Homemade ginger beer

I went to a cafe recently where they tried to charge me $8 for a glass of ho-hum ginger beer. That’s, well, ridiculous. You can bottle the stuff by the litre at home for next to nothing. All you need to get started is a spoonful of yeast (even if you use Premium Ginger Beer Yeast from a home brew store, it’s only going to set you back $2.70), a 30g box of ground ginger ($2.24 from the supermarket), a 1kg bag of sugar ($2.84) and a couple of lemons. That’s only $7.78 – and that’s enough to make 5 litres (or 20 glasses). And it goes without saying that homemade ginger beer tastes at least 20 times better than the bought stuff too.

To make your own ginger beer, you need to make a ginger beer bug first. I’m not sure why it’s called a bug – Mum says she used to call it a plant – but really it’s just a jar of bubbling gingery goo. Start with 1-2 tablespoons of dried yeast (if you don’t use brewer’s yeast, use Edmonds Active Yeast – it has a yellow lid, whereas the bread yeast has a red one). Place the yeast in a glass jar with 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 cup cold water. Cover the jar with a loose piece of fabric to stop bugs getting in but still allow the yeast to breathe, then place it somewhere warm for a day to get it going.

After that, feed the bug every day with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon ginger. Seven days later, you’re ready to bottle your first batch of fizz. In a large bowl, dissolve 2 cups sugar in 1 litre boiling water. Add the juice of 2-3 lemons and 4 litres of cold water. Then strain off the liquid off the top of the bug (set aside the sludge) and add to the water. Stir well and bottle.

I’ve been recycling plastic 1 litre water bottles (just because we had a stash of them left over from the wedding), but any soft drink bottles will do the trick. Keep an eye on them; as soon as they go hard or start to push out their bottoms, you know they’re full of fizz. Mine is generally ready to drink in 3-4 days. Chill the bottles before you open them; it calms the bubbles down.

The best thing about making ginger beer is that, once you’ve made the bug, all you have to do is keep feeding it. Once you’ve strained off the liquid, add a fresh cup of water to the sludge and start the whole process all over again (except you don’t need to add any yeast this time).

But what really spurred me to write about ginger beer today is that on Nine to Noon on National Radio this week, I heard chef Paul Jobin share his recipe for corned beef cooked in ginger beer. It sounds seriously good and, fortuitously, not only do I have plenty of ginger beer, I’ve also got several lumps of silverside in our freezer from the crazy old bull we culled last year!

To make Paul’s ginger corned beef, you need 1 corned silverside; 1 onion, peeled and sliced; 1 knob ginger, sliced; 1 orange, sliced; 1 lemon, sliced; 1 bay leaf; 4 sprigs thyme; 1 chilli, sliced; 2 bottles of ginger beer; and extra water.  In a saucepan or crockpot, add all ingredients, adding water to cover the corn beef. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1½ hours (or overnight in the slow cooker) or until a skewer inserts easily. Allow to cool down in the stock.