Some time in November, I was saying to The Universe that I was in the market for some high-quality fermented foods. About a week later I was at Holistic Chamber of Commerce meeting in Ventura, CA and I met some fermenters. Not only does Wild at Heart sell sauerkraut and fermented sodas, but they teach classes.
I’m super interested in fermenting as well as food preservation. I have been ever since I was a little girl and I helped my grandma make preserves in her kitchen using the fruits that she grew in her own backyard… A few years ago I took up preserving jams and fermenting sauerkraut while living in Northern California. Now it’s time to increase my skills…
In January, I got to go to one of Wild at Heart’s workshops in Santa Barbara.
I’m not one for blindly following written directions – especially over the course of weeks - so a class is more suited for my learning style.
I learned that in order to make ginger ale, you first need to make the starter - the "ginger bug."
Michelle, our instructor, demonstrated the process step-by-step. She also got our ginger bug started for us so that we left with a mason jar of three cups of soon-to-be ginger bug - plus all the ingredients we would need for the week.
Making the Ginger-Bug
I let the ginger bug work it’s magic for about a week, adding more sugar and ginger each day and "burping" the brew. Basically each day you add a tablespoon of minced organic ginger and a tablespoon of organic cane sugar, then you gently turn the jar so it all mixes in. Easy enough.
When you see bubbles at the top of the jar it means it's fermenting. Also the gasses from the fermentation will make the top of the jar taught so that when you press on the metal, it's doesn't move.
Five days into the process you can start making the wort for your ginger ale (or root beer as it uses the same starter).
When the bug was ready I didn’t have the time on hand to chop and boil stuff, so I put the ginger bug in the refrigerator, waiting for a better time.
Making the Ginger Ale (and Ginger Beer!)
In addition to one cup of ginger bug, the ginger ale recipe calls for one cup of minced ginger and ¾ cups of organic cane sugar.The new ginger and sugar gets boiled down into a "wort."
I doubled the recipe because it’s just easier for me. I like to make large batches because I figure if you’re going to do it once, you might as well do it once but on a larger scale. Plus the ginger ale can stay in the fridge indefinitely.
The recipe calls for 3 cups of water (now 6 for me). I brought it to a boil with the ginger and sugar. The goal is simmer it into a kind of aromatic tea.
After it simmered on the stove for ten minutes, it was ready. I placed a cheese cloth over the large mason jar. It has to be transferred from the pot to the mason jar immediately – still very hot – or “bad things” will happen to the brew.
I saved the left over ginger bits for a ginger snack later on…
Because I doubled the recipe, I split the wort into the two different containers.
One got a bit of lemon juice, and the other stayed lemon free.One question I still do have is with the lemon addition (which is optional). I know that lemon is a disinfectant and wouldn’t it therefore kill (gasp!) the bug??
I added three cups of chilled water to each and I waited until the jars had cooled. They are supposed to cool to 75-80 degrees before you add the bug. (It took me a week to make the bug and there was no way I was going to risk frying it in boiling water).
However, my thermonoter didn’t seem to be cooperating, so I just put it in when it felt cool.
I was about two cups short of a full jar so I just added some water on top of it…
I placed the jars in the cupboard to keep them out of the sun.
And I burped my babies daily.
For ginger ale the wait time was 3 days.
For ginger beer it was 5-7.
Problems in Paradise
I noticed that even through both jars made a "hissing" sound when I opened them, neither tasted particularly fermented or seem too bubbly. Perhaps because the weather has been so cold (about 65 in doors) the ferment was a bit slower.
I left the jars out on the counter a few days longer to see what would happen....
The result was the perfect brew.
3 1/2 cups of mineral/spring water
2 Table spoons of organic cane sugar
2 table spoons of diced ginger
Combine all ingredients in a quart sized jar.
Every day for the next week, add one table spoon of sugar and one table spoon of ginger. Turn the jar to mix the sediments.
Once it's bubbly it's ready to use. This "ginger bug" is the main ingredient in the home made sodas like ginger ale and root beer!
Wild at Heart Ojai Workshops
Wild at Heart has some amazing fermentation workshops coming up in both Ojai and Santa Barbara, CA.
Contact Michelle (the woman whose picture you see below) for more information!