Bushcraft Home Brew (Ginger Beer)

Lifecraft

John McDouall Stuart
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I started making ginger beer at home (as well as various other home brews), but the approach can be used out in the bush, without taking too much stuff.
Take empty soft drink bottles, the basic ingredients (minus the water which you can source from a river), and brew it up in the field rather than carrying beer with you (or to have ready for when your beer runs out after day 2.)

In warm weather it can be ready to drink in 24/48 hours, which is a lot faster than standard home brew beers.
Ideally you can let it brew for a few more days, or even a week or two, to make it taste better (less sugary, and a bit more dry and crisp in flavor).
If you want to brew it in 24 hours it can be a good idea to reduce the amount of sugar, so it's not sickly sweet, because the yeast won't have time to convert it all into alcohol.



Equipment needed:
- 2l soft drink bottle (or soda water bottle) - It needs to be a bottle designed for pressure, otherwise it might rupture.
- Funnel (optional, but recommended to avoid spilling the ingredients)
- Sieve (optional, but if you don't like the bits in the drink you can sieve them out)



Ingredients:
- 2tbsp ginger - Add more if you like ginger, or less if you want a more mild flavor, or remove the ginger altogether if you add a different source of flavor such as fruit or fruit juice.
You could chop/grate fresh ginger but jar ginger works fine and is a lot easier. You can also use ground ginger power apparently, although I've never used it.

- 2tbsp honey - This can be swapped for any sugar source, including refined sugar, molasses, or fruit, but the flavor will be different.

- 1 cup sugar - Any type of sugar can be used, or even an alternative such as molasses, fruit juice, more honey, etc. to result in a different flavor. I tend to use raw or brown sugar, because it adds more flavor.

- 1/4tsp (or a bit more) of yeast - The more you add the quicker the fermentation will start, however if you add too much it might not taste great, and you could even cause a "crash" where it burns through the sugar and stops fermenting altogether (I've never had this happen, but I've heard it can).

You can use bakers yeast or brewers yeast. Bakers yeast has more flavor but produces less alcohol. You can also use wild yeasts found on most organic/wild fruits, such as sultanas, etc. although wild yeasts may or may not end up tasting nice so it becomes a game of trial and error.

- water - If you're near a clean water source you might not need to sterilize it, however sterilizing it can be useful if you want to guarantee nothing in the water can taint the flavor, or breed something that makes you sick. Just boil the water, don't use iodine or anything as it will kill the yeast.

I've heard the alcohol can actually kill bad bacteria in the water, however I think that's only effective when you add dodgy water to an existing alcoholic/fermenting liquid. If you start with zero alcohol and use water with bad bacteria in it you're more likely to simply be breeding the bad bacteria.

If in doubt, sterilize it.


Other optional ingredients:
- juice of 1-3 lemons (the amount you add depends on preference and taste)

- a small handful of sultanas (the yeast on the skin of organic sultanas can help ferment the brew, and they'll add more sugar and flavor)

- apple juice (for an apple cider flavor)

- fruit of almost any kind (if you have oranges, strawberries, or just about any other fruit you can experiment by adding pieces or juice)

- keffir (adding keffir turns the drink into a probiotic which is good for digestion, and overall health. But for it to be truly healthy you would need to cut back on the sugar or at least replace it with healthier alternatives such as fruit juice, or even honey.)



How to brew:
1) Clean the equipment and bottles well.
Some people say you must sterilize it, but it's not absolutely critical for ginger beer or any strong tasting brew that won't be fermenting for long.
Drinking within a week, the risk of contamination is far less a problem than normal home brewing, where it may continue to ferment for months before drinking.
Dunking equipment in boiling water can sterilize it, or you can use home brew sterilizing agents, etc. if you like.
DON'T pour boiling water into the soft drink bottle though or it'll likely melt (I tried this with a coke bottle, and it warped and collapsed the bottle.)

2) Put all ingredients (except the water) into the bottle (this is where the funnel helps)

3) Fill the bottle with water leaving an inch or two gap between the liquid and the lid (this air can compress as the bottle pressurizes, helping to prevent rupture).
It helps to warm the water (or just pour some hot/warm water in at the top) so it's luke warm, instead of being completely cold, as this will get the fermentation started faster, so you can drink it quicker.

4) Put the lid on tight

5) Give the bottle a good shake until everything is well mixed. The honey tends to take a while to fully dissolve from experience.
I often shake it a few times during the first day, if I want to guarantee it's all mixed well and dissolved.

6) Leave the bottle somewhere warm to ferment for between 24 hours (if you don't mind it sugary, or if you reduced the amount of sugar) and up to 2 weeks (at this point, because the equipment wasn't sterilized you may want to drink it, or at least taste it, as any wild yeasts or other bacteria might start to taint the flavor or turn it to vinegar.)
The general rule of thumb is to keep it between 20-30 degrees c. However it'll still brew slowly down to around 16c and the yeast MAY (or may not) survive going up as high as 35c or even slightly higher.

I've heard of people putting it in the sun to warm up... but I've also read people saying never to put it in the sun.
If you don't want to rush it, a warm spot in the shade is probably better, however you could get away with sitting it in the sun especially in winter. Just experiment.

7) Check the fermentation by squeezing the bottle. If it's working the bottle should feel pressurized within 24 hours (even within just a few hours if it's warm weather, and the water you put in it was warm), and will get more and more pressurized.

8) If it's warm and you're not drinking it for a few days, open the lid slightly to release the pressure at least once every 2 days, then close it again. This will help prevent the whole thing from rupturing (although rupturing shouldn't be too much of a risk in a pressure suitable bottle, unless you leave it in for too long)

9) Put the bottle in the creek for an hour or two before opening if possible, to cool it down.
Or wrap a wet cloth around it and place the whole thing somewhere there's a breeze.
The warmer it is the less gas/bubbles it will hold (once you open the lid the gas gets released), so the more flat it will be when you drink it.
Ideally you put it in the fridge to keep it fully carbonate/bubbly, but that's not critical (just tastes a bit better).
If you have a car fridge or an esky with ice, put it in there before you drink it.

10) Open the bottle SLOWLY and be prepared to tighten the lid as it bubbles up. If you aren't prepared for this and you open it too quickly there's a good chance you'll end up covered in ginger beer as the gasses get released.
The warmer it is the faster the gasses will be released, so the more careful you'll need to be.

I often find myself having to release the lid up to 10 times if it's really carbonated and I open it warm. A larger gap between the liquid and the lid can make this easier, because it means the bubbling ginger beer will take longer to reach the lid and spray out (if you open it too quickly).

11) Optionally pour through a sieve or coarse cloth if you don't like the bits of ginger, etc. in the drink. You can also open the lid slightly and pour through the gap (although it's tedious and will encourage it to go flat).
At home I'd use a sieve, but it's not really necessary when you're roughing it.

Everyone who's tasted this when I've made it seem to love it.
Some people however just don't like ginger beer at all, so if that's you then try swapping the ginger for apple juice or something, to make cider. Experiment until you find something you like.

I will note though that after 24 hours only, I find it's WAAAY too sugary for my taste. A cup of sugar in a single bottle starts to make me feel sick.
This is easily resolved by using less sugar if you know you're only going to wait 24 hours.
I find it at it's best after a week or so, as it loses most of the sweetness and has far less sugar by then.

You can always taste it, then close it back up again and wait longer, if it's too sugary for you. Eventually you can barely taste much sugar at all, as it's converted into alcohol.


In theory if you want a non alcoholic ginger beer (which has no bubbles, so it's like cordial) you could cut a lot of the sugar out, as well as the yeast, and drink it immediately after making it.
I've not done it so you'll have to experiment with the sugar level.


An important point to make about this is the recipe is not fixed. All the sugar sources you can replace with almost any other sugar source, just resulting in a different flavor.
You also don't even need to measure the ingredients really. As long as you have a rough idea what you're doing then you can just guess the amounts and while the flavor will change slightly it does seem to be quite forgiving.

The video I watched where I learned to make this... they didn't even bother to measure the ingredients. One of the guys commented and asked whether to measure them, and the other guy kinda laughed and said something like "no need".

It's a good idea to do it a couple of times by measuring the ingredients though just so you're familiar with it, then you can guesstimate it pretty easily from there.

As long as you have water, yeast, and sugar it should ferment, and apart from that everything else is mainly there for flavor and nutrition.
Considering you can get water and wild yeasts in the bush (from wild fruits, or from the air), all you really need to bring in, or to find (which might be difficult) in the bush is a sugar source.
If you know how to tap trees to extract sap then there's your sugar source. Or if you find wild honey, or berries, etc. you can use them.

Once you are familiar with the basics you can really just make it up as you go along, and as long as you have some bottles you could make completely wild brews, however it will be trial and error as to whether it tastes any good.
If you do manage to get a good tasting brew with wild yeasts then keep some from that batch to use to start the next batch, as wild yeasts are probably the most unreliable (in terms of flavor, as some taste horrible) ingredient to try source in the bush.

I've just created a "yeast starter" as an experiment using organic sultanas (the sultanas have natural wild yeasts on the skin), ginger, and molasses in filtered water.
It may or may not work, but it's an interesting experiment.
I'll open it and smell it in a few days, to see if it's worth keeping. If it smells good I'll try using it for a brew. If it smells bad I'll pour it out and I'll start again.

The skin of fresh ginger also has wild yeasts on it so you can try using that for a starter as well.
Or just make the sugar/water mix and leave it open to the air (as you can do for sourdough starters, although this is a gamble as it might not taste very nice, but you can usually know by smell if it's going to be really bad.)
Getting wild yeasts from the air is difficult though because you're also likely to be getting mold spores. They then compete to outgrow each other.
So you might need to try it 10 or more times before you manage to get a nice tasting wild yeast, without any bad contaminants ruining the flavor.


Let me know if you try it, what you think of it, and if you have any problems.

I'm yet to have a batch fail and taste bad so far, so it's certainly not too difficult to do, and not all that easy to completely mess up.

I'm now moving on to experimentation with recipes from scratch, including really low sugar brews (which will also be low alcohol, but can be more suited to shorter brewing times), and capturing wild yeasts.


Edit (to add):
I just noticed the yeast starter experiment (using wild yeast from on sultanas) had popped the lid part way off. That means it's fermenting.
It smells sour already and not too bad, but it doesn't smell the same as a normal bakers/brewers yeast brew.
I'll let it keep going and check it again tomorrow.
I'm guessing I'll have to redo this experiment a few times before I get one I like the smell of, and therefore possibly like the taste. I should probably be doing more than one at a time to increase the odds of one succeeding.

I certainly wouldn't try whole bottles with unknown yeasts as that would be a waste. So best to do start in a small jar or bottle with smaller amounts of ingredients, as it's likely a few of them will end up being tipped down the drain.

It is a lot easier and more reliable to use purchased yeast.... and you can keep reusing each batch to start the next, so you never really run out of yeast (so long as it doesn't die or become contaminated).
If you have a wild source of sugar (such as honey or fruit) then you potentially have a renewable brew.


Edit again (to add):
I just tasted the experimental low sugar bottle I brewed yesterday (actually last night, so less than 24hrs ago).
It has roughly the same amount of ginger but has no refined sugar or honey in it. Instead I put the juice of a lemon, a small handful of sultanas, and a few squeezes of molasses (maybe a couple of teaspoons).
This one did however use normal bakers yeast (as well as the wild yeasts on the sultanas).
When I tasted it after making it initially I wondered if it would even work, or be drinkable, because I couldn't taste any sweetness at all (only ginger).

Tasting it now I'm pleasantly surprised. At first I wasn't sure I liked it because it has almost no sweetness. But it's actually growing on me. There is a hint of sweetness, but it's very mild, so quite different from the sweet ginger beer most of us are used to (which is what the recipe above makes, unless you brew it for at least a week).

I think when I'm not in the mood for sugar (I don't like having too much refined sugar in my diet), or don't have any, this is quite a nice alternative (although I think a dash more molasses, or some honey, might be good for next time).

Just goes to show you can make it up as you go along, and still end up with something quite enjoyable (at least once you've done it a few times to have a rough idea of what you're doing).
I'm going back for another small glass :)
I'll leave the rest to brew for another day and see what happens.
 
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Aussie123

Never Alone In The Bush
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Thanks Lifecraft, a great explanation of the process, very clear and easy.

I’ve been using this recipe for many years and it always works well, its very simple. I’ve not made it “in the bush”, but I did make it once when we were travelling up North.


Its worth remembering that the 250g (approx 1 cup) sugar equates to about 12% alcohol per litre when fermented. So a 2 litre bottle with 250g sugar (fully fermented ie “dry”) should be about 6% alcohol, which is about the same as a beer .... just remember that before you drive, or give it to anyone alcohol intolerant.
 

n5750547

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This recipe (via a Google search) is how I found this forum so tip of the hat for that!

I've now done 6 batches and all of them were great except for the first. The problem was that I used fresh ginger and there was barely any flavor. I now simmer the ginger for about 20min which is enough to get a nice taste.



Cheers
Phil
 
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