Whether you’re setting up the tunnel in your attic into a makeshift smugglers’ cave (a la Polly Plummer in The Magician’s Nephew) or you’re just a fan of a good Moscow Mule, you’re going to need some ginger beer. Ginger beer, a spicy-sweet fermented soda, is like ginger ale’s older cousin that already started wearing eyeliner. Dating back as far as the 19th century, the first ginger beers were brewed to be alcoholic, containing around 11 percent ABV. According to Barritt’s Ginger Beer, a British excise tax law required the drink contain less than 2 percent alcohol, so manufacturers began adding more water to their brew. Today, you can find alcoholic ginger beer, but you’re more likely to find a bottle of the nonalcoholic stuff used as a mixer in your cocktail.
Ginger beer is surprisingly simple to DIY; you just need a bit of time. First, make a ginger simple syrup. Peel a 4-inch piece of fresh ginger and grate it on a box grater or microplane. Scoop the ginger into a small saucepan along with 1 cup of filtered water, ½ cup granulated sugar, and ¼ cup brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside for 30 minutes to an hour.
After the syrup has steeped, strain it through a fine mesh sieve. If you don’t feel like spending time fermenting, you can simply add a tablespoon or more of the syrup into seltzer for a ginger beer-ginger ale hybrid. I assure you, it will taste lovely in a Dark and Stormy. But for those who are interested in playing a little more, pour the syrup into a 2-liter soda bottle along with ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast, ⅓ cup lemon juice, and enough cold filtered water to fill the bottle until it reaches 2 inches from the top.
If you want to make single-serving bottles of ginger beer, mix together the syrup, yeast, and lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup, then divide evenly into 11 glass fermentation bottles. Don’t just use any glass bottle you have hanging around, as the bubbles that will form in your ginger beer may build up pressure and cause the glass to shatter. Fill the bottles with cold filtered water (again with a 2-inch gap).
Put the lid on the bottle or bottles and tip them around a little, like you would a snowglobe, and then let them sit at room temperature outside of direct sunlight for 2 days. If you want the drink a little drier, let it go for 3 days. Every 6-12 hours, burp the bottles by only partially removing the bottle caps to release a bit of the pressure building inside.
After 2 or 3 days, taste the ginger beer. If it’s fizzy enough, transfer the mixture to the fridge and let it chill for at least 6 hours. Serve in cocktails or just pour a bottle over ice. This ginger beer is best drunk within a week.