For the last couple of years, I've been making my own fermented foods – yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha. It isn't hard to do, requires little in the way of expensive equipment and the results are usually delicious. As a bonus, my home made versions are much cheaper than their commercial counterparts, too. I can make a pint of kombucha for about 5 cents (the only purchased ingredients are sugar and tea bags), compared to the three bucks most stores charge for the stuff.
My kids like the yogurt I make, but they refuse to eat the sauerkraut or drink the kombucha. Last week, however, I started making a fermented beverage that they love: ginger ale. The great thing about home made ginger ale is that it uses real ginger (a lot of the store bought stuff has artificial flavors) and it uses real cane sugar instead of the cloying, goopy high-fructose corn syrup found in most soft drinks today. The other benefit is that you can experiment with the recipe until you find something that suits you.
I started making ginger ale after my friend Orli sent me this recipe she found online. The first time I made it was a bit of a disaster. I substituted 1/2 cup of honey (which came from the beehive I keep in our backyard) for the 1 cup of sugar the recipe calls for. After combining the ingredients, I poured the mixture in one of those swivel-topped bottles that fancy French lemonade comes in. I set the bottles on the kitchen counter for 24 hours and let the yeast work its magic.
Because I was unsure about the amount of fizziness the ginger ale would have, I put the bottle in the sink before uncorking it. With one hand over the top of the bottle to serve as a splash guard, I lifted the lever. A powerful jet of frothy ginger ale whooshed from the bottle, rebounding off my hand and splashing forcefully into the sink. The hissing fountain lasted for several seconds. The atomized beverage, strong with the essence of ginger, stung my eyes and my lungs. When the eruption subsided there was just a few ounces of liquid remaining in the bottle. I poured it into a glass and took a sip. There was no sweetness, and curiously, not much of a ginger taste either. I asked my wife to sip it and she almost gagged. She said it had an intolerable sulfur smell and taste. I hadn't noticed it but when I tasted it again I could sort of convince myself that there was a sulfurous tang.
I figured I'd used too much yeast, so for the next batch I used just an 1/8 of a teaspoon for one half gallon of ginger ale. I also used plastic screw top bottles instead of the lemonade bottle. I used a cup of sugar and about one-and-a-half times as much ginger as before.
24 hours later, I slowly unscrewed the lid, relieving the pressure gradually. It took over a minute for the pressure to subside. But the wait was worth it. The ginger ale was tangy, sweet, crisp and effervescent. Everyone in the family declared it a success.
And so, here is the modified recipe that I'm happy with:
2 tablespoons of grated ginger (50 cents)
1 cup white sugar (30 cents)
1 whole lemon (I get them free from a tree, but they cost about 25 cents in the store)
1/8 teaspoon or even less of yeast (less than ten cents)
A half gallon of filtered water
1. With a funnel, pour sugar and yeast into the bottle.
2. Finely grate the ginger and place in a measuring cup.
3. Squeeze the lemon's juice into the measuring cup and mix with the ginger.
4. Pour the mixture through the funnel into the bottle. Use a straw to push the pulp into the bottle. Put cap on and shake until sugar is dissolved. Set the bottle in a warm (not hot) place for 24 hours.
5. Open cap slowly. Pour into glass with ice and enjoy.
(I happen to like the ginger pulp, but you can use a strainer if you prefer not to have it.)
The price of a 750ml bottle of premium ginger ale, such as Reed's, is about $4.50. My ginger ale costs about 85 cents for the same amount and I think it tastes fresher and better. Making ginger ale is fun, easy, economical and delicious. I'll keep doing it.