I have been so very excited to share my new homebrewing book, True Brews, with you this week. Yesterday we gave you a little peek into the book, and today here's one more tidbit to spark your homebrewing daydreams! I have many favorites from the book — the Peach Iced Tea Kombucha, the Mocha Stout, the Chai-Spiced Mead — but this ginger ale is The One. It's like all your wildest ginger ale dreams come true: snappy and fresh, sweet and a little spicy, and perfect for these early summer days. Even better, you can start a batch tonight and be sipping your first glass of homebrewed soda by tomorrow.
This ginger ale is a great place to start if you've never brewed anything before. All you need is a recycled plastic soda bottle. Just fill it with the sweet gingery soda base, add a pinch of yeast, and screw on the cap. Check the bottle every so often — when it's rock-solid to the touch with almost no give, stick it in the fridge for a few hours. Once chilled, you're ready to rock and roll.
I love using champagne yeast to brew sodas because I feel that it has a cleaner taste and makes a fizzier soda. You can pick up little packets of this yeast at homebrewing supply stores and some Whole Foods stores, or you can order them online from places like Norther Brewer. You only need a pinch to make your soda, so wrap up the leftover yeast and store it in the fridge until the next soda-making urge strikes.
But if you're eager to make soda and can't get your hands on champagne yeast right away, you can also use regular active-dry yeast — the same used for bread baking. You might find that your soda has a bit of a yeasty aftertaste with this baker's yeast, but it does a fine job in a pinch!
Makes about 8 cups (enough to fill a 2-liter plastic soda bottle)
2-inch piece fresh gingerroot
1 cup water, plus more to fill the bottles
9 tablespoons / 4 ounces white granulated sugar, plus more if needed
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons), plus more if needed
1/8 teaspoon dry champagne yeast
Peel and finely grate the ginger (I use a Microplane). You should have about 2 tablespoons of grated gingerroot.
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan on the stove top or in the microwave. Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Add the ginger and let stand until cool. Stir in the lemon juice.
Pour the ginger water into a clean 2-liter bottle using a funnel. Do not strain out the ginger. Top off the bottle with water, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace. Give it a taste and add more lemon juice or sugar if desired. The extra sugar will dissolve on its own.
Add the yeast. Screw on the cap and shake the bottle to dissolve and distribute the yeast. Let the bottle sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight until carbonated, typically 12 to 48 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Check the bottle periodically; when it feels rock solid with very little give, it’s ready.
Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 weeks. Open very slowly over a sink to release the pressure gradually and avoid bubble-ups. Pour the soda through a small fine-mesh strainer to catch the ginger as you pour.
Bottling in Glass Bottles: Sodas can also be bottled in glass or swing-top bottles, but it's more difficult to tell when the sodas have fully carbonated. Therefore, with every batch you bottle, also fill one small plastic soda bottle to use as an indicator for when the sodas have finished carbonating. Refrigerate all of the bottles as soon as the plastic bottle is carbonated; never leave the glass bottles at room temperature once carbonated.
Sugar-Free Soda: Use 1 tablespoon of white granulated sugar per 8 cups of soda to carbonate, but beyond that, you can sweeten to taste with another sweetener of your choosing. The sugar will be almost entirely consumed during fermentation.
Alcohol in Homebrewed Sodas: As long as yeast is being used to carbonate beverages, alcohol will be made as a by-product. However, the short fermentation time limits the amount of alcohol produced in sodas, and it typically comes out to less than 1 percent.
How to Avoid Gushing, Exploding, Overcarbonated Sodas: Sodas can overcarbonate very easily. This can cause geysers when you first open them or bursting bottles if left unrefrigerated for too long. Refrigeration suspends fermentation (and therefore carbonation), but it will start again when the bottles are removed from refrigeration.
It's best to bottle sodas in used (cleaned!) plastic soda bottles since it's easy to gauge carbonation just by pressing the side. Always open sodas over a sink or outside, and unscrew the cap extremely slowly to allow pressure to release gradually.
(Images: Paige Green for Ten Speed Press/True Brews)