I think it’s high time I finally let you all in on my ‘ginger champagne’ love affair. My husband and I used to drink the occasional kombucha but we left our ‘scabies’ behind (the mother culture) when we moved to Hawaii. I haven’t had a chance to pick up a new kombucha starter, so we’ve been playing around with other fermentation recipes. Our latest products is what we like to call ‘ginger champagne’ – what others call ginger beer or ginger fizz – but ginger champagne sounds so much more classy, don’t you think?
This is really easy to make – incredibly easy, but I do have some preliminary explaining to do, giving you a little background education on fermentation. This groundwork of understanding is the foundation that will make the recipe as easy to understand as it is.
The key thing to understand with fermenting in general is that there’s no one ‘right’ way to prefect fermentation. There are so many different fermentation philosophies. Fermentation is more like an art form, with so many varying opinions about preferred methods. I’ve been fermenting for years, and in the process I’m refining my own personal style that I feel works best, but everyone’s got a different style. (Update: I used to eat a lot more fermented foods than I do now, mostly because fermented foods are too salty for me. But I do still love the occasional ginger champagne!)
My husband Noah and I did a fermentation workshop with Sandor Katz, the leading fermentation expert in the US. I highly recommend his book The Art of Fermentation, as it’s an excellent resource for a wide variety of fermentation – from tempeh to sauerkraut to a wide range of cultured vegetables. Sandor is an excellent teacher, and he’ll be the first to admit, there’s no one ‘right’ way to ferment, but to have fun playing and experimenting with different techniques and style.
He discusses ginger fermentation in his book and his style uses something called a ‘ginger bug’. Before I explain what that is let me explain a basic fermentation concept.
Basic Fermentation Concept: Microorganisms
All food is covered in microorganisms – it sounds gross, but it’s a fact of life. There are millions of microorganisms in and on food and agricultural products and yes – even on and in you and me! It’s the process of fermentation that makes food perishable. When we see an apple rotting on the counter, the microorganisms are starting to digest the food and this is simply fermentation in action.
Fermentation is about manipulating the right conditions to encourage the microorganisms that you want to grow, for example, lactic acid bacteria instead of mold.
So with fermentation you can either:
- Use the microorganisms inherent on the food (i.e. cabbage, ginger, whatever cultured vegetable you want to make) to manipulate the fermentation process;
- Or, if the vegetable has been ‘wiped clean’ of organisms, which is done by either irradiation or boiling it, then you need to introduce the culture that you want to introduce because the microorganisms are no longer on the food any more, so you have to re-introduce them.
That being said, let’s talk about the ginger champagne. There are 2 distinct methods that you can use to make this ginger ferment.
- Sandor Katz uses the ginger bug method, and you can refer to his book for a full description. Basically with this method he explains to “grate a bit of ginger (with skin – that’s where the microorganisms are) into a small jar, add some water and sugar and stir. I like to use raw organic cane sugar or coconut sugar. Every day add a little more grated ginger and sugar and keep stirring. Keep doing this until you see your mixture has become vigorously bubbly. This is what you would add to a big pot of strained ginger ‘tea’. Be sure to only add in the ginger bug once your ginger tea cools to room temperature. Again, refer to his book for a full description.
This is a good way, but to us, it seems like it’s more work then it needs to be. The key thing is that if you are not using organic non-irradiated ginger, then you have to cultivate your own culture using a ginger bug or other starter. Unless it’s been irradiated or boiled to completely wipe out all the microorganisms then it’s still full of microbes swarming all over it – you just can’t see them. This is the ginger we get (local and organic), so we use the second, easier method.
My Raw Fermented Ginger Champagne Recipe
Our style of ginger brew fermentation involves a double ferment technique and this is part if what we attribute to the outstanding quality of our ginger champagne: lots of bubbles!
We make our batch of ginger champagne in a food grade 5 gallon bucket. I will give guidelines for ratios per 1 gallon so you can adjust accordingly.
First Phase Fermentation
- Juice about 6-7 inch knob of organic ginger per 1 gallon of water.
- In our case we fill up our 5 gallon bucket (not to the top, so let’s say it’s got about 4 gallons) of filtered, purified water.
- We add the juice of about 20-25 inches of organic ginger into the bucket. Stir together.
- Then add in about 1-1.25 cups of organic raw cane sugar per gallon of water. In our case we add in about 4-5 cups of cane sugar and stir well.
- Sometimes Noah like to take all the ginger pulp from the juiced ginger and boil it in a pot to extract even more ginger from it, and then strains it into the bucket. But this is optional.
- The key is to stir the sugar in, and to keep stirring it at least 2-3 times a day to oxygenate the ginger ferment.
- It’s best to cover whatever your using for a vessel with a cheesecloth to allow for ventilation. Sometimes, when I was making kombucha and didn’t have cheesecloth, I would use paper towel or even a coffee filter…sometimes we just need to be creative.
- Stir every day, tasting it daily to see for yourself how it changes gradually. Depending on room temperature, (the warmer, the faster fermentation takes place) this first round should last you anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks, also depending on how strong you like it. You will definitely start to see the ginger tonic start to bubble and getting more ‘active’. You don’t want to let it get overly strong, because there is still another round of fermentation that takes place.
Second Phase Fermentation
Once you’re ready to bottle it, get all your bottles ready. We use old sterilized wine bottles and have a wine corker. This is the other slight advantage that I feel like makes our ginger champagne taste lip-smacking bubbly, but you can use any seal-tight bottles with lids. I feel that when we cork it with a wine corker, we’re pushing in some more air and compressing it a little further. The other idea is to use flip-top or swing-top bottles. If you know someone that likes to drink beer, there’s a kind of beer, (wouldn’t know the name of it for the life of me) that they sell in a really nice green flip top bottle. These also work great.
Once you have all your bottles ready to go, add about a teaspoon of sugar to the bottle. This is another reason we feel our ginger brew comes out so good is because of this simple double fermentation technique. Once you add the sugar in, (and you’ve stirred the ginger tonic that you have in your vessel) start filling the bottles up using a funnel. Then lid, cork or cap them.
*Store bottles in a cool dry place at room temperature.
At this point you can drink them starting any time, but for best results, wait at least a few days. We find optimal timing is about one week after bottling.
Word of Warning!
Sometimes, if it’s a warm environment, your bottled ginger champagne can become quite explosive! This only tends to happen if you leave bottles in warm environments without “burping them” (flipping the lid to allow them to breathe and re-closing it) for more than a month or two. We’ve had everything from full on bottle explosions to bottles pushing their corks out. Fermentation is fun and exciting like that, but please be careful. I recommend to transfer your ginger tonic in the fridge after one- two weeks to prevent this from happening. The longer you leave them to ferment, the stronger they get, the more alcohol content is in them and the more potentially explosive. Don’t drink and drive!
I would love to hear how your experiments go or what techniques you like to use and have tried?
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii,