It’s a Ginger Thing

Hello and welcome to Week 24! This long weekend, we have a life hack double header. Today we’re wrapping up summer with a post about homemade ginger beer and tomorrow, we’ll mark the traditional first day of school with a tour into the brave new world that is DIY education.

My first Rum Swizzle, courtesy of the world-famous Swizzle Inn

My first Rum Swizzle, courtesy of the world-famous Swizzle Inn

It was a dark and stormy night …
Back in June, I sailed to Bermuda with two dozen of my relatives for a wedding. Now, depending on who you talk to, the national drink of Bermuda is either:

a) the Dark ‘n Stormy : classic ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal Rum; or
b) the Rum Swizzle: dark rum, black rum, apricot brandy and fruit juices

Among my family members that are old enough to drink, this provoked a lively debate and much taste-testing. I found myself solidly in the Dark ‘n Stormy camp. Given that I already loved ginger beer, the Swizzle hardly stood a chance.

You Can Probably Guess Where This Is Going
When I got back to Canada, I thought it would be great to let my friends try the national drink that I had pledged my allegiance to. There was just one hitch – where to get authentic ginger beer? Canadian grocery chain SuperStore has one under its President’s Choice label, but I can rarely find it. My favourite organic grocer had Fentiman’s ginger beer, which is fabulous but expensive. This sounded like a job for … bum budda bum … Library Life Hack!

True Brews, I Love You
I located a great resource in the form of Emma Christensen’s new book “True Brews”. This is a gorgeous title with straightforward instructions for a whole treasure trove of fermented drinks. Just like Suzanne Dunaway, Emma’s encouraging writing style quickly had me believing that I could brew anything and it would be fantastic.

I call this one "Ginger Beer at Sunset"

I call this one “Ginger Beer at Sunset”

The soda chapter is extensive. There’s ginger ale, glorious-sounding fruit sodas and my lifelong favourite, root beer. In the end, the recipe I took into the Library Life Hack test kitchen was a hybrid of the “True Brews” ginger ale recipe (found on page 24) and the one found in Martin Zibauer’s blog on the website for Cottage Life magazine.

I made three versions: a regular ginger beer, a lime one and a spiced one with nutmeg and cloves. It took a single evening to knock together three 2-liter batches, which I poured into a dozen 500 ml bottles. (About the size of a normal bottle of beer.) The ginger beer carbonated up quite quickly. In two days, it was ready to go into the fridge and be tested by my co-workers.

Everyone’s a Winner
I was really happy with the results, given that this was the first time I’d ever tried brewing anything. Plus, I love that my ginger beer is all-natural. I mean, it’s not exactly health food, but it’s still better than commercial pop. I held a Library Staff Taste-Off, and all three flavours got votes — but lime was the clear winner.

If You Try This At Home …
… I would recomend a couple of tweaks. Because life hacks shouldn’t require fancy (or expensive) equipment, I disregarded the instructions for putting the raw ginger in a food processor and just chopped it up into little pieces. If you’re chopping instead of pureeing, I’d increase the ginger by up to 50%. I’d also use a molasses-based sugar like a demerara or a dark brown.

One other important note: pay attention to the instructions about opening the bottles slowly over a sink. “All-natural” also means “a tad unpredictable”.

And Now, the Dollars and Cents
The most expensive parts of this experiment were the bottles and caps ($19.78 for 24), and the new strainer and stainless steel funnel I splurged on ($18.88). The raw ingredients were ridiculously cheap. 6 liters of ginger beer (in US terms, that’s 1.5 gallons) used $9.03 in ingredients. That’s 75 cents per 500 ml, plus 82 cents for the bottle and cap. Compared to $2.49 for a 275 ml bottle of Fentiman’s, that’s a savings of $25.51.

Since the bottles are re-usable (but not the caps) and I couldn’t buy some of the ingredients in bulk (meaning lots left over for next time), the price on a second batch would actually drop down to a total of $3.59, or about 30 cents a bottle, including a new cap.

And finally, I saved an average of $17.34 by taking the book out of the library instead of buying it. That’s a total of $42.85 saved this week. Cha-ching!

Here’s the lowdown on this week’s book:

True Brews:
How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home
Written by Emma Christensen
Published by Ten Speed Press
Released May 14 2013
ISBN 1607743388

That’s a Wrap
My own favourite ginger beer is the spiced version and I’m planning to make another batch for Canadian Thanksgiving in October. I’m also excited about trying Emma Christensen’s grapefruit soda recipe next. Yum! Thanks for tuning in and come back tomorrow for the second half of this weekend’s double header. Happy Labour Day!


4 thoughts on “It’s a Ginger Thing

  1. Hi Sally, have you thought about starting a Ginger Beer “Bug” that you feed daily then divide and use to brew a batch … this is what my parents used to do and think that my brother still does over the Summer months here.


  2. Well now, this is fascinating. Apparently, ginger beer made with a bug (basically boiled ginger and whey) has lots of probiotics and healthy enzymes. You can also use it to make old-fashioned root beer. NZ Women’s Weekly has an easy recipe — I think this would make a good add-on experiment to this week’s post!


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