The Ginger Bug Bites Best


August 27, 2013 by lytlejoc

I took my own advice which I dispensed in my last post and spent a few days at the house with Scott while Toby napped in the camper. I did a bit of tidying and I also managed to turn my hand at gardening to do a bit of work on the rose bushes.

The rose bushes, as I mentioned before, are ancient and wiry, growing in feral clumps around the house. They’ve been untended for so long that the beds are filled with huge weeds and a lot of the wood has died out, leaving a long buffet for wood bugs to dine on. I cleared out, on hands and knees, the monstrous weeds and stacks of dead wood therein, and I snipped off a lot of the dead branches that seemed to be there only to point their bony fingers at me in accusation.

Now, my thumb is a pale shade of peach-y color. Not green whatsoever. I have absolutely no idea whether I’m doing a good thing with these rose bushes or not, and try as I might, I think I may have accidentally tugged out a few of the newer shoots that was struggling through the weeds. I implore you, then, if you know anything about gardening at all, tell me: What do you think?

Am I doing the right thing? Bad enough I have to question my every move as a parent... now I'm doing it as a gardener too.

Am I doing the right thing? Bad enough I have to question my every move as a parent… now I’m doing it as a gardener too.

If you read any of the above with your face twisted in horror at the indecencies I reported committing upon this garden, please, please, please do let me know. My wish is to nurture, not to murder.

The house itself is reaching new milestones all the time. The sheetrock has finally been finished, thanks to the toil of my incredible husband and a handy gentleman whom he trades work with. Next up: taping and mudding and sanding. Then, painting. Then, floors. Then, fixtures. Surely to god we’ll have moved in by October. Surely. Well, maybe the end of October, now that I re-read that last bit.

Since summer is swiftly slipping away, we spent a couple of nights at the camper recently. Sitting by the fire in the cool August dark was even sweeter than I remember it being last summer — possibly because I don’t sit there every night any more. The first night we did not have the foresight to bring any campfire beverages, but had a hankering for them. But of course, we’re in Blandford: the nearest LC is 20 minutes away and by the time one of us had returned from the run it would be an hour spent and pretty much wasted. Fortunately for us, I had, languishing in a grey rubbermaid bin at home, 2 L of homemade ginger beer that was just the right vintage for sampling. Off home he went — 2 minutes away — and the problem was solved with some gingery ginger beer… that kicks like a mule, I might add.

You know you want it.

The first thing you have to do if you want to brew your own ginger beer, is grow yourself a ginger bug.

A ginger bug (or ginger plant as some call it) is just a method of keeping a fermentation starter on hand if you’re into making your own bubbly. I showed mine proudly to my sister once and when I said, “Look at my ginger bug! Listen, it fizzes” and held the jar to her ear, she recoiled in horror, thinking that there was some kind of insect lurking in the mass of ginger. There is not. Unless you count yeast.

Ginger bug in it’s gingery glory.

The long and the short of it is this: grate up about a tablespoon of ginger and add a tablespoon of sugar and about 600 mls of filtered, unchlorinated, room temperature water. Put it all in a jar and cover it loosely (a coffee filter and an elastic band are good for this), then put it in a warmish cupboard. For a week, add about the same amounts of sugar and ginger every day, and at the end of the week (or possibly a few extra days if the weather near you is cold), it’ll fizz at you. The liquid you will strain out of this mass is your fermentation starter. Then you can add more water, sugar and ginger to the slop you strained the liquid from, and start the bug all over again. It’s magical.

So now that you have your ginger bug ready to go, I give to you my recipe for

Ginger Bug Ginger Beer (the kind that bites… but in a good way)

You’ll need:

Liquid from a ginger bug – about a cup.

1 Gallon of filtered water

3 cups of sugar – plain old white sugar. I imagine you could use some sort of healthier alternative, but I don’t know which would work since I used white. But the yeast eats it up anyway and the sweetness of the end product will depend on how long you leave the brew to ferment.

1 cup of grated ginger – You can grate it with the peel on. Just wash it first. You can add more than a cup here if you like a very gingery palate, but I think a cup still has a good amount of zing.

1/2 cup of lemon juice – you know, for taste.

Enough cleaned and sterilized bottles to hold a bit more than a gallon (around 2.5 L) of goodness – Preferably plastic pop bottles with their own lids. I’ve found that while you can ferment in glass with a balloon stretched over the mouth of the bottle as an airlock, you get better results when you use tightly sealed plastic bottles — mainly in terms of fizziness. You also have a lesser chance of exploding bottles since the plastic can withstand a good amount of pressure, but do make sure to crack the lids when you can’t compress the bottle anymore. A word on the sterilization of these bottles: You can use plain old, household bleach. A drop in full sink of soapy water will do the trick, but make sure you rinse the bottles really, really well. You can get rinseless sanitizers at brewing stores, I’ve read, but I’m too lazy to go out of my way to find those.

Combine the water, sugar and ginger in a large pot and bring to a boil. This step is mainly to help dissolve the sugar but also gives you sort of ginger-y tea that will act as a nice flavor base for the ginger bug to live in.

Let this simmer for a little while (15 or 20 minutes should do the trick. Have a taste from a clean spoon if you’re curious, and steep it longer if you want more ginger flavour), then remove from heat and let it cool.

Once your “tea” has reached room temperature, strain out the ginger chunks and add the lemon juice and liquid from your ginger bug. Stir this up, pour it into your bottles and cap them. Store the bottles in a dark place that is not too warm, not too cold. A kitchen cupboard would work; I’ve got mine in a big plastic container with a lid on it so that if something DOES go nuclear, I won’t have to clean sticky ginger beer off the ceiling. (But don’t worry, the only explosion I had involved trying to ferment cider in apple juice bottles. Do not do this.) As I mentioned above, you’ll want to crack the lids every day or so for the first week, then maybe just every few days as the fermentation slows down.

Waiting to exhale.

Waiting to exhale.

After two weeks, have a sip from one of the bottles. Most of the sugar will have been used up in the fermentation process by now and so your ginger beer may not be very sweet at this stage but I can certainly attest to the fact that it will most definitely be leaded by now. If you like the taste, then transfer the bottles to the fridge (which will stop the fermentation process) and enjoy once it’s cold. You are done.

Easy, right????

IF, however, you aren’t happy with the taste, there are some fixes you can perform. If you don’t like it dry, you can add some sugar to the bottles, give them an hour and then stick them in the fridge. If there is a yeast-y flavour you may not like, you can let the ginger beer sit longer to allow it to clarify a bit (like a week), and then you can try “racking” it – or pouring out the ginger beer to a new bottle, leaving the sediment behind (probably best achieved with a siphon). The thing to remember about letting it sit longer is that the sweetness dissipates the longer it sits. I’ve had bottles as old as two months which I found a little dry, but still really, really good.

I feel it is my duty to ask you, dear readers, to remember to drink responsibly. The first bottle I imbibed of this recipe was not done so carefully, and I ended up with a pounding head and heart full of shame the next day. Go slowly. When I said it kicks like a mule… I absolutely meant it. Now go forth and enjoy, and let me know how it works!



4 thoughts on “The Ginger Bug Bites Best

  1. tuckamoredew says:

    I’m no gardener, but I very clearly remember the time that Mom wanted to remove the rosebush in front of the house and it became my job to make it happen. Removing it and all its little runners was a herculean task and despite my labours the bush kept trying to reinstall itself in following years. Tenacious. I doubt you did any harm to the rosebush you were working on.

    • lytlejoc says:


      Frankly, I deep down thought as much, but I have that terrible habit of second-guessing myself when it comes to tending living things. It`s good to be reassured!

  2. tuckamoredew says:

    I love this kind of back-to-basics brewing. It is indeed magical: booze from nuthin’. (I feel the same way about growing vegetables: seed + dirt = food. Mysterious.)

    Homebrewers make a big deal out of sanitation because it reduces the chance that wild yeasts will contaminate the brew and create weird flavours or strange effects like “gushing“. Since your ginger bug is created with wild yeast anyway, you could probably be pretty lazy about sanitation and still make a decent drink. Legend has it that Jack Daniel`s Whiskey is still made using the same strain of wild yeast that Mr. Jack himself first captured on his front porch way back when.

    • lytlejoc says:

      The tidbit about Jack Daniel`s is fascinating! I had no idea about that and it makes me pleased to be dabbling in this craft with the likes of such an icon.

      I think you`re right about the sanitation. I`m not terribly overzealous but I know that you don`t want to be as your efforts to make the brew `safe` could also end up killing the yeast and ruining the whole works. I`m working on a post that will cover a bit more about the ginger bug and its care. Hopefully I`ll get off my butt and post it before folks finish any ginger bugs they may have attempted to start since my last post.

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