homemade wild fermented ginger beer {part one} – making the ginger bug

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Ginger Bug for making Ginger BeerNothing compliments a hot summer afternoon as does a cold glass of homemade ginger beer.

I have vivid memories of sitting under the old magnolia tree at the back of my great aunts house, sipping homemade ginger beer during conversation pauses as we waited for the planes to roar over Mascot, so close it felt like you could touch them.

This ginger beer recipe is just like the ginger beer of my childhood, made using the old-fashioned fermentation method.

Ginger and sugar attract yeast and micro-organisms from the surrounding air. These micro-organisms feast on the sugar (leaving little sugar left) and turn that sugar into carbon dioxide, which is what gives the ginger beer it’s fizz. The process is called ‘lacto-fermentation’ and produces a delicious and healthy soft drink, full of probiotics.

Who would have thought – a healthy soft drink!?

Making ginger beer in this way is a slow process but not a labour intensive one. First, you grow your starter or ‘bug’ by feeding, stirring and letting it sit comfortably on the kitchen bench. Once it’s bubbly, you make your ginger beer, add you bug and again, let it your beer sit on the bench. Finally, once it’s nice and bubbly again, you bottle your ginger beer, let it sit once more for the carbon dioxide to build up in the bottle (not too long though) and then refrigerate and enjoy.

So easy, very inexpensive, tasty and healthy. And you can use the same process to make a whole host of different flavoured soft drinks (I’m thinking passionfruit next time).

Today’s post is on how to start your ginger bug. Check out part two for information about brewing and bottling your own ginger beer.

What you will need:

  • A glass jar large enough to hold 2 cups of water
  • A clean cloth/muslin
  • A rubber band
  • Fresh ginger root
  • Sugar (raw, white or rapadura)
  • De-chlorinated water (see below)

Starting your ginger bug

In a clean jar, add two cups of de-chlorinated water along with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger either grated or finely chopped. You can leave the skin on the ginger or peel it if you wish.

Give your ginger bug a good stir, cover with the cloth, secure with the rubber band and then let your bug sit on the kitchen bench away from direct sunlight.

To de-chlorinate water, either run your water through a standard water filter (which will remove most of the chlorine) or leave it in a wide mouth jar for a day or two with a cloth over it to keep dust out. The chlorine will evaporate out. Speed this process up by putting your jar in the sun (especially if your house isn’t warm) or boil your water for a couple of minutes to de-chlorinate.

Alternatively, use rain water!

feeding your ginger bug

Your ginger bug needs a feed each day – it’s actually the wild yeast and bacteria (we’ll call them micro-organisms – bacteria gets a bad rap) in the air that you will be feeding.

Each morning, add 1 extra teaspoon of sugar and 1 extra teaspoon of grated or chopped ginger and give your bug a good stir. Then give it another good stir in the evening. The stirring will help incorporate air.

After 3 – 7 days of feeding and stirring (depending on the temperature in your kitchen) your ginger bug should be bubbling away nicely, ready to be made into ginger beer.

Fermented Ginger Bug for making Ginger Beer

using your bug

To make 2 litres of ginger beer (recipe in tomorrow’s post), you’ll need to use 1 cup of ginger bug.

What do you do with the remaining?

You can either top the bug up with more de-chlorinated water and add some more sugar and ginger and keep feeding it and stirring it daily, ready to make your next batch of soft drink or, you can put a lid on it and let your bug sleep in the fridge.

When you want to make another batch, revive your bug by giving it a daily feed and stir and it will be bubbling away in a few days.

Now that you’ve got your bug started, tomorrow I’ll share how to make yummy, naturally fizzy ginger beer.

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  1. Loving this idea! I was just wondering whether the glass has to be sterilised first or is just a normal clean sufficient? Thanks!

    1. I didn’t sterilise the glass… I don’t think that you have to, after all, you’re trying to encourage bacteria in this instance. But clean is important, you don’t want bacteria already in the glass from old food, for instance.

      1. Excellent! I hate sterilising things – so much extra hassle. ;) Thanks Melissa, my bug is 2 days in and looking good.

  2. hi just wanna clarify about putting the lid on the jar means do i have to seal the jar (no air) or put the lid on with the cheese cloth covering the jar tnx

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      If you’re letting your bug ‘sleep’ in the fridge, you can just put a lid on – no air. No need for the cheesecloth in the fridge. When you’re ready to make your next batch, swap the lid with the cheesecloth so it can ‘breathe’ on the counter. Hope this helps :) Love to hear how your ginger beer goes.

      1. Rob Lennon says:

        Hi Mellissa, couldn’t find another way to email you so I am replying this way. Mt Bug is slightly bubbly after 2 days. I feed it again as per the recipe and the bubbles don’t come back. It looks like the fermentation has stopped and appears flat. Have I killed the bug or done something else wrong. Rob

        1. Melissa Goodwin says:

          It’s hard to know over the net, but feed it again and see if the bubbles come back over the next couple of days and if they don’t, it might be best to start again. If you’ve had a cold weather snap, they might have gone to sleep?? A warmish spot might help as well IF they got a bit cold.

  3. HELLO! Ive been trying to find the answer to a question i have about ginger bug and nobody seems to be able to help :(
    I just want to know what to do with all the ginger that stays int he jar after using the liquid. im guessing with time the jar will get full of ginger and it seems like such a waste to just throw it away :(
    I hope you can help :3

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Well, you can keep the ginger in the jar and keep using it over and over to make the bug, but after a while the ginger builds up, which I guess is what you mean.

      I’m not sure, to be honest what to do with it. I’m wondering if you could cook with it? Maybe dry it out and use it in a stir fry. Or a ginger cake. Or muffins? I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to try it. Exciting territory, experimentation :). Otherwise, the compost heap when it’s done. Let me know if you try it in cooking.

  4. Martin D'ALLURA says:

    I used to make ginger beer many years ago with a recipe from my Mother. It called for yeast to start the bug. As above, I would feed it every day and then after a week I would make up my ginger beer. The bug would be split in half and away you go again.

  5. Today I started making ginger bug for my ginger bear.
    What temperature required for ginger bug?
    In India now room temperature is between 6-12 degree Celsius.

  6. Hi there, I think this a fantastic idea, however I’m curious about the sugar content. You state that the micro organisms feed on the sugar leaving little of it left. Does that mean it would be safe for diabetics and those trying to avoid sugar?

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Not sure. That question is best asked of a medical professional. Because it’s homemade and there are lots of variables the exact amount of sugar is hard to calculate and can vary depending on how long you ferment it.

  7. Odd question – once the ginger bug is ready to use, can you just dilute some of it with tea or water, then drink it immediately? Lately, I’ve been just grating some ginger and turmeric into my water and drinking it right away, but the bug has the beneficial fermentation, hence the question. Thank you!

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      I don’t know. I can’t see why not. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

  8. I’m not sure if this has been successful or not. I used old sauerkraut jars covered with a washcloth and tied with a rubber band, regular/non-organic ginger and turmeric, natural coconut sugar, and 20 minute boiled bottled water (it has chloride in it). I stirred twice daily and fed them in the evenings.
    Day 1 – 2 cups water, 1Tbsp ginger/turmeric small grated, 1Tbsp sugar
    Day 2 – fizzed when I stirred in the daily feed
    Day 3 – no more fizz, no mold, no odd smell
    Day 4 – no fizz, small bubbles at top after stirring, no mold, very slight vinegar smell
    Day 5 – no fizz, small bubbles at top after stirring, no mold on one but the other had a thick white layer on top (skimmed off might have to toss tomorrow), slight vinegar smell
    Day 6 – little fizz (not much), small bubbles at top after stirring, one had small white specks after stirring, the other had two semi-large white blobs (not fuzzy) on top so I removed, same light vinegar smell. Tasted a small amount of the one with the larger white “mold/yeast” – it was a bit effervescenty and slightly vinegary (nothing bad, but not strong). Changed from coconut sugar to natural unrefined cane sugar (the kind that is like brown sugar, moist and powdery) to see if that makes a difference.
    Day 7 – the one with the “mold/yeast” had more bubbles on the top, before and after stirring. Will fed again tonight, then tomorrow put in fridge or do a secondary fermentation.

    This is my first fermentation experience, any advice???
    Thank you in advance!

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Keep experimenting! Because it’s natural, there are a lot of variables that will effect the outcome. But beware of mould. You don’t want to drink if there is mould.

      1. Once I changed to the unrefined cane sugar, the bug was happy!

        1. Melissa Goodwin says:

          Good tip, thanks.

  9. Gay Squire says:

    My bug initially bubbled from day 3 to day 6 and then no more bubbles. Kept going with the next process. Still no bubbles but no mould or funny smells. Not sure whether I should keep going with it and bottle or throw away and start again.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      It would probably be best to start again, just in case.

  10. I’ve been really curious how a ginger bug made with monk fruit will work but can’t find any relevant info. Do you have any info or tips regarding that? I’m a little nervous to just try it as I’m new to this process and not sure how it will work or about measurements.