Fermented Treasures (now defunct), dried. The first step was to rehydrated the granules in room temperatures water with a bit of sugar. They swelled up pretty well within an hour, but the directions called for a 24 hour soak. By the next morning there were small bubbles coming through the liquid so I knew the microbes must have been active.

The microbes do their best work in warm temperatures (80-90 F) so summer in DC seems like the perfect time to give it a try. I am starting out with dried ginger for simplicity, then I'll move onto experimenting with fresh ginger. Citrus juice is also a standard ingredient, I'll start classic with lemon and move on to more interesting options (orange, lime, grapefruit etc...). I am also starting with regular white sugar, but will be making things more interesting after that (agave, palm sugar, unrefined sugar etc...).
1st batch: 7/08/08
1 qrt filtered water (no chlorine because it kills microbes)
2 tsp dried ginger
135 g cane sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (pulp left in)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (for head retention)
1 rehydrated ginger beer plant culture

Mixed all the ingredients together, let it sit for 48 hours at between 70-90 before bottling. I left the lid loose to allow CO2 to escape. I bottled it in a 1 L plastic Poland Springs bottle, plastic can hold much more pressure than glass and is much less dangerous in the event that it does rupture. Bad choice on the type of plastic bottle though, the bottom went from an inny to an outy when enough pressure built up (less than 24 hours). The flavor is pretty good, but a bit light on the spicy ginger flavor. The GBP added some nice tropical fruit notes and left plenty of sugar behind for it to be much more sweet than tart. Looks like carbonated lemonade.
2nd Batch 7/10/08
2 peeled fingers fresh ginger
1 cup + 3 cups filtered water
125 g sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (pulp strained out)
Rinsed ginger beer plant
I grated the ginger on a microplane grater than brought it to a boil in the microwave with 1 cup of water. I covered it with plastic wrap and let it cool for 1 hour before straining the ginger solids out, pressing on the ginger to extract all the juice. The ginger juice was then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. Fermented for 60 hours.
The flavor is much more spicy ginger with a milder lemon flavor. I would say that the fresh ginger is definitely superior to the dried, even though it does take a bit more effort.

3rd Batch 7/13/08
2 peeled fingers fresh ginger
1 cup + 3 cups filtered water
125 g sugar
Juice of 1 lemon (pulp strained out)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Rinsed ginger beer plant

Same as Batch #2, but the lemon zest was steeped/strained along with the ginger and I added the cream of tartar that I had forgotten in the previous batch.
I enjoy the quick turn around 4-5 days from brewing to drinking, but like Kombucha I will probably grow tired of the constant cycle of production.

Other reading on Ginger Beer Plant:


slim chillingsworth said...

why the hiatus?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Living in an old 4th floor apartment in DC makes summertime brewing less than comfortable (last summer the kitchen made it over 110 a few times). I also felt like taking a break from beer would free up some more time to play with some other fermentables (Ginger Beer Plant, Cheese, Sourdough, Buttermilk etc…) and make me more excited to start brewing again once the cool weather rolls around. Anyway, my chest freezer is full of sour ales at the moment, so my only option to brew would have been a saison anyway.

In reality though, it isn’t that much of a beer hiatus. I’ve already brewed a batch of Flanders Red at a friend’s house that will be blended with my batch in a year or so, and I’ll be brewing my second batch of lambic in early August. This weekend I’ll be up visiting my parents in Massachusetts and will taste the three sour beers that live up there (7 month old Cable Car Clone, 11 month old Flanders Pale, 23 month old Lambic) and possibly doing some bottling/racking/fruiting.

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Try a recipe with root beer spices if you get bored of the ginger. I am really enjoying the sweetness that licorice and dark brown sugar provides. Licorice also might be responsible for the creamy tan head that I am getting.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sounds good Steve, do you have a recipe you wouldn't mind sharing?

Steve said...

I am still experimenting and looking for ingredients. I used 120g/L of dark brown sugar. My first effort for flavor steeped Stash licorice spice tea (licorice root, cinnamon, orange peel, Chinese star anise, natural flavor of vanilla, sarsaparilla, orange oil, cinnamon oil, clove oil, cardamom oil), wintergreen, mint, cloves, powdered ginger. I added vanilla extract and lemon extract at bottling. A lot of things were in very small quantities. It needs work. I need to find some of the ingredients by themselves. My short list includes birch, licorice root, sarsparilla, and sassafras. Looking up the ingredients of different root beers is helping me find direction.

Justin said...

Ever thought to use ginger bug to ferment a beer wort? Pros/cons?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Not fermenting wort with GBP is something I regretted never trying before tossing my culture. Not sure the microbes would be able to ferment maltose, but it would have been worth a shot! If you try it, I'd love to hear the result!

tmcaleer said...

Do you have any GBP to share?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I couldn't keep the schedule up and threw the culture out probably eight years ago! Not sure of any reliable sources at the moment.

Unknown said...

I'm about to buy some GBP.
Excited to make Real Ginger Beer!!

I also definitely want to test the GBP in wort, prob a 5ga test batch...
2.5ga using GBP and another 2.5ga using beer yeast...
Any suggestions for a recipe that may work well with the GBP?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I'd stick to low gravity and no hops (similar to a Berliner weisse), give the lactic acid bacteria their best shot!

Liam said...

It's not necessary to buy the culture, you can easily make your own. All you need is an empty jar, grate a tea spoon of ginger in, add a teaspoon of white sugar and enough filtered water to cover, and put a paper towel with a rubber band over the jar. After 2 days you need to feed your culture with another teaspoon ginger, sugar and water. After a day or two, you will notice it bubbling, and then it's ready to use!

Inge said...

Liam: Indeed you can ferment ginger beer from captured wild yeast, but you are not creating the SCOBY called Ginger Beer Plant which gives ginger beer its unique taste.

Spenser K said...

I know this post is a decade old, but I figured I'd try.
As a brewer both home and professionally, I'm looking into ginger bug/ginger fermentation, and am seeking out knowledge on water chemistry/profiles. Have you come across any information pertaining to the water profile best used in ginger fermentation?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've gone to higher chloride for my sour beers, ~150 PPM. That's something that might work well to add a little more mouthfeel to a ginger beer.

Deborah said...

Would like to get some real Ginger Beer Plant,,,, where could I get some from, please

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