with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tight rules on sanitation

Not one to pass up a good bandwagon as it trundles by; I’ve just put to bed a beautiful smelling ginger beer (or ale…). Frankly, it was nice just to see some brewing activity – the first since the cider, back in November. Ridiculously long for someone who blogs about brewing.

Ginger beer (or ale) isn’t something I’ve given much thought to, until recently.
After dressing up as a pink phoenix and pushing a float up and down the sun-baked streets of Carndonagh for an Easter parade, the natural conclusion was a trip to the pub. I had my usual Smithwick’s, but a hue and a cry went up for Crabbies’ Ginger Beer!

It’s not new, but The Arch started stocking it recently, and before long half of the group were drinking it, my missus included. So, thought I, while I wait for the bags of DME to show up (which probably won’t happen till after I’ve ordered them) I’ll get cracking on some ginger beer.

I’ve copied some recipes from the net and I’ll work my way through a couple, to see what works best. Crabbies’ was very refreshing, sweet, with hints of herbs somewhere, flavours which a ginger, sugar, water and lemon recipe can only dream of, but eventually, and with some surplus crystal malt and hops, I’ll perhaps perfect a brew which my girlfriend will like. And in one or two gallon batches and with reasonably cheap ingredients (ginger is so potent you only need a few ounces), I have plenty of room for experiment.

Missus Homebrew didn’t feel like she’d get through a lot (and a 5 gallon batch would be a bit of a gamble for a whim), so I’ll be brewing one, maybe two gallons to begin with. Once the Republic of Inishowen has discovered the desirable properties of my ginger beer, then we’ll go bigger, but for now I’ll need a 2-gallon fermenting vessel. The kind folk at the Cosy Cottage in Moville have given me two empty bulk mayonnaise tubs, both weighing in at 10litres apiece. Of course I could have used my 5gallon, but I’m brewing so regularly that I wasn’t sure I’d find a spare week in which to ferment. Oh, but look, it’s free now, once I move all this stuff that’s piled up on it.

So, the smell of mayonnaise and some sort of cleaning fluid scrubbed from the pot, I boiled 8oz of finely sliced ginger in a little water for about 15 minutes. During this time I got two yeast starters going. The opened packet of cider yeast didn’t do well at all, so I tossed it into the boil (as yeast nutrients, and shouldn’t affect the flavour) and opened a fresh pack of Young’s Champagne yeast. Then, once boiled, I filtered the hot ginger liquid into the clean mayonnaise tub through a pair of old (sanitised) tights. I added to this just shy of 1kg (2ish lbs) of sugar, and topped up the water to about 2 gallons. Finally, in went a washed and quartered lemon, the tights, in which is tied the ginger, and once at 22oC I pitched the champagne yeast.

Within two hours it’s bubbling away healthily. I was nervous at first, because it seemed thick, and jelly-like, but it turns out, after inspection with a torch, that the bubbles are in fact bits of floating yeast. Having never seen champagne yeast work before, I think I’ll rest easy now, knowing the brew is in millions of good hands. Over the weekend I’ll take out the tights of ginger, and let it ferment a couple more days. Then, all being well, I’ll bottle it into pint sized bottles, and let sit for about a week.

The original gravity is 1046, which should give a plump 4.5% ABV, and overall it cost less than £2 to make. It won’t be opened or tasted for a couple of weeks, but it already smells fantastic. Crabbies’ is a tough benchmark, but if the weather is this good through summer, I’ll be getting plenty of brewing practice.

And as the saying goes, “I’m so thirsty I’d drink it through a sock”… Well, I've just the drink for you.


  1. Wait! The mists are clearing. What's this I see? It looks like some kind of mantlepiece. And is that blogging awards propping up a gas bill? No, it's all getting hazy again! Quick, cross my palm with more of those Euro dubloons...

  2. Such inspiration, and all you had to do was don a ridiculous pink costume and make a fool of yourself in public. Looking forward to sampling the next batch :-)

  3. How did your ginger beer turn out? What did you use to sweeten it as all the sugar will have gone through fermentation and if any other is added the bottles will blow up when conditioning. Any suggestions?

  4. Tom (homebrewindonegal)October 11, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    There's recipes available in old boks (70s - 80s) where pale dried malt extract is used to substitute for some of the sugar, which would give residual sweetness, though I found that after about 3 months it was still sufficiently sweet. However, after that it did get even drier, but also lost a lot of ginger flavour. It could have been differences between bottles, but it could be a shelf life too.

    The ginger beer turned out nice, initially, then got fantastic on that one hot day in late July we had (about 3 months), then the last bottle, drank at around 5 months, was only fit to throw away.

    I'm still using some of my cheap old 10p bottles of carbonated water from sainsburys. The ginger beer was so well conditioned that it took 10 minutes to pour, and the bottle was fine. So long as you don't overdo the priming sugars, you'll be fine. But no, it won't sweeten your ginger beer.

    Finally, I'm going to experiment with some Lacotse soon, so I'll write about that, as and when. Check back soon!