Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Homemade Naturally Carbonated Ginger Ale

General Homemade Soda Steps

The world of homebrewing is rich and vast. Beer and cider (my main projects) are a large portion of all beverages made at home, but the homebrew universe expands well beyond the malty goodness of beer and the refreshing quaff of cheap cider.

Today, it expands into soda! I made a homemade cola drink from a soda mix back in Iowa, but haven't explored soda since moving to Ireland. Homemade sodas give the maker much more control over ingredients and flavors without much effort and with very little cash.
"Are you using one of those Soda Steam carbonating machine things?"
No. C'mon! I wouldn't have one of those countertop space-wasting, expensive, messy, kitchen unitaskers anywhere in our place. Heck, we wouldn't have a place to put it in our tiny kitchen. To make soda, I am using fresh flavors, inexpensive sugar, and yeast for carbonation.

Generally, when making soda, a brewer begins with cleaning and sanitizing equipment. In my opinion, sanitizer isn't as important when making soda because the time of fermentation is much shorter and it will usually be consumed fresh. Longer ferments and longer aging are a bit more susceptible to infection and microbial contamination. Just to be safe, I did use some sanitizer I had mixed already.

Next, the brewer mixes her ingredients. Sugar, water, and whatever flavors will be in the final soda.

After mixing, the brewer adds just a sprinkle of dried yeast and seals up the drink to ferment and carbonate. The yeast goes to work on the sugar in the soda, producing carbon dioxide gas and a very small amount of alcohol.

The brewer monitors the fermentation in each bottle, most conveniently by squeezing the plastic bottles to check pressure. When the bottles are sufficiently carbonated, the brewer puts the bottles in the fridge to slow down fermentation and consumes the soda while still fresh and bubbly.

Important: refrigerating a live-fermenting bottle of soda slows down fermentation, but does not stop it. Yeast will continue to work on the soda, slowly, in the fridge if left unattended. If storing soda for more than a few days in the fridge, the brewer must carefully monitor the pressure of the bottles, burping small bursts of gas from the bottles every few days or as needed.

Ginger Ale Recipe

For my first Irish homemade soda, I wanted to make a ginger ale with real ginger. I found and modified a recipe from American television chef Alton Brown. I converted some of his numbers to fit my needs and equipment. Below is what I developed.


1 whole rhizome of fresh ginger root, grated
1/2 cup white sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sprinkle of Cider Yeast

  1. Grate the ginger root on the finest grater or microplane texture. Mix with hot water and leave to steep for one hour.
  2. Strain the ginger pieces from the steeped liquid and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until dissolved.
  3. Add some cold tap water to cool the liquid down if still hot. Add to a clean 2L bottle and top up with cold tap water, leaving some air space at the top of the bottle. 
  4. Sprinkle in a pinch of yeast. Bread yeast will work, but wine or cider yeasts will ferment more cleanly and leave less "bready" taste in the final soda.
  5. Tightly seal the bottle and leave in a room temperature, dark environment (under the sink for me) until the bottle feels like a fully-pressurized soda bottle.
  6. Refrigerate at least overnight to chill. While chilling, the drink should become mostly (but not completely) clear.
For me, it took almost three days for the bottle to fully carbonate. Bread yeast will work faster than cider yeast. When fully carbed, It was powerful tasty stuff. The ginger smell was strong, but it didn't taste as strong as the aroma hinted. I drank it fast, within a day of opening, to avoid it going flat. With careful attention and a basic knowledge of yeast fermentation, anyone can make a range of natural sodas in any kitchen.
"But didn't you say the yeast make alcohol?"
True, yeast will make some alcohol whenever they ferment, so this drink isn't appropriate for people who can drink no alcohol. Without taking hydrometer readings, it's difficult to say how much is actually produced, but families with kids have been making soda like this for generations. Yeast makes much more gas than alcohol, so a fully sealed container would burst from overgassing before a significant amount of alcohol would be produced in any particular bottle. Heck, we even made soda like this in science class when I was in middle school science class! Then again... it was a Catholic school!

Photo Gallery

Equipment and Ingredients for homemade ginger ale
Equipment and Ingredients

Grated and Chopped Ginger for homemade ginger ale
Grated and Chopped Ginger

Steeping Ginger for homemade ginger ale
Steeping Ginger

Mixing in Sugar and Lemon Juice for homemade ginger ale
Mixing in Sugar and Lemon Juice

Dry Yeast Sprinkled on homemade ginger ale
Dry Yeast Sprinkled

Trust Me, it's Fizzy homemade ginger ale
Trust Me, it's Fizzy

1 comment:

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