Most traditionally, ginger beer is made at home from a Ginger Beer Plant, a gelatinous mixture of microorganisms to which fresh water, ginger, sugar and sometimes lemon are added about once every six to ten days as each batch of the frothy, cloudy fermented beer is drawn off. Although, given time, the plant could create an alcoholic strength of up to about 10%, ginger beer is customarily prepared at something like 2%.
See also: Shandygaff
19th Century commercial Ginger Beer bottles
Precisely how to initiate the 'plant' remains the subject of much debate, but a starter culture can be bought from home-brew suppliers. It was first investigated in 1892 by the Hereford botanist Harry Marshall Ward who built up a whole collection of ginger beer plant specimens at Kew Gardens and eventually identified it as a 'composite body' of many microorganisms including the yeast Saccharomyces florentinus and the bacterium Lactobacillus hilgardii.
Original Receipt in 'The Cook and Housekeeper's Dictionary' by Mary Eaton (Eaton 1822);
GINGER BEER. To every gallon of spring water a'dd one ounce of sliced white ginger, one pound of lump sugar, and two ounces of lemon juice. B©il the mixture nearly an hour, and take off" the scum; then run it through a hair sieve into a tub, and when cool, add yeast in the proportion of half a pint to nine gallons. Keep it in a temperate situation two days, during which it may be stirred six or eight times. Then put it into a cask, which must be kept full, and the yeast taken off* at the bunghole with a spoon. In a fortnight, add half a pint of fining to nine gallons of the liquor, which will clear it by ascent, if it has been properly fermented. The cask must still be kept full, and the rising particles taken ofi^" at the bunghole. When fine, which may be expected in twenty-four hours, bottle and cork it well; and in summer it will be ripe and fit to drink in a fortnight.
Original Receipt from 'Pot-luck; or, The British home cookery book' by May Byron (Byron 1914)
964. GINGER BEER (1822)
Ginger beer of a very superior quality may be prepared as follows: Powder of ginger, one ounce, cream of tartar, half an ounce, a large lemon shced, two pounds of lump sugar and one gallon of water added together, and simmered over the fire for half an hour. Then ferment it in the usual way with a tablespoonful of yeast, and bottle it for use, tightly corked.
965. GINGER BEER (Kent)
Bruise two ounces of the best ginger, two ounces of cream of tartar, four lemons pared and sUced, with the rind of one, and two pounds of loaf sugar. Pour upon them two gallons of boiling water. When nearly cold, strain through flannel, and add two large spoonfuls of yeast. Let it stand till quite cold, and pour off the clear liquor into half-pint bottles, which must be well corked and tied down. It will be fit to drink in three or four days.
966. ANOTHER WAY
Pour one gallon of boiling water over threequarters of a pound of lump sugar, one and a half ounces of bruised ginger, and the peel of a lemon - when milk-warm add one tablespoonful of yeast. If this be done at night, it will be fit for bottling next night. Put the piece of lemon into the yeast. Not to be used for three days.
967. GINGER BEER (Middlesex)
A very pleasant and wholesome beverage when well made. It was first invented a great many years ago by a Mr. Pitt, a surgeon at Lewes, and rose rapidly into fame. ^ Even when made as it ought to be, it is a cheap beverage, but as it is usually made, it is still cheaper, tartaric acid being used instead of lemon juice. The best way of making ginger beer is as follows: - Pour eleven gallons of boiling water upon fourteen pounds of white sugar, the juice of eighteen lemons, a pound of bruised ginger, and the rind of two lemons. When at the proper temperature, add two or three spoonfuls of yeast and let it ferment for about a day; then put it into a cask to finish the fermentation, and when that is completed, fine it and bung it down closely. It may be bottled in stone bottles almost immediately. Some persons boil the water and sugar together before it is poured upon the ginger, but this trouble is unnecessary, unless it be intended to add raisins, which are a great improvement. In that case, a pound of good raisins may be boiled with the water and sugar. The quantity of ginger above ordered is rather larger than would suit every taste. It may of course be reduced. In bottling, good corks should be used, and tied over with twine.
968. GINGER BEER (Stafiordshire)
Mix one ounce of powdered ginger, half an ounce of cream of tartar, one lemon sliced, two pounds of lump sugar, and one gallon of water together. Simmer it over the fire for half an hour, and ferment it in the usual manner with a tablespoonful of yeast. Then bottle it close for use in half-pint or pint bottles, such as are used for soda water; in a few days it will be fit to drink.
969. GINGER BEER (Sussex)
Four gallons of water, two ounces of groimd ginger, two ounces of cream of tartar, two and a half pounds of moist sugar. Pour half the boiling water on these ingredients, except the sugar. Let it stand a day or two, then add the remainder of the water, boiling also, and the sugar, and a teacupful of yeast. Bottle it when rather warm.
Commercial Ginger Beer is rarely fermented, usually being fizzed with carbon dioxide and sometimes given an appearance of a yeast cloud by the addition of starch. We are very pleased to be assured, however, that Fentiman's of Hexham in Northumberland do still ferment theirs.
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