Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Ginger Beer is Ruining my Life

Something that I don't often talk about is beer.

This is funny, because beer is a really big part of my life.

I'm not saying that I'm an alcoholic or anything, just... you know, into it.  We have a group of friends that gathers every couple weeks to brew beer in the back yard on the turkey fryer, and every month we go to a local homebrewers club.  I dig craft beers, and love going to new breweries.  Beer is a hobby (and also the probably culprit of my weight gain in the last year or two).

Anyway, I decided one day that I wanted to make ginger beer.

It seemed simple enough.  Sugar.  Ginger.  Water.  Yeast.  GO!

But it wasn't.  The stupid internet.  Has to be all informative and stuff.  While looking for some good directions, I came across some crazy information.  Ginger beer is not made with brewers yeast or baking yeast or champagne yeast... no no no.  Ginger beer, REAL ginger beer, uses a magical substance called "Ginger Beer Plant".

What is it?  Apparently, it is not a plant.  It is what is commonly (among microbiologists) referred to as a SCOBY.  That is, a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.  And not just ANY yeast and bacteria, a very specific combination of two varieties.

Why isn't anything I ever do simple?

The problem with the internet for research is that it is both really informative, and ridiculously uninformed.  You can't just take the first thing you see at face value.  Oh no, you have to assume the writer is on crack, and cross check it and everything to make sure you don't fall prey to a Nigerian Lottery Scheme while trying to learn about SCOBY's.

After some hemming and hawing, I finally caved and paid £11 to have some of this magical substance shipped from the UK from what appears to be a reliable source.  I could have put my name up on a message board and tried to get someone to send me some for free, but I wanted it now.

It was sent in two zip-lock baggies in a bubble mailer via Royal Mail.  It wasn't dripping, at least, but when I opened the top, it smelled, very strongly, alcoholic.  Very very alcoholic.  While promising, I wondered how this thing ever made it through customs.

It was also partially frozen, because it was about 10 below zero for the few days it was in transit.  Of course.

The Ginger Beer Plant upon arrival.
I was pretty sure it was ruined.

Instead of crying about it though, I decided to go ahead and do a tender loving care batch or 3 and see if I could bring it back to life.  The TLC batch is raw cane sugar (the kind that comes in cone form), a little lemon, and chlorine-free water.

About the 3rd tender loving care batch.  It was a bit like watching a lava lamp as bits of GBP floated to the top when they had too much CO2, the fall to the bottom again.

The GBP did amazingly well.  After about a month, I was ready to start my first batch of ginger beer.

Heat up some water.
Everything seemed to go smoothly the first time through.  I mean, how could it go wrong?  I brew beer all the time!

Grate up some slightly seared fresh ginger..
And this recipe is so simple.  The ginger beer plant (or GBP for short), is incredibly resilient.  It can leap buildings in a single bound.

My ginger beer was going to be the most wonderful, most magical ginger beer ever made.  My ginger beer would change history!

Put it all together.
I was so excited.

I wanted more alcohol, so I transferred to a secondary fermentation.

And I could have made a mostly alcohol-free version, but... well.  If I am going to take the time to ferment something, there had better be some freaking booze involved.  Just sayin'.

It kept clarifying.  It had bubbles.  Everything was going good.

With the regular malt beers, I am not the primary mover and shaker.  I don't pick the recipe, I don't do most of the work.  I stand around and drink beer, supervising the others.

But this was mine.

Check the specific gravity so I could figure out the alcohol.

It came out at about 6%, which is TOTALLY acceptable for a beery substance.

Taste to make sure it's good.
And it was delicious.  It just needed time to carbonate.


Problem #1:  It never carbonated.  Tastes great, but without the bubbles it's... weird.  Since it's so dry, I haven't decided on a mixer.

Problem #2: While making the second batch, everything got moldy.

I failed.  Everything is wrong.  My ginger beer is going to kill me. 

Now I am certain that everything I do is going to fail, I will be fired from my job, never pass emissions, get pulled over for having expired plates, probably thrown in jail, and possibly become a mold zombie.

Excuse me while I crawl under the table.  I think I am going to hide from my failures.  It's easier than dealing with them, and if I stay down there long enough, my epic ginger beer failure will be forgotten.


Anonymous said...

Be thankful. In my experience, a home-brewing fail generally involves the fire department and one of your neighbors getting interviewed on the 6 o'clock news...

Leauxra said...

Well, I'm not makin' moonshine, here, hoodyhoo. Just beer. Which is pretty safe other than the scaldings, and the occasional undrinkable sour screw-up.

Although distilling DOES sound awesome, I think I need a license for that. Beer is totally open as long as I stay under 200 gallons a year...

Anonymous said...

Then why everyone else is doing great with Ginger Beer Plant? You tried to make 20 liters at once, that is the reason.

Gus said...

Didn't look like she tried to do 20L (~5G) at once, in fact that jug looks way smaller. I reckon trying to make it boozy was her downfall. I've been doing very well doing pretty much the same recipe, but a warm (by beer standards) and short ferment followed by bottling and then refrigeration. Makes a killer 'soft-drink' which is probably around 1-1.5% alcohol...

Leauxra said...

Gus: Yes, it was only about a gallon. The bottles are 8oz plastic bottles, so really not very much.

The boozy part shouldn't have made a difference... I had grown and separated the GBP a couple of times, and was just feeding and cleaning and keeping it alive. When I wanted to use it, I would separate some out and use it (and throw it away when done because I had so much. The solution they were in was not or minimally alcoholic.

It just got contaminated. I really think I should have just used an airlock to keep molds and wild yeasts out.