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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ginger Ale and Root Beer - Getting Down with Fermentation

 Rooty toot toot and ginger yum yum!

You know, I really have been making jam. Lots of it. It's just that, after several cycles through the seasons, I've figured out some of my favorites and I just keep making them. There is far less experimentation on the jamming front and a lot more in other areas. For example, I've been having a great time in my garden. I really have a crush on my garden. I love it. I bring it presents. I talk about it obsessively. I talk to it and its members. (Mostly when I'm alone.) Here's a picture of my little paradise. Not so much food, but lots of herbs and flowers and flying visitors. The view from the chairs is better than the view of the chairs. Just know, it's marvelous.

So between jamming and getting dirty, I have been thinking about fermenting. Controlled spoilage is one of the most genius things that human beings do. I have come into several very large crocks, and I harbor ideas of making sour kraut and curing olives, but I decided to start small, with sodas. I like a bubbly sweet drink now and then. And, I do like to add a splash of homemade syrups to soda water. But then I found out that I could drink a pro-biotic rich bubbly drink that was not kombucha. (I do not like kombucha. I know the world does. Not me. It tastes like socks.) These fermented sodas are just so right for me!

Ginger, my bug.

Rather than tell you the whole business of making a ginger bug and brewing the ginger ale, I will refer you to Wellness Mama. Katie is a wealth of knowledge about good, healthy, for real food. I hope you visit her site, because it is inspirational and I want to give credit where credit is due. I pretty much followed her steps to create the ginger bug. It is equal parts fresh, grated ginger and pure cane sugar, mixed with pure water in a very clean jar. Much like sourdough, you feed it periodically until it gets bubbly. I love it when things come ALIVE! Also like sourdough, you can keep it alive.

First stage of soda fizzilation.

I will share with you my root beer, because it is a recipe that can be personalized for your tastes and the availability of roots and herbs in your area. I'm already dreaming of all the other flavors that can be brewed this way. Once the ginger bug is good and fizzy, you brew a strong tea, using the flavors you prefer. (The ginger ale starts as a strong ginger tea.) Once the tea is cooled to room temp, you add the ginger bug and a few extra goodies, put it in a couple of jars with tight fitting lids and let it sit. It bears watching. I left mine in the big jars for about a week. I then, filtered it and bottled in these sturdy models, designed for home brewing.

I buy mine by the case and they come with Grolsch-style swing caps.

 Gettin' Fizzy wid it. Fo' shizzle.

 They have been sitting at room temp for another week and are just right. I'm putting them in the fridge today, because I'm going on vacation and don't want them to get explodey. 

So far, 4 out of 4 tasters think this root beer is amazing.

Root Beer
3 quarts pure water
1/4 cup dried Sarsaparilla root
1/4 cup dried Sassafras
1 tsp.dried licorice root
1 tsp. dried peppermint (winter green is traditional, but I could not find it locally)
1 stick cinnamon
1 allspice berry
1 cardamom pod (bashed)
1/2 a vanilla bean

Bring the water to a boil and add the spices. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temp. Strain and add the following:

2 tbsp. molasses
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lime juice
3/4 cup ginger bug

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bottle in two quart-sized mason jars. They need not be sterile, but should be very clean and do use new lids. Allow to sit until bubbly - up to a week, unless it is very warm. Strain through a fine sieve and bottle in very clean bottles. (You can use coffee filters or cheese cloth for more clarity.) Allow to sit at room temp for about a week. Store in the fridge once desired fizziness is reached. 

I found that the two quart jars filled 3 of my brew bottles, with a little left over. 



  1. Perfect post, right on our summer doorstep as well. I am going to fizz me up a plethora of punches, a sizzle of soda's and a BANG of booch to keep my flagging overheated senses reeling. Cheers for this delicious share :)

  2. Yay! Enjoy! I'm excited to see what you will invent!

  3. I've tried making several different variations of root beer using the ginger bug but each time, I start getting a sulfur smell after just a couple days of fermenting. The last time I used 1/4 tsp for 16 oz. If i don't drink the soda right away the smell gets stronger and my drink becomes more of a syrup. Any suggestions as to what I may be doing wrong?

  4. I've tried making several different variations of root beer using the ginger bug but each time, I start getting a sulfur smell after just a couple days of fermenting. The last time I used 1/4 tsp for 16 oz. If i don't drink the soda right away the smell gets stronger and my drink becomes more of a syrup. Any suggestions as to what I may be doing wrong?

    1. Hi Kyle - I have not encountered the sulphur smell you describe. A quick google search showed me that this can happen with home brewed beer that has had a yeast component added. From what I've read, it is not harmful and will off-gas over time, but it doesn't sound appetizing. When you say that you are using 1/4 tsp. for 16 oz, are you adding a commercial yeast? My only source of culture is my ginger bug.

  5. I need help! I've tried using a ginger bug to make a few things and only one time I have had success with a ginger brew. I'm always confused on how to do a first ferment (The ferment before you put it into bottles). Some people say to cover it tight and burp it every couple days and some people say to put a cheese cloth over it so it can breath on its own.

    This past time I tried making a strawberry rhubarb soda. I made about half a gallon (boiled the strawberries and rhubarb with sugar and at the end when it was cooled added 1/2 cup of ginger bug and lemon juice). I ended up with a little over 2 quarts so I ended up putting it in two 8 cup ball jars and covering with a coffee filter and rubber band and putting it in the warmest room in my house (maybe 75 degrees tops). Well 5 days later it has this like white film over the top. It isn't mold I don't think and I think it has fermented slightly but I have no idea what the white film is. Also all of the jars I have were cleaned and sanitized.

    I also tried to make an orange soda (because so many websites said you can use pretty much any juice). This I didn't do a double ferment, I just mixed the juice (organic no sugar added store bought) with the ginger bug and bottled it up tight. I've been checking every few days and nothing is happening and its been over a week. And I'm completely sure that the ginger bug was very active and happy. Very bubbly.

    I've read a million sites and I think I'm doing everything ok (everything says something a little different which is frustrating). Any help at all would be SO appreciated.

    1. I haven't made soda with orange juice, but I have with apple juice. I accidentally made hard cider on that occasion. I think because the juice had so much sugar.

      With regards to the bug, I have been using the same bug for over a year. I started with bottled water, ginger with the skin on and white sugar. To get it started, I added 1 tbsp. grated ginger and 1 tbsp. sugar to one cup of water each day until bubbly. I always keep a filter over the top, fixed by a rubber band. Cheese cloth would work too. The filter I'm using is a large, empty tea bag. You could also use a coffee filter. Once fizzy, I added another cup of water and kept adding ginger and sugar until the two cups of water are fizzy. That way, each time I make a gallon of soda, using one cup of bug, I still have a cup left to keep going.

      When I make the tea mixture, I always use bottled water and leave all the bits in the mixture during the first ferment. The first ferment is in big jars that I close tightly. Once that shows some activity, I strain it and put the strained soda into the lever top bottles. These seal very tight and hold force the gasses from the bug organism to stay dissolved in the liquid. Those should be fizzy in a day or two. I've had more problem with over-fizzing than under-fizzing.

      I have seen the scum you describe, especially when I've forgotten something for a few days. It doesn't seem to cause any problem, except that the over fermentation can make the end result more sour and somewhat alcoholic.

      I really don't know what has made your orange juice fail to fizz. I know that most web sites state that chlorination in the water can cause problems for your bug, but this doesn't seem to fit what you describe. What I do differently than some is that I don't strain the bug for the first ferment. I strain everything out before bottling. I will try making an orange soda and report back!

  6. Excellent, clear inspired instructions. Does the drink taste too yeasty if it's not allowed to ferment for several days?

    1. Nope, because there is no yeast involved. My experience is that a shorter ferment is sweeter and less bubbly. A longer ferment is more sour and very bubbly. Keep in mind that the fermenting time is reliant on how warm it is. I have a batch going right now (with pineapple juice!) that has been in the big jars only over night and I have to get it bottled up tonight. I'm guessing it will go in the fridge tomorrow night. This is Memorial Day and I've been making jam, so the kitchen is HOT! (No air conditioning.) This is all an inexact science due to the variables in the conditions. I sure wish I could share some with you all!

    2. Dave - I just read an article about some of the bacteria and yeasts that can happen as a part of the fermentation process. From what I gather, a yeasty flavor may be a function of the type of critters in the mix as opposed to length of ferment time. One thing I do know. You can't leave them out to ferment in the sealed bottles for too long or you risk giving your ceiling a taste when you open it!

  7. In your first stage fermentation photograph, is that root beer on the left? Is it making a foamy sort of bubbles? Is that normal? Because I tried making Wellness Mama's root beer recipe and after a night's worth of fermentation, it was producing pink foamy stuff and NO ONE'S TALKING ABOUT IT.

    1. Yes - that is the root beer on the left. I have not had pink foam, but I have had a ginger bug turn red. I couldn't find anything on the internet about that either. I ended up throwing it out and starting over. In that case, it wasn't foam, but the liquid itself that turned into something that looked like hibiscus tea.

      I sure understand your frustration. I hate throwing things out! And, while I've never been made sick by ANY of my fermented or canned foods, I have had food poisoning. That experience has made me (overly) cautious. Because we are purposefully developing bacteria and or yeast, I feel it is too risky to consume something that has drifted into unknown territory. If I ever find out about reddening or pink foam, I will post it here! Meanwhile, this remains more of an art than a science for me.