The Ginger Bug: Make Your Own Ginger Beer

What You'll Need

Ingredients for the Ginger Bug
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, plus additional ginger to feed your "bug"
  • 2 teaspoons organic sugar, plus additional sugar to feed your "bug"
  • 1 cup non-chlorinated water
Ingredients for
the Ginger Tea
  • 4 quarts of water
  • 1 thumb to 1 hand of ginger (how spicy do you like it?)
  • 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
  • 2 Lemons

Ginger is a powerful plant. The knobby root can be used in so many ways, from stir-fry to tea to kraut ingredient. Warm and spicy, lively and earthy, it's a versatile and adaptable culinary ally. It's also strong medicine, used for centuries as an immune booster and digestive aid. It's also delicious! It's hard to pin down just what my favorite way to use it might be. But this recipe for real-deal, probiotic ginger beer might be the winner.

Ginger is covered with wild yeasts, much in the same way that grapes and apples are. For this reason, it is sometimes peeled before being put into kraut and other lactic ferments, so as not to contaminate the bacterial action with yeast. This same property can be used to our benefit, when we make a ginger bug.

What's a ginger bug, you say? It's a charming name for a collection of bacteria and yeasts (bugs, for fun!) that will readily colonize a jar of sweetened ginger left out on the counter for a few days. It's easy to make, and easy to tailor the intensity of the ginger flavor. All you need is ginger and sugar and some clamp top bottles. (OK, and a jar and a funnel and some boiling water, too.) This recipe is taken from Sandor Katz, in his book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, 2nd Edition, but similar recipes abound.

Use the one that works for you! Here's how to do it.


1) Prepare your Ginger Bug

For a 1 gallon batch, grate 1 inch of ginger (peel and all) into a mason jar.  
grate gingerAdd 2 teaspoons of sugar and a cup of water and stir.

add to jar with sugarCover it with cheesecloth to keep the dust out and leave it on the counter in a warm place.

Every day, feed the bug by adding this same amount of new sugar and new ginger.

feeding ginger bugAfter a few days, it will begin to bubble. Congratulations! A ginger bug is born.

The ginger has been colonized by beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and is ready to get to work for you. Keep feeding it until you are able to make your ginger beer, to keep it active and lively.

2) Brew Your Ginger Tea

The next step is to brew a batch of ginger tea with some new ginger. You can brew it as strong as you like, using anywhere from a thumb to an entire hand of ginger.

Boil 2 quarts of water then turn off the heat. Grate the ginger into the water and then add 1 1/2 cups of sugar and stir to dissolve. brew ginger teaThis will be food for the ginger beer. Allow the tea to cool as the ginger infuses.

After the tea has cooled, strain the grated ginger out of the new ginger tea. 

strain teaAdd the juice of 2 lemons.

add lemon juiceStrain the liquid from the ginger bug, and add the liquid bug to the cooled tea.

add ginger bugAdd enough cold water to the combined ginger concoctions to make 1 gallon--about 2 more quarts.The probiotic juice from the ginger bug, will inoculate the ginger tea with the beneficial bacteria and yeasts it will need to begin fermenting.

3) Bottle for Secondary Fermentation

Place a small funnel at the mouth of a clean clamp top bottle, and fill each bottle up to within an inch of the top.

bottling ginger beerClamp the bottles shut, and leave them in a warm dark place for 10-14 days. As the yeasts and bacteria in the ginger bug tea begin to digest the sugar, the by-product they generate is CO2. Lucky us! The CO2 is trapped in solution, in the sealed bottle. This means carbonation! The longer it ferments, the more bubbly it becomes, so watch out and check the progress of your bottles every day after the first 5 days. If you like, you may re-use a plastic soda bottle for at least one serving of ginger beer. As the carbonation increases, the plastic bottle will become firmer and harder to the touch; this is a good way to keep tabs on the developing carbonation. Alternatively, just crack open one of the bottles periodically to gauge the developing pressure.

4) Refrigerate and Enjoy

When it has reached a carbonation level that you desire, put the bottles in the fridge and keep them there until you are ready to enjoy them. It's important to keep them cold; this is a wild ferment and allowing them to stay at room temp will cause them to continue fermenting, building up pressure and potentially breaking the bottle. Keep 'em cold and the yeasts and bacteria cannot continue to produce CO2.

Did I mention that this is the best ginger beer that I have ever had? It is! You can adjust the flavor by varying the amount of ginger, or by adding a squeeze of lime or lemon to the bottle, or by using fruit juice in place of the sugar in the tea. 

The ginger bug is also a great way to kick off other fermented beverages, and a great starting place for further experimentation and exploration. Enjoy!

Over to You

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