Ginger beer – a natural probiotic

With our reliance on a modern food system, we have lost so many skills on how to make our own food. Ginger beer is a firm favourite, in our family, and the three bottles we make, twice a week, are probably not enough if you asked the kids. There is much written on the internet about the finer points of ginger beer making, the benefits thereof and a variety of options available. However most foodies, who write those kinds of posts, tend to make them a little more complicated than they need to be. So this is ginger beer making as simple and pragmatic as possible, the way I do it.

The Process

Myrtle, is the name of our gingerbeer starter, called a bug by those in the know. Every 3-4 days, we take half of Myrtle, add sugar and water and bottle it. Those we drink in another 3-4 days. Myrtle is refilled with water, fed some sugar, some grated ginger and two sips of lemon juice. There is no rhyme or reason, to my rhythm of doing this every Tuesday and Saturday. It is that simple.

The Gingerbeer Bug – Meet Myrtle

Myrtle is named after my Grandmother, a reminder of the skills we have lost, which have not been passed down the generations. To make your own, every three days add the following to a 1 litre container, glass is preferred, metal discouraged.

1/2 cup water (dechlorinated – leave your water out overnight)
2 Tbl sugar (we like brown sugar)
1 Tbl grated ginger (no I do not boil it. I might give it a bit of a wash if it is covered in soil.)
1 tsp lemon juice (the natural yeasts enjoy an acidic environment and it adds taste)

Do this four times, which means 12 days after you started, you are ready to move forward. By now you should have bubbles, a slightly gingery, yeasty smell and the glorious sound of that biotic beatbox of bursting bubbles, try say that fast!

Feeding Myrtle

So you have about a half litre of liquid, full of ginger pieces and you are ready to start production. Give your bug it’s first major feeding. You will do this every 3-4 days.

2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar (try not to skimp here, reduce the sugar during bottling if you want)
1-2 Tbl grated ginger (about a thumb knuckle)
2 tsp lemon juice

You now have 1 litre of fluid and after 3-4 days you are ready to bottle. Over time there will be a build up of ginger sludge and dead yeast, which I sieve off, and wash out her jar, then put her back. Usually about two weeks to a month.

Using Myrtle to bottle up

You now have a working gingerbeer bug, and every 3-4 days we use half of it to make gingerbeer, and feed the other half, to keep the bug going. So on Tuesday and Saturdays, we take Myrtle and make gingerbeer.

2 cups of ginger beer bug (use a sieve, thank you Myrtle)
5 cups of water (still dechlorinated)
1 cup of sugar (we still like brown)

Mix it in a large bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Then bottle, into something that will not burst with the pressure. You want to try seal it well to build up the pressure, to create as much fizz as possible. I have used a 2l soda bottle, and currently use Radler bottles (swing top glass bottles) which have sentimental family value. 3-4 days later, pop them in the fridge and enjoy when cold.

If you want to reduce the sugar at this stage, to get a ‘dry’ ginger beer, then do so. We have reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup and are working our way down to a 1/2 cup. It definitely brings out the ginger flavour more.

Taking Myrtle on an adventure

There is no need to stick with just ‘plain’ ginger beer. Myrtle longs to have her children go on adventures. To have the sugar replaced with honey, to add pomegranate juice, maybe some orange juice at bottling. Herbs?

Name your bug

We once had a rooster, that needed to go, selling him was not working, so my animal loving daughter (6 at the time) called him Rocky. In her words “Dad we named him, now we can’t kill him”.

Myrtle is alive, a yeast filled soup, feeding on sugar to create the carbon dioxide bubbles. Go ahead and name your bug, because if you name it, you will look after it, because in the wisdom of six year olds, if you name it, you can’t kill it.