Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Strange Brew

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In my high school microbiology class we made yogurt and wine (no, we weren't allowed to try the wine). Both were used to teach us about the wonders of microbes and fermentation. Without fermentation we wouldn't have wine, yogurt, soy sauce, beer or cheese. All things I wouldn't want to live without. Seriously, I've toyed with the idea of going vegan and the cheese thing is always the deal breaker. In short, fermentation is good.

I also like ginger. A lot. When I'm sick, I want ginger tea. I like sushi because it's an excuse to eat pickled ginger. If you were to bring me Ginger People ginger chews, I would be your new best friend. And if you ferment ginger with some sugar, water and lemon juice you get one of my favorite libations: ginger beer. If you like ginger, put down that ginger ale. Ginger beer makes ginger ale look like a mild mannered fuddy-duddy. It has a much more assertive ginger flavor, but retains a nice balance of sweetness and delicious, gingery heat.

Yes, you can find ginger beer commercially (Bundaberg is my fave). But making it at home will be cheaper and you can do some customization with the flavor. Plus, it's like being back in Mrs. Wheeler's classroom. So throw on a lab coat and gather your materials. This recipe is a modified version of Jeffrey Morgenthaler's ginger beer. (The man is a mixology god, so definitely check out his site. His barrel aged cocktails are the new big thing).

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I picked up 16 ounce bail top bottles from my local homebrew supply shop. This recipe will fill one 16 ounce bottle.
1 ounce ginger juice
1.5 ounces lemon or lime juice
3.5 ounces simple syrup
10 ounces warm water
1/16 tsp champagne yeast

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The most laborious part of this recipe is extracting the ginger juice. Just think of it as your arm workout for the day. Peel your ginger (just use the side of spoon to scrape off the skin). Using a microplane or the side of your cheese grater with the smallest slots, grate your ginger. Ginger is quite fibrous and this is where you'll get that workout. Put your grated ginger in cheesecloth, wringing it to extract as much juice as possible. For the 6 ounces of ginger juice I needed, I used the whole chunk of ginger pictured above. If you have juicer, extracting the ginger juice is, obviously, much easier.

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Juice your lemons or limes, making sure to strain out the pips and bits of pulp. Mix up a batch of simple syrup. In that last post, I made several different kinds of simple syrup. I then used those simple syrups to create different flavors of ginger beer. I made six bottles of ginger beer, using these variations.
1. Lemon juice and plain simple syrup
2. Lime juice and plain simple syrup
3. Lemon juice and honey syrup
4. Lime juice and turbinado syrup
5. Lemon juice and honey lavender syrup
6. Lime juice and turbinado mint syrup

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Pour the ginger juice, lemon or lime juice, simple syrup and water to your bottle, leaving a bit of head space. Now it's time for the yeast. I used champagne yeast this time (I found this at the local homebrew supply place). However, I have used regular bread yeast before and it worked just fine. In lieu of yeast, you could also try a wild starter or a ginger beer plant to begin the fermentation. Using yeast makes the fermentation a bit more predictable and speeds up the ginger beer making timeline. Add the yeast to your bottle, close the top and give it a gentle shake to mix.

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Now, find a dark, warmish place to store your bottle for about 48 hours. The first time I made homemade ginger beer, I just used a plastic two-liter bottle. This allowed me to tell when the brew had fermented enough (the bottle will get very hard). The fermentation happened much more quickly than I anticipated, and the bottle was firm after only 12 hours (probably because I used too much yeast that time). I wanted to use these more attractive bail top bottles this time, but I also didn't want exploding shards of glass. So I filled a small plastic water bottle with a sample of the ginger beer to give me an idea of how the fermentation was progressing. After 48 hours (or when your plastic bottle is firm), place your bottle(s) in the refrigerator to halt the fermentation process.

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And now you have delicious, carbonated, spicy, sweet ginger beer! It's yummy on it's own (the fermentation does give it a slight alcohol content, so this is not a recipe for the kiddos). There are also a couple of classic cocktails you can make with ginger beer. So invite some friends over and mix up a Moscow Mule or a Dark 'n' Stormy! With all of the different variations we tried, ginger was rightly still the predominant flavor. The honey, turbinado, mint and lavender all just added a subtle background complexity. I found that the lemon and honey variations worked really well with the Moscow Mule. The version with lavender gave it a slight botanical note, which was pleasant. The Dark 'n' Stormy worked best with the lime and turbinado versions of the ginger beer. The molasses flavor of the turbinado complimented the dark rum and the mint gave it a subtle kick. The ginger beer will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

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Oh, and when it started to rain on our ginger beer tasting/pool party, we went inside and watched 8: The Mormon Proposition. It's a fascinating (and timely) documentary, narrated by Dustin Lance Black. I recommend adding it to your must-see list.


twirlingsheep said...

i think i have a new project for the weekend. looks to be fun and tasty-- i love ginger beer. thanks!

Anonymous said...

many thanks ... i've been mixing your suggestions with the NYT article this summer and made a dozen or so batches. yummy!