Real Ginger Ale

I’m really excited about this recipe. After three failed attempts at a potable ginger ale, I have finally found the method and ratio of ingredients that works for me. Now, I have previously posted how to cheat at making ginger ale, and that’s a fine method to use if you’re in a hurry, unduly afraid of explosions, and/or like buying seltzer. I’ve taught myself patience by getting into fermentation (I make year-fermenting miso, I’m remarkably patient!), and I hate buying seltzer. It’s heavy to lug around and uses too much packaging. I even bought a soda siphon to try to make my own seltzer, but I had to go and buy an antique and it doesn’t work. (Sometimes my love of old things backfires on me.) Since I hate buying soda even more than I hate buying seltzer (it’s always sickeningly sweet), it eventually dawned on me I was going to have to do this right.

Before you follow this recipe exactly, you should probably know something of my tastes in soda, because I’m not sure if they are conventional. First of all, I’m proud to say I was raised right: I was only given soda on special occasions: usually birthdays and trips to visit grandparents, and I still consider soda a treat, not a daily beverage. Second of all, I don’t generally like most sodas. I despise diet soda of all kinds; I think it tastes like chemicals and I think it’s extremely bad for you. But I also hate sugary soda as well; it makes me feel like my teeth are rotting. Pretty much I only like ginger ale, birch beer, and high quality root beer, and even the latter two are sometimes too sweet for me. You may be wondering why I even bother with soda in the first place if I’m so hateful of it, but I do sometimes want something bubbly. Obviously the only solution is to make my own soda and control the sugar. So the first thing to know about my ginger ale is it’s not very sweet.

The next thing to know about my ginger ale is it’s definitely an “ale” and not a ginger beer. I’m not sure why, because generally I like everything in its most potent form: red wine over white, dark beer over light, intense, spicy foods over subtle, delicate foods – and I love ginger – but I don’t like ginger beer; it’s too strong. So my ginger ale is not overly gingery or spicy. It DOES taste a heck of a lot more like ginger than Canada Dry or Scheweppes, though, neither of which I think even contain ginger.

It’s also a bit tart. When I first tasted it, I thought maybe I used too much lemon juice, but now I’m positively addicted to this stuff so I must like it tart. I think the lemon adds to its intense refreshing quality. But I don’t know, some people who are used to sugary soda might find it surprising upon first tasting it.

Anyway, on with the recipe. I scoured the internet for recipes, and the ingredients are pretty much the same in all of them, though the method varies, so there’s no one I really attribute this too, however I tested the methods and proportions of all the ingredients several times before coming up with what I found satisfactory, and this is it:

Ginger Ale

scant 1 cup sugar (any kind will work: white, brown, agave nectar)
9 cups warm water, separated
4 – 6 oz fresh ginger, chopped (depending on your love of ginger)
juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon (I use an entire lemon and the result is fairly tart)
1/8 tsp champagne yeast (from a brewing supply store)*

* About the yeast: several sources, including Alton Brown, say you can use bread yeast. I tried this once a couple of years ago and the result was so nasty it turned me off from trying to make my own soda again for over a year. So try it at your own risk: I’m perfectly willing to believe I did something wrong that time. I ordered champagne yeast – as well as birch and root beer extracts and empty bottles from Jay’s Brewing and they were great.

Chop or slice the ginger. There is no need to peel it.

I pureed the ginger for one batch and the result was so strong I couldn’t tolerate it. This method is much easier and tastier, to me.

Put the sugar and one cup of the water in a small saucepan and heat over medium high heat, stirring. Add the ginger slices.

Juice the lemon and add the juice to the pot. Don’t worry about the seeds; you’ll be straining the mixture later.

Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, sterilize your bottles. The easiest way to do this is by running them through the dishwasher, but if its inconvenient to do a load, just boil them in a stockpot for 10 minutes. As I mentioned, I got my bottles at Jay’s Brewing. This recipe is scaled to make 4 16-ounce bottles.

Most web sites I visited recommended newbies use plastic two-liter soda bottles, due to the possibility of glass exploding. One charming character trait of mine, though, is I never do things the easy way. For one thing, using a plastic two-liter soda bottle would involve buying and drinking two liters of soda: gross! For another, apparently sterilizing plastic involves bleach: scary! I want to make you very aware, however, that the possibility of explosions is very real. It happened to me the first time I made a batch of root beer.

When the ginger solution is finished steeping, let it cool for about 5-10 minutes (you don’t want it to be so hot it kills the yeast), then place the remaining 8 cups of water into a large pot or bowl. Whisk in the yeast, then pour in the ginger solution through a strainer.

Pour the soda into the bottles through a funnel, whisking it before each addition to keep the yeast evenly distributed. Important!: Make sure about an inch and a half of air remains at the top of the bottle, or you’re guaranteed an explosion. (You don’t want to leave too much air, though, or the soda will be flat.)

When all the bottles are full, seal them tightly.

Now, after my explosion event, I am very careful and I stick my bottles in a plastic bag in the laundry room. I sincerely suggest you do the same. So far I haven’t had any more explosions, but if I do, it will be contained.

Let the bottles sit for 48 hours, then move to the refrigerator and chill for at least 24 hours before drinking. Note that there will be some sediment in the bottom of the bottle. This is normal. If your pour the soda from the bottle fairly carefully, it will stay at the bottom and won’t go in your glass. It’s harmless if it does, though. Open the bottles very carefully! I’d do it – at least the first of the batch – outside or over a sink as it’s hard to gauge how carbonated they are. My last unsuccessful batch foamed so much upon opening that only a few ounces were left in the bottle!

It’s particularly picturesque with a slice of lime!

By the way, if a cup of sugar (I actually use slightly less) seems like a lot to you, you should be aware that the yeast entirely consumes 1/3 of it. That means that after fermentation, each 16 ounce bottle contains 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. Which means one bottle is still a source of your daily sugar intake that you should be aware of, but it’s far, far less than the average soda. One of these days, I’m going to try to substitute some of the sugar with stevia, but honestly, I don’t consume that much sugar from other sources and I’m so pleased with the way this tastes I’m wary of messing with it.

This was the perfect accompaniment to pho tonight, and when this next batch is ready, I’m going to try it with some whiskey and see how it mixes.

I hope my talk of explosions and foaming didn’t put you off making your own soda. You do need to be aware of the risks, but it’s really a surprisingly quick and easy – and very cheap – procedure and I found it very rewarding. The only downside is I don’t think I can ever drink store-bought soda again. And I’m kicking myself for not making this batch sooner because I drank my last bottle of the previous batch tonight and I can’t wait for more!

21 Comments »

  1. Lou Said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 8:36 am

    I love the pic with the Christmas lights in the background, if that’s what they are. Grolsch bottles would do the job for this too I think, though I dimly remember them being larger than the ones pictured.

    Still loving your cookery and writing Renae, just haven’t been talkative lately :)

    Merry Christmas from Ireland :)

  2. kibbles Said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    Wow, I’m very impressed. Thanks for all the info, I am going to try this for my boyfriend! He’s insane about ginger and I think he’ll like this soda!

  3. Einar. Said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 10:50 am

    When brewing beer the yeast contributes about half the taste. That’s the reason for the vast amounts of beer yeast types. Those can probably be used as well for ginger beer if the amount is reduced (they are usually made for 20-25 litres of beer; which would certainly explode the bottles).

    On a side note: traditionally ‘ale’ was the term for unhopped beer, while ‘beer’ was used for beer that included hops. That said it probably do not mean that ‘ginger beer’ includes hops (but who knows).

    I would like to try this, maybe after my beer, mead and kvass projects.

  4. Josiane Said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    It’s really cool that you’ve found the perfect combo of recipe and method to produce a ginger ale that you’re excited about… and which doesn’t systematically explode! You make it sound quite simple (much simpler than I would have thought it was), so I may give it a try one day. I’m not into sodas at all, but I’m into homemade stuff made to my liking, and I’m sure your recipe is a great improvement on the storebought thing!

  5. Dawne Said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

    I’d love to try this sometime…incidentally you may enjoy these sodas which I came across when acquiring beverage donations for the NY League of Humane Voters gala this past fall: http://www.drysoda.com/index.php They come in sophisticated and interesting flavors like rhubarb, lavender, lemon grass, etc. and are very lightly sweet and well, DRY! : )

  6. renae Said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

    Hi Lou – I’ve been wondering where you were! The bottles I use are essentially Grolsch bottle and you could certainly recycle those if you have them, even larger ones as they reseal if you can’t drink an entire bottle in one sitting. Merry Christmas to you too! (Those are indeed Christmas lights in the photo.)

    Kibbles – I hope your boyfriend likes it!

    Einar – I didn’t realize yeast contributed quite so much to the final taste in beer, or the traditional ale versus beer meaning. Ginger beer is apparently traditionally made using a “ginger beer plant”, which is like a “mother”, similar to a sourdough starter or kombucha culture. I think these days the different between ginger ale and ginger beer is the latter is much stronger in taste.

    Josiane – it really is very simple. Sometimes I’ll think I’m not up to making it but I’ll force myself to do it anyway and then I’ll wonder what I was whining about to myself because there’s hardly anything to it!

    Dawne – I’ll keep an eye out for those sodas; they look really good!

  7. Meg Said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    Heya – I had done some research into a soda siphon a few months back but couldn’t figure out how recycling the C02 cartridges would be better, environmentally speaking, than plastic… so are antique ones reusable somehow? Or… how antique are we talking? After this post who needs a siphon!

    Also – about how long do you reckon these things’ll keep, unopened, fizz wise?

  8. renae Said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

    Meg – I’m not sure which is better environmentally, either, the cartridge or a plastic bottle. I was wondering the same thing. The antique siphon uses the same cartridges available today. The recycling issue was a big reason why I decided to learn to carbonate naturally instead of just buying a new soda siphon or getting the old one to work (I suspect it just needs a new gasket).

    As for how long the ginger ale will keep, I’m really not sure as I haven’t tested it. From what I’ve read, homemade soda will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator (it has to be refrigerated). I’ve been making pretty small batches so I don’t keep it any longer than that. If the top is on tight, I don’t think you’ll lose any carbonation in that time. Some of the people in this thread say it should keep several months. I can’t think of a reason it wouldn’t.

  9. Ron Said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    I read this on Friday afternoon, then after work Friday I took my bike to a brewing supplies store, picked up the stuff, brought it home, and made it up!

    Last night was 72 hours and I finally got to try it. And it was awesome! I’d use more ginger/lemon next time (I used all the ginger in my fridge and a whole lemon, but I’m a sucker for lemons). Definitely good, though!

    I used Grolsch bottles, and they seemed a bit big. The recipe only filled 3.5 of them. I topped up the second half with lime juice, sugar, and water, and it basically became a lightly carbonated 7-up tasting deal. Not as good, but at least it was something. :)

    Next time, I’m going to use less water and just make three bottles. Then it’ll be stronger, just the way I like it!

  10. renae Said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

    Ron, glad you liked it! After a couple of batches, I’m sure you’ll find the perfect ratio of ingredients for you as well. I figure I’ll slowly keep increasing the ginger in mine and maybe one day I’ll actually like ginger beer instead of keeping to this wimpy ginger ale. ;)

  11. Ron Said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

    The question is, how much ginger can I physically fit in it! :)

  12. Mo Said,

    December 22, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

    Wow. I totally want to make gingerale now!

  13. Ron Said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    Hey, if you haven’t in the past, could you post your Root Beer recipe? I’d like to give that one a shot now! :)

    Ron

  14. renae Said,

    January 1, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

    Hi Ron, I just follow the recipe that came with the extract I bought from the brewing supply place. I think for four 16-oz bottles, it was 1 cup sugar (I’m pretty stingy with the sugar), 1 Tbsp extract, and “1/8 to 1/4 tsp” yeast. I’d go fairly easy on the yeast as the root beer is what exploded on me. (Whereas, for some reason, when I make birch beer, also using an extract, at the exact same time, with the exact same amount of yeast, it never seems carbonated enough, so I’m going to start using a tiny amount more yeast.)

  15. Ron Said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    Extract, eh?

    Do you know if it’s possible (or advisable) to do root beer from scratch, using actual plants/whatever?

  16. renae Said,

    January 5, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

    I would really like to make root beer without an extract, but I just can’t figure out where to get all the roots. I almost bought some sarsaparilla, but most recipes call for other roots as well. If you figure something out, I’d love to hear about it!

  17. Ron Said,

    January 6, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

    Sounds like a challenge!

    I’ll look into it, but I’m not going to make any promises. :)

  18. Renee Said,

    May 15, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

    This sounds delightful. I have a counter top carbonator. (sodastream) could you add the syrup to the already carbonated water?

  19. renae Said,

    May 15, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    Hi Renee (great name!), you sure can! I have since acquired a CO2 tank and I have done just that.

  20. melomeals Said,

    October 29, 2012 @ 12:26 pm

    I HAVE to try both this and your root beer… omg.. it looks amazing!

  21. Sue Said,

    July 14, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    THANKS!!! I just made a batch of this ginger ale and it turned out FABULOUS. This is a first time of making it and it was so easy and everyone who tried it loved it. My 30 year old son could not believe I did it without using club soda. It was perfect. I can’t wait to try root beer!

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment