I am currently in the process of making my own brewed ginger ale. The ginger ale sold in grocery stores is known as dry ginger ale, which is a nice way of saying it consists of ginger extract and soda water. This is the “dry” in “Canada Dry”. I wanted to make a more authentic variety.
Brewed ginger ale is very similar to ginger beer. Essentially, it is ginger beer with only negligible amounts of alcohol. Just like beer, it is brewed with yeast, although the process is stopped before alcohol can build up. My first attempt at making this failed because the starter (a mixture of yeast, sugar, and ginger) was not healthy. The second attempt created ginger ale, but the flavor was similar to bread yeast. Now, I think I have a recipe that works.
The first step is to create a starter. This is where I had my first problems. To create a starter, place a tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger and a tablespoon of sugar in a pint of water. Cover this with a cloth and let it stand on the counter. Each day, add more ginger and sugar. Eventually, yeast will start to grow in the starter and begin to bubble. You know the culture is active when it bubbles actively. Make sure you feed the starter every day to keep it healthy. I just add a pinch of chopped ginger and a small spoonful of sugar every morning.
To tell the truth, when I didn’t have much activity in my starter after a week and a half, I cheated by adding a pinch of baker’s yeast to jump-start the process. This did seem to help, but it took a while for the starter to switch from smelling yeasty to smelling fruity. This starter is also known as a “ginger bug”, and is akin to the “ginger beer plant” used in making ginger beer.
To use a starter, I simply stir it, and then use the amount of the liquid that the recipe calls for. I then top it back up with water, and in a few days the starter is bubbling happily again.
To make my first successful batch of ginger ale, I used the following steps:
In a saucepan, boil 2.5 tbsp of chopped ginger in a quart of water. Once the water boils, add 3/4 cup of granulated sugar. Then, let the water cool to room temperature.
In a half-gallon jar (I use a pickle jar), add 2 tbsp lemon juice, a pinch of anise seed, two cloves, and the seeds from five cardamom pods. Add in the cooled water, sugar, and ginger, and add 1/4 cup of starter. Top the jar off with water, stir, and put the lid on the jar loosely.
At this point, leave it on the counter for two or three days, to let the culture develop. After this time, bottle the ginger ale by pouring through a cloth. Don’t stir beforehand, and leave the bottom inch or so of liquid in the jar to remove any dead yeast.
Then, cap the bottle, and leave on the counter until you can’t squeeze it anymore. The yeast are producing carbon dioxide, which will carbonate the ginger ale once it reaches a high enough pressure. If I’m getting close, I put the bottle in the sink or a large bowl in case the pressure bursts it. When the bottle is rigid, place it in the refrigerator to cool before drinking it. If you keep it warm, the pressure will get too high and the bottle may explode. Open the bottle carefully, since it may fountain.
If, once you taste it, it is still too sweet, recap it, and leave it on the counter again, until it is rigid. The yeast will use up more of the sugar, making the drink dryer.
~The Homesteading Hippy