Sunday 24 June 2007

Old-fashioned, home-made South African ginger beer

A delicious taste of childhood: lemony, gingery and fizzy. It's so refreshing and so easy to make that I have now resolved to make a batch every two days. It's the taste of dusty summer days, burbling swimming pools, country fĂȘtes and beaming grannies.

Click here to go straight to the recipe.

Old-fashioned, home-made South African ginger beer
Wonderfully refreshing home-made ginger beer from South Africa.
My mom used to make this often when I was a child: I have wonderful memories of hearing a ka-pow! as a glass bottle exploded (they were matured on the veranda for this reason) and a lovely yeasty, gingery perfume came drifting through the house.

Home-made South African Rooibos or Earl Grey ginger beer
This is a variation using Earl Grey tea. It's also delicious made with
 Rooibos tea - scroll to the end of this page for details. 
This is my mother's recipe, which I have altered and tweaked over several years until I've got the proportions just right for my liking. (You can tinker freely with the amount of sugar, lemon juice and ginger, according to your taste.)

It's a great drink for kids (although it's called 'beer', it's not alcoholic because it's not fermented for long enough). It's packed with Vitamin C (from the lemons and ginger), Vitamin B (from the yeast). Also excellent for nausea and general queasiness.

It's really a doddle to make, but I have given quite detailed instructions so that your batch turns out perfectly every time.

Note: To make a Rooibos Tea or Earl Grey Ginger Beer, scroll down to my Cook's Notes at the end of this page.

Old-fashioned, Home-Made South African Ginger Beer

grated rind of 2 lemons
2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger
250 ml (1 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice (see Note 2, below)
3 grape-sized knobs of whole dried ginger (optional, see Note 3)
6 raisins
750 ml (3 cups) white sugar (if you prefer a dry beer, use 650 ml)
5 litres water
a 10-gram sachet of instant (active dry) yeast

Using the fine teeth of a cheesegrater, grate the lemon rind directly into a large, very clean plastic bucket (or a plastic bowl capable of holding 5 litres of water; see Note 1, below). Be sure not to grate in any any bits of white pith, which will make the beer bitter. Now grate in the fresh ginger, using the coarse teeth of the grater. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, the whole dried ginger (optional), the raisins, and the sugar.

Old-fashioned, home-made South African ginger beer
Pour 1 litre of hot water into the bucket and stir well for about 3 minutes, or until the sugar has completely dissolved. Leave to cool for 5 minutes. Now pour another 4 litres of warm water into the bucket, keeping a finger in the bucket to monitor the temperature of the water. The mixture should be warm - a few degrees above blood temperature - but not so warm that your finger thinks it's having a nice hot bath.

Sprinkle the dried yeast over the top of the water and leave for five minutes, or until it's dissolved. Now give the bucket of liquid a good stir with a wooden spoon or similar implement.

Cover the bucket with cling film and put it in a warmish place (not in direct sunlight). Leave for about 4-5 hours, stirring once or twice. During this time, you'll see the raisins begin to spin in the water and the mixture will burble softly. When the raisins float to the top, the ginger beer is ready to bottle.

Scoop out the floating ginger pieces and lemon rind with a sieve and discard. Now strain the ginger beer, through a sieve, into a large jug with a pouring spout (you may have to do this in batches, if your jug is small). Put a towel or some newspaper on the counter while you do this, because there will be spillage.

Decant the strained ginger beer into clean, rinsed plastic bottles (see Note 4, below), filling each bottle to about 7 centimetres from the top. Put a single raisin (taken from the raisins you added earlier) in each bottle, screw on the lids tightly, and set the bottles on a counter-top, at room temperature. They shouldn't be in a warm place, or in direct sunlight.

Leave overnight (or for at least 8 hours). During this time, the mixture will develop a lovely fizz. (See Note 5, below).

Now open each bottle very carefully: unscrew the lid gingerly (excuse the pun), in small increments, so that the gas escapes in little puffs. The liquid inside should fizz satisfyingly. When you've released the excess gas, screw on the lids tightly again, and put the bottles in the fridge. (The cold will all but stop the fermentation process).

Leave to chill completely. Serve with a slice of lemon and plenty of ice. Or try it with a stiff glug of gin.

Makes about 5 litres. Keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.


Note 1 A 6-litre plastic bucket with pinched rim/pouring nozzle and a tight-fitting lid is perfect. You can use an ordinary bucket, or a very big bowl, but there will be a bit of splashing.

Note 2 Measure the amount of lemon juice exactly. It takes about six lemons, depending on juiciness, to make a cup of lemon juice. If you don't feel like squeezing lemons, ask your green grocer to squeeze out a litre of fresh lemon juice on his orange-squeezing machine. You can use the rest to make lemonade or use in dressings. If you'd like a tarter ginger beer, add a teaspoon of tartaric acid along with the lemon juice.

Note 3 Dried whole ginger was used in my mom's recipe because fresh ginger wasn't available in the Sixties. It's not essential, but it does add a special something to the taste of the ginger beer. You can still buy it in those little orange boxes in the supermarkets. If you can' t find it, try adding two teaspoons of powdered ginger.

Note 4 Sturdy plastic 1- or 2-litre fruit-juice bottles (like Woolies or supermarket fruit-juice bottles) are perfect. One- and 2-litre cooldrink and mineral-water bottles also work well, but be very careful when you open them to release the gas, because the narrow necks of the bottles almost always result in a fizzy volcano. Don't use glass bottles (they might explode) or plastic milk bottles (the lids aren't air-tight).

Note 5 If the ginger beer is flat, and has no bubble, you will need to discard the batch and start again. There should be an audible release of gas when you open the bottle. There are two main reasons why a batch goes flat: 1. The yeast was stale, and 2. The water was either too hot, or too cold, for the yeast to thrive.

Here is a scrumptious variation of old-fashioned ginger beer. The idea of adding rooibos came to me while I was waiting for my ginger beer to cool while drinking a cup of rooibos tea. It has a delicate rooibos taste (add more teabags if you like a strong brew) and a wonderful apricot-orange colour.

Rooibos Tea or Earl Grey Ginger Beer:

Make the ginger beer according to the recipe above, but add 4-6 teabags of rooibos tea (or 4-6 tablespoons of loose rooibos tea) along with the lemon juice and rind. Leave the teabags to steep in the ginger beer mixture while it ferments, and remove only just before bottling the mixture.

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CR-Expat said...

Are the raisins that are placed in the sealed bottles the same raisins that were mentioned previously? Or are these just new raisins out of the box?

CR_Expat said...

Also, I can't get actual lemons in Costa Rica. Do you think it would work with limes?

Jane-Anne said...


Apologies for not replying sooner: I have been away. The raisins are the same ones that were mentioned previously. Thanks for pointing that out; I will amend the recipe to make this clear. I haven't tried using limes for this recipe, but I think it would be absolutely delicious: in fact, I will try it myself.

All the best

Konfytbekkie said...

That. Looks. Awesome.

If I can manage to make that, and it's brilliantly delicious, I think my boyfriend might decide to marry me.

He loves ginger beer and has been dropping hints about it.

Can't wait to try it :)

Jennifer Harper said...

Hi June,Your recipe looks great, however I dont want to make 5 litres (thats a bit too much for my husband and I), can I half the recipe? thanks for your help

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Jennifer

Thank you for your comment. Yes, you can certainly make a half batch of this recipe. Just divide the quantity of each ingredient exactly in half! Please let me know how it turns out, and good luck!


bev edwards said...

Am going to try this tomorrow!!!!It's getting too expensive to buy store gingerbeer, so hubby will be estatic! THANKS from a saffer in Kiwi land!

Jane-Anne said...

Thank you Bev! Let me know how your first batch turns out. Jane-Anne

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have been using a simmilar resepe for years and replacing the ginger with pineapple rinds makes very nice pineapple beer!

Rumah Dijual said...

In my country, this drink is called "beer pletok"

Jakarta Hotel said...

Feels very fresh and sparklink.

Anonymous said...

Would glass bottle really explode - like Grolsch bottles - used for fizzy beer?

Kimberly @ Turning the Pages said...

I have many fond memories of sitting on my dads lap as a little girl and he would always give me the first tiny sip of ginger beer. He's from South Africa but left in the 1940s or early 1950s to come here to Toronto (Canada) and hasn't been back since so I think this drink reminded him of home so I can't wait to make this up for him soon. I never realized how easy this would be to make and how inexpensive it is.

Jane-Anne said...

Hi MissKim! Thank you very much for your comment. This really is so easy to make, and I can't wait to find out if your Dad thinks it has the right, authentic South African flavour! Please do let me know!

Unknown said...

Will definitely try this for our visitors this coming Sunday, thank u!

sharon1957 said...

This will be my first experiment at making ginger beer i have all the ingredients you listed.but what about sterilizing the items i use.??

sharon1957 said...

Ive got all the ingredients ready to make ginger beer but what about sterilizing the pan and bottles??

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Sharon! Thanks for your question. There's no need to sterilise the bottles - simple rinse them well in very hot water and leave them upside down to drain for an hour or two.

Anonymous said...

WLl tje ottles Explpde f. Made this ? Also should i use glass bottles? Thanx looking forward to making it for Good friday

Hannah said...

Hi Jane-Anne

I'm in grade 6 and we had to make gingerbeer for a school project. I was looking for a recipe and came across this site I then read the recipe and decide it was a good one as it did not take too long to make. When I made it, it worked out well :-)

Thanks a lot

Jane-Anne said...

Dear Hannah

Thank you for taking the trouble to write and tell me this. You have absolutely made my day, and I'm so pleased that my recipe worked well for your school project :-)

With kind regards
Jane-Anne Hobbs

devon said...

how much alcohol will it contain inside it ?

and if i leave it for longer than 4-5 hours, like a day or two, will it still be drinkable ?

thxz alot lovely recipe ^_^

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Devon! Thanks for your comment. I'm not an expert on home brewing, but I think I can safely say that it contains no alcohol. Unless you leave it out of the fridge for a couple of days, in the heat, in which case it will probably start to ferment at a furious rate.

This keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week. :-)

Kind regards

DMG said...

I use a very similar recipe, but add 1 bottle of Lennon Jamaika Gemmer, Jamaica Ginger solution. It gives an extra ginger flavour and you don't have to use so much grated root ginger.

Anonymous said...

Just made tis following your recipe, even my wife loves it and I am no chef, thanks so much for the recipe!