Ginger beer is still made at home from a symbiotic colony of yeast and a lactobacillus (bacteria) known as a ginger beer plant, or from a ginger beetle starter made from fermenting ginger, sugar and water. Back then, ginger beer was a common drink that you could make at home. You got a so-called ginger beer plant, often from your neighbors. This “plant” was not a plant per se, but rather a sourdough starter culture for bread production.
There are differences in the structure from household to household and from region to region, but the key elements of this plant are bacteria and fungi that have learned to live in a happy symbiosis. For the curious, the fungus is Saccharomyces pyriformis and the bacterium is called Brevibacterium vermiforme. Together, they make something that looks like muddy, wet rice. You would add the ginger beer plant to water, sugar, lemon juice and ginger and it would ferment and make delicious ginger beer.
The amount of ginger in my recipe makes for a very tangy ginger beer, but depending on your personal taste preference, it uses less or more. A ginger bug is simply a lactic acid culture that consists of raw ginger root (with skin still attached) and sugar in dechlorinated water. Both GBP and WK are small round SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts) that either sink to the bottom or float around in the liquid. After growing a ginger bug, you must separately brew a batch of sweet ginger tea, enough tea to provide as much ginger ale as you want to ferment, sweetened with enough sugar to feed the fermentation further.
Quite unlike what is now considered root beer, which consists primarily of sugar and artificial ingredients. Ginger Bug is a slurry of fresh ginger, sugar and water that has been allowed to ferment until it is bubbly and frothy. After another 2 days, the ginger beer plant test had a lot more bubbles and was noticeably much stronger in taste – you could really taste the acidity and yeast. I had a lot of fun with the ginger bug, as it’s really cool to be able to create your own active culture with ginger root and sugar.
When mixed with a sweetened herbal tea, fruit juice, or any other base, the microorganisms in the ginger bug consume the sugar in the tea or juice. Stir well to process the live cultures evenly and decant the ginger beer into sealable bottles (with at least one plastic bottle). Because ginger bugs are fermented foods, they are naturally rich in probiotics, namely lactobacillus bacteria and wild yeast. Cultures around the world have produced countless and distinctly flavored lemonades that are unique in their environment. The best known to us are, of course, root beer (which uses any combination of sassafras, sarsaparilla, ginger, licorice and burdock roots) and ginger beer.
The other reason you won’t be carded with ginger beer is that it has been regulated to no more than 2% alcohol in the UK since 1855. If you still have an extra ginger bug, you can leave the chopped ginger in it and cool it in a sealed container. There are places where the “plant” exists, and if you are interested in brewing ginger beer, there is no reason not to order something from the Internet.