The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer

The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Ale on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

Ginger, with its zippy and refreshing taste, is listed among the world’s oldest spices.  As far back as 500 BC, this native plant of China and India was used for medicine, food, and flavoring. For most of the Western world, ginger was used to spice up drinks. Up until the Victorian era, beer was the drink of choice in England, especially herbal and spiced low-alcohol “small” beers such as ginger beer.

I would be willing to bet that most us were introduced to the flavor of Zingiber officinale through ginger ale. I don’t know about you, but the zingy soda pop was my mom’s go-to cure for tummy aches. This non-alcoholic ginger ale made its American debut in 1866 when a Detroit, Michigan pharmacist named James Vernor installed a soda fountain in his drugstore. Vernor began playing around with ginger extracts, and in 1870 perfected his recipe, which included mellowing the syrup for four years in wooden casks. It’s not surprising that a pharmacist would chose ginger, as the rhizome was (and still is) known as a stomach soother.  In fact, Vernor’s ads often touted “Mothers tell their children to ask for Vernor’s Ginger Ale because it’s wholesome and healthful.” Vernor’s Ginger Ale remains just as popular today.

The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

Ginger ale and ginger beer are both basically the same thing. It’s easy and inexpensive to make old-fashioned ginger beer at home, and some (me included) would say you get more of a gingery taste than you do from the store-bought stuff. A bit of fermentation is involved, which produces a very slight alcohol content (not noticeable, but important to point out for those sensitive to alcohol). Some manufacturers ferment the mixture longer and make other adjustments to increase the alcohol content, but for our purposes this ginger beer is more akin to ginger ale. If you’re concerned, make the ginger syrup as noted below, but skip the fermentation process and mix it with seltzer water instead to produce a fermentation-free beverage.

The fermentation of the yeast creates the bubbles. You’ll need to release pressure from the bottle every day or two, otherwise the bottle could explode! That’s why in the recipe below we recommend using a plastic bottle for the fermentation process. We’ve used a glass bottle in the photos for aesthetic purposes only; the ginger beer itself was fermented in a plain 2-liter plastic bottle.

Here’s how to make ginger beer the old fashioned way– no soda machine or brewery required. The drink is nice and refreshing on a warm day; it’s also one of the main ingredients in the popular Moscow Mule cocktail. It’s easy, really, and surprisingly fizzy. Just look at those bubbles!

Food Photography and Styling by Tori Avey

The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

Homemade Ginger Beer

Ginger Syrup Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Ginger Beer Ingredients

  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • Ginger syrup (above)
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 7 cups filtered water

You will also need

  • Clean 2-liter plastic soda bottle, funnel
Servings: 2 liters
  • Peel a chunk of the ginger with the tip of a teaspoon—the papery skin scrapes right off—and grate it, using the fine side of your grater. Place the ginger, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for an hour.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeStrain the mixture (discard the ginger solids) and allow to cool.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeYou’ve now made ginger syrup (or gingerette, as the Brits call it). Stop right here if you’re looking for a short-cut to ginger ale and you don’t want to mess around with the fermentation process. Pour three or four tablespoons (more or less depending upon how gingery you like it) of your syrup over ice and add 8 ounces of seltzer water or club soda. Bottle the rest of the syrup and store it in the refrigerator.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeFor the full ginger beer experience, place a funnel in the top of the bottle and pour in the filtered water. Sprinkle the yeast in, followed by the syrup, lemon juice, and water.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipePut the lid on the bottle and shake the concoction until the yeast is dissolved. Stow it on a shady shelf or in your pantry out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days, or until fizz is achieved. At this point it is ready to drink, and must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent further fermentation. Don't forget about the bottle, or the pressure will build up so much that it may explode!
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeAs with any yeast-powered beverage, the fermentation process continues unless you prevent it from happening. Refrigerating will slow the process down but not stop it completely, that's why it’s best to treat ginger beer as a perishable beverage. Consume within 1-2 weeks. CAUTION: be sure to open the bottle every day to release the extra gas, otherwise the bottle might explode and you’ll have a big mess on your hands! Note that as the beverage ferments, sediment will settle at the bottom of the bottle. You can strain it out if you wish.
  • Serve over ice and savor the spicy taste of your very own homemade ginger beer!
  • Note: the "beauty" photos in the blog post above were taken using a glass bottle, however due to the volatile nature of ginger beer we recommend using a plastic bottle instead, as indicated in the recipe.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

About Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller writes about historical and vintage cooking techniques for The History Kitchen. She is a historical young adult novelist and freelance magazine writer for Urban Farm, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, and Chickens. Viking/Penguin will release her debut historical novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly, in 2014. Read more...

Comments (130)Post a Comment

  1. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    This sounds great! I know the sugar is also an important part of the fermentation process, but will this work with less sugar than in the recipe?

    1. I think less sugar would be fine. You don’t need that much to awaken yeast in usual recipes so go ahead and give it a try. And let us know how that goes.

    2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
      This is a fantastic recipe. It takes me back to my childhood in England.

      Originally, I tried the recipe with half the sugar because I thought it would be too sweet. I was wrong, it worked and was fizzy, but lacked taste. The next time I made it I used the recipes proportions (which I should have done in the first place) and it was perfect.

    3. I’m making this recipe right now, but I’m substituting agave nectar for the sugar. Agave is slightly more diabetic friendly, and it’s what I had on hand. Agave is roughly twice as sweet, so I’m using a 1:1 ratio to make my syrup. I’ll let y’all know later this week how it turns out.

    1. After you put it in the fridge. Just release the cap a bit, you’ll hear a fizzing noise, and then tighten the cap up. : )

  2. That´s funny. I made up a pitcher of Ginger Beer last week for the night staff here. They loved it!! Will ck out your recipe but I went by Jamie Oliver´s recipe. Thanks! :)

    1. Hi Rita,

      Just a wee bit of alcohol is produced and that slows down once you put the bottle in the fridge.

    2. If you want alcohol in the mix you must brew for a long time and you must put alot of sugar to start with and may need to add sugar after a week or so and keep bleeding the gas off. Just tighten the cap up a day before you want to finish to build up the carbonated effect.

  3. Plastic is full of carcinogens, you should use glass. It will have a crisper flavor anyway since plastic adds it’s own flavor to the mix. Thanks for the recipe, sounds good. I don’t drink anything with sugar in it but I am sure I can tweek it with Stevia.

    1. I agree, use glass.
      Brewing supplies stock plastic stoppers for champagne bottles so I’m currently saving some to try that.

      cheers.

      Steve.

    2. i agree about plastic being a carcingogen and imparting negativley on the flavours of whatever is stored within. however plastic would be safer in terms its flexability during expansion. glass would break under pressure. if avoiding both glass and plastic for very different safety reasons. what container would you suggest please?

  4. I made ginger syrup, lots of it, so I could make homemade ginger ale. Now I want to investigate making other syrups so I can make other drinks, like Orange or Lemon, or Lime syrups!

    1. Steve, they’ve also got rubber stops that fit a bubbler (basically a one way water valve). I made wine not to long ago and it works perfect. I, also, have to motion to go with glass. Lastly, Karen, let me know how your other syrups turn out! I’d love to do the same!

    1. Of course will work with beet sugar. Beet sugar is sucrose as well, the more sugar the better it works.

  5. Just wondering if the yeast (active dry yeast) is the same as the stuff you use in bread? Also, does it produce alcohol because I didn’t think it did?

    1. Yes Max– as the yeast ferments it creates a very small amount of alcohol, it’s really negligible in this recipe however I wanted to mention it in case any readers are concerned about it.

    2. Oops, computer glitch!

      I was going to say that bread yeast might impart some odd flavours, you probably wont pick them up though. I’m an all grain beer brewer and we use dedicated yeasts designed to ferment clean (i.e. no off flavours).

      As for alcohol, if this is a concern you can buy a hydrometer. They are cheap and there is plenty of info on the web on how to use them.

  6. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi there, this recipe looks great I can’t wait to give it a try.
    I am also interested in making some alcoholic ginger beer, just the strength of regular beer 4-5%.
    Is it just a matter of letting it ferment longer, or do I need to adjust the yeast and sugar levels?
    Thanks :)

    1. What amount of salt and water are you using to awaken the yeast? When do you add the stevia and by what amount.

    2. Salt kills yeast!! Not sure what it does here. Warm water will do the trick by it self but usually with sugar for all recipes. If you need to cut sugar it is not simple. You only need the yeast to carbonate the liquid and they sell tablets at brewing products seller’s that will do that.

  7. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I just came home with a bottle of Cock & Bull Ginger Beer (which is very tasty) and was wondering if I could make my own and sure enough I found this article. I love ginger beer and can’t wait to try making my own. Thanks for the great article!

  8. Tried to make this and it came out with a fairly strong alcohol taste. Followed the recipe to the letter. Going to try using some brewers yeast instead of active dry and cut back on the time I let the brew ferment. I would assume that once there is significant pressure in the bottle it is probably well enough carbonated to chill and bottle. Are my assumptions correct here or is there something else I should try?

  9. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I tried this the two different ways and i love it. It has me thinking if i use this same recipe but use different types of friuts if the results will be the same and give the amazing taste. Will let u know out things turn out….

  10. Fascinating! I, too, grew up in the Detroit area with the taste of the ORIGINAL Vernor’s formula. I’d like to re-create that, or come as close as possible! Any tips on that, anyone?

  11. I just found some large glass bottles today. I always wanted to make homemade fermented ginger and root beer at home with no club soda! Can’t wait to try this tomorrow! I’m a stay at home mom now, so I’m not worried about the exploding factor.

  12. Read quite a few Ginger Beer recipes – liked this one the best. So just made it according to recipe …. Oh almost, I was heavy on the ginger. Also read in another recipe about adding raisins to support the fermentation process – so added 20 raisins. Will update in a few days.

  13. I just released the lid on the second day after brewing it, and its fizzy (I read the comment about opening it every day AFTER it goes in the fridge, after doing it :/) so if its fizzy, is it ready to drink?

    1. I would say, probably not. It will continue to fizz for a while, I expect; I’m no expert but I’ve brewed mead a couple times, and without a “vapor lock” of some sort, I’d have to release the excess gases every now and then. I imagine the same would hold true for ginger ale. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable and experienced will weigh in!

    2. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
      Depends on how much of an alco taste you want. If you just want it carbonated it should be great. Open it up and try some if you like it drink it all. After going in the fridge the fermenation process slows down considerably. Just don’t put the lid on super super tight and it will self breath out before the bottle explodes. Ie just put the lid on so that you can hear a very slight hissing sound if you listen real close. that way you know the bottle is self relieving.

  14. Hello,
    I tried your recipe and after two days I opened the bottle to release the pressure and it released a strong sulfur smell. I sampled the ginger beer on the fourth day and although it tasted fine, it has a sulfur odor. The only thing I can think of is that I used “Fleishmans” active dry yeast (from the packets) which is usually used to make bread. Has anyone else had this problem?

    1. Yes! I have had this problem as well. It has to do with the yeast. Mine also had a bad aftertaste. It’s a lot better if you use brewers yeast. The kind of yeast matters a lot!

  15. Say, has anyone tried this method to make carbonated lemonade or orangeade? I’ve made Lemon “Squash” (UK term?) concentrate for years – just wondering what would happen if I diluted it with water and added some yeast in a glass bottle like that shown at top of this article. Maybe I’ll just try it and post the results!!

    1. It probably won’t work as most brands of squash will have some sort of preservative that will severely slow or even prevent fermentation. If you can find a “no-preservative” brand that may work.

    2. if you use fresh squeezed oranges it may work. my worry would be the flavour. may be simpler to make squash from supermarket diluted with sparkling spring water or use a soda stream to gas carbonate. please do tell about your progress.

    1. I have had 1 pound of yeast in the freezer for over 5 years and just used the last tablespoon making my last 5 gallons of Ginger beer. worked real good. You only need a little over a teaspoon for 5 gallons and needs to sit out for a couple of days. If worried about any taste from bread yeast I have never had any. But you can order from any Beer or wine supply yeast for that. would not waste the money.

  16. HI! Thanks so much for the recipe. I love ginger beer and particularly like the ones with the sediment on the bottom. Is it ok to skip the straining out the big chunks of ginger or will the ginger make the batch go sour? Thanks again

  17. Hi! Just found this while searching for ginger beer recipes. Looks quite easy and would like to try it. After reading the comments I was wondering if there are any updates on it, like, using stevia, or the salt and water to waken, does the reg. yeast (“Fleishmans”)etc. give a sulphur taste/smell. Also what happens if I went heavy on the ginger or left the grated ginger in it. Thank you

    1. Stevia does not ferment so using ONLY stevia will mean your ginger beer stays flat. Using a small amount of sugar – about 2 teaspoons – should give the yeast enough to be able to carbonate the ginger beer. You can then add stevia or other sweeteners to achieve the desired sweetness.

      For the same reason salt and water will not give any carbonation.

      Sulphur smell may possibly have come from bacterial contamination – its good to sterilise all the equipment that you use before you start. I use a weak iodine solution though there are many other ways.

      Going heavy on the ginger is exactly what I do, leaving the ginger in is also fine – I sieve it out as I pour it

  18. I have a few concerns with this. I tried it, and I know that the bread yeast doesn’t help with the flavor, so I will find some brewers yeast. I just don’t want it to get too high percentage of alcohol to the point it is considered “alcoholic”. What kinds of preservatives can I find to stop the fermentation process?

    1. Campden tablets or potassium sorbate will work to kill the yeast, as will extreme heat or cold. Wherever you find brewer’s yeast, campden and potassium sorbate will be there too. Popping in the fridge also works, but it takes longer. Hope that helped.

  19. Don’t throw away the strained-out solids! They taste really nice in tea or by themselves and help out a lot with stomach aches and colds.

  20. I make my ginger beer with a ginger bug (or plant, as noted above). It’s just ginger, sugar, and water, and it bubbles away on my counter as long as I feed it. It carbonates with wild yeasts. We use that ginger bug to make ginger beer as well as peach soda and raspberry soda.

    I also bottle in glass and have not had an explosion yet.

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