The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer

The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Ale on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

Ginger, with its zippy and refreshing taste, is listed among the world’s oldest spices.  As far back as 500 BC, this native plant of China and India was used for medicine, food, and flavoring. For most of the Western world, ginger was used to spice up drinks. Up until the Victorian era, beer was the drink of choice in England, especially herbal and spiced low-alcohol “small” beers such as ginger beer.

I would be willing to bet that most us were introduced to the flavor of Zingiber officinale through ginger ale. I don’t know about you, but the zingy soda pop was my mom’s go-to cure for tummy aches. This non-alcoholic ginger ale made its American debut in 1866 when a Detroit, Michigan pharmacist named James Vernor installed a soda fountain in his drugstore. Vernor began playing around with ginger extracts, and in 1870 perfected his recipe, which included mellowing the syrup for four years in wooden casks. It’s not surprising that a pharmacist would chose ginger, as the rhizome was (and still is) known as a stomach soother.  In fact, Vernor’s ads often touted “Mothers tell their children to ask for Vernor’s Ginger Ale because it’s wholesome and healthful.” Vernor’s Ginger Ale remains just as popular today.

The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

Ginger ale and ginger beer are both basically the same thing. It’s easy and inexpensive to make old-fashioned ginger beer at home, and some (me included) would say you get more of a gingery taste than you do from the store-bought stuff. A bit of fermentation is involved, which produces a very slight alcohol content (not noticeable, but important to point out for those sensitive to alcohol). Some manufacturers ferment the mixture longer and make other adjustments to increase the alcohol content, but for our purposes this ginger beer is more akin to ginger ale. If you’re concerned, make the ginger syrup as noted below, but skip the fermentation process and mix it with seltzer water instead to produce a fermentation-free beverage.

The fermentation of the yeast creates the bubbles. You’ll need to release pressure from the bottle every day or two, otherwise the bottle could explode! That’s why in the recipe below we recommend using a plastic bottle for the fermentation process. We’ve used a glass bottle in the photos for aesthetic purposes only; the ginger beer itself was fermented in a plain 2-liter plastic bottle.

Here’s how to make ginger beer the old fashioned way– no soda machine or brewery required. The drink is nice and refreshing on a warm day; it’s also one of the main ingredients in the popular Moscow Mule cocktail. It’s easy, really, and surprisingly fizzy. Just look at those bubbles!

Food Photography and Styling by Tori Avey

The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

Homemade Ginger Beer

Ginger Syrup Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Ginger Beer Ingredients

  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
  • Ginger syrup (above)
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 7 cups filtered water

You will also need

  • Clean 2-liter plastic soda bottle, funnel
Servings: 2 liters
  • Peel a chunk of the ginger with the tip of a teaspoon—the papery skin scrapes right off—and grate it, using the fine side of your grater. Place the ginger, sugar, and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for an hour.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeStrain the mixture (discard the ginger solids) and allow to cool.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeYou’ve now made ginger syrup (or gingerette, as the Brits call it). Stop right here if you’re looking for a short-cut to ginger ale and you don’t want to mess around with the fermentation process. Pour three or four tablespoons (more or less depending upon how gingery you like it) of your syrup over ice and add 8 ounces of seltzer water or club soda. Bottle the rest of the syrup and store it in the refrigerator.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeFor the full ginger beer experience, place a funnel in the top of the bottle and pour in the filtered water. Sprinkle the yeast in, followed by the syrup, lemon juice, and water.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipePut the lid on the bottle and shake the concoction until the yeast is dissolved. Stow it on a shady shelf or in your pantry out of direct sunlight for 2-3 days, or until fizz is achieved. At this point it is ready to drink, and must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent further fermentation. Don't forget about the bottle, or the pressure will build up so much that it may explode!
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipeAs with any yeast-powered beverage, the fermentation process continues unless you prevent it from happening. Refrigerating will slow the process down but not stop it completely, that's why it’s best to treat ginger beer as a perishable beverage. Consume within 1-2 weeks. CAUTION: be sure to open the bottle every day to release the extra gas, otherwise the bottle might explode and you’ll have a big mess on your hands! Note that as the beverage ferments, sediment will settle at the bottom of the bottle. You can strain it out if you wish.
  • Serve over ice and savor the spicy taste of your very own homemade ginger beer!
  • Note: the "beauty" photos in the blog post above were taken using a glass bottle, however due to the volatile nature of ginger beer we recommend using a plastic bottle instead, as indicated in the recipe.
  • The Old Fashioned Way: Homemade Ginger Beer on The History Kitchen #vintage #recipe

About Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller writes about historical and vintage cooking techniques for The History Kitchen. She is a historical young adult novelist and freelance magazine writer for Urban Farm, Hobby Farms, Hobby Farm Home, and Chickens. Viking/Penguin will release her debut historical novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly, in 2014. Read more...
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Category: Beverages, Cocktails, Gluten Free, Kosher - Pareve, Recipes, Slide Show, Vegan, Vegetarian

Comments (76)Post a Comment

  1. Camille says:

    Fascinating! I was raised in Michigan so I grew up drinking Vernor’s. I’ll have to try this at home.

  2. Great post and the glass is so pretty!

  3. Beth Anne says:

    Love this! Wish I´d known it was so simple. I´ve pinned it and I´ll definitely be making it. Thanks.

  4. I make ginger beer sometimes every week and has been drinking it since I was a little girl.

  5. gotta go get some of that….great for tummy troubles in the mornings and more saltines, the breakfast of champions!

  6. Courtney says:

    Can’t wait to try this and see how close it comes to my Great-Great-Grandmother’s recipe.

  7. Louise Mellor says:

    who knew? Yes, my mother always had ginger ale on hand for a sour tummy…

  8. Steve says:

    This sounds great! I know the sugar is also an important part of the fermentation process, but will this work with less sugar than in the recipe?

    • Sharon Biggs Waller says:

      I think less sugar would be fine. You don’t need that much to awaken yeast in usual recipes so go ahead and give it a try. And let us know how that goes.

    • Tim Barker says:

      This is a fantastic recipe. It takes me back to my childhood in England.

      Originally, I tried the recipe with half the sugar because I thought it would be too sweet. I was wrong, it worked and was fizzy, but lacked taste. The next time I made it I used the recipes proportions (which I should have done in the first place) and it was perfect.

    • Tori Avey says:

      Glad you liked it Tim!

  9. Just so happens that we have ginger. All we need is the captain, lovey, and gilligan…. enjoy the sun for awhile…..

  10. Joyce says:

    Do you release the gas during fermentation or after you put it in the fridge. I love ginger and can’t wait to try this

    • sharon Biggs Waller says:

      After you put it in the fridge. Just release the cap a bit, you’ll hear a fizzing noise, and then tighten the cap up. : )

  11. OMG! I used to make this years ago.

  12. Barry Scott says:

    Awesome. Cannot wait to try this. Add some Black Seal Rum for a nice Dark and Stormy. Yum!

  13. Sounds good. Have to give it a try. I also love Egg Cream and Root Beer Float, 2 of my favorites.

  14. Yummy! An Island favorite

  15. Rita Davis says:

    That´s funny. I made up a pitcher of Ginger Beer last week for the night staff here. They loved it!! Will ck out your recipe but I went by Jamie Oliver´s recipe. Thanks! :)

  16. Rita Davis says:

    Well this looks very good! So with the yeast I am assuming it creates alcohol??? :D

    • Sharon Biggs Waller says:

      Hi Rita,

      Just a wee bit of alcohol is produced and that slows down once you put the bottle in the fridge.

  17. Sharon Roth says:

    I grow my own ginger root!

  18. I rarely drink soda pop any more, but if I do, my preference is for ginger ale. Now that you’ve shown how easy it is to make, I may start drinking it more often!

  19. Mary Ellen says:

    Plastic is full of carcinogens, you should use glass. It will have a crisper flavor anyway since plastic adds it’s own flavor to the mix. Thanks for the recipe, sounds good. I don’t drink anything with sugar in it but I am sure I can tweek it with Stevia.

    • wayne says:

      It won’t work then. The yeast uses the sugar for food.

    • Steve Taylor says:

      I agree, use glass.
      Brewing supplies stock plastic stoppers for champagne bottles so I’m currently saving some to try that.

      cheers.

      Steve.

  20. Karen Lewis says:

    I made ginger syrup, lots of it, so I could make homemade ginger ale. Now I want to investigate making other syrups so I can make other drinks, like Orange or Lemon, or Lime syrups!

    • Matt says:

      Steve, they’ve also got rubber stops that fit a bubbler (basically a one way water valve). I made wine not to long ago and it works perfect. I, also, have to motion to go with glass. Lastly, Karen, let me know how your other syrups turn out! I’d love to do the same!

  21. Kate Pollitt says:

    Yum! Can’t wait to try this, I’ve been reading Famous Five books to my 7 year old little boy and keep getting cravings for ginger beer.

  22. Lisa Hartman says:

    Brilliant! I have all the ingredients in the house. Will the recipe work with beet sugar?

  23. Max Benson says:

    Just wondering if the yeast (active dry yeast) is the same as the stuff you use in bread? Also, does it produce alcohol because I didn’t think it did?

    • Tori Avey says:

      Yes Max– as the yeast ferments it creates a very small amount of alcohol, it’s really negligible in this recipe however I wanted to mention it in case any readers are concerned about it.

    • Harley says:

      Hi Max,

    • Harley says:

      Oops, computer glitch!

      I was going to say that bread yeast might impart some odd flavours, you probably wont pick them up though. I’m an all grain beer brewer and we use dedicated yeasts designed to ferment clean (i.e. no off flavours).

      As for alcohol, if this is a concern you can buy a hydrometer. They are cheap and there is plenty of info on the web on how to use them.

  24. Shailesh Salelkar says:

    I have tried it and it tastes nice. Thanks.

  25. Robbie says:

    Hi there, this recipe looks great I can’t wait to give it a try.
    I am also interested in making some alcoholic ginger beer, just the strength of regular beer 4-5%.
    Is it just a matter of letting it ferment longer, or do I need to adjust the yeast and sugar levels?
    Thanks :)

  26. David says:

    This is the easy way, the “Old Fashion” way involves creating a plant.

  27. FONDA says:

    I awakend the yeast with water salt then added stevia and all the rest as a diabetic

  28. Ray Croskrey says:

    I just came home with a bottle of Cock & Bull Ginger Beer (which is very tasty) and was wondering if I could make my own and sure enough I found this article. I love ginger beer and can’t wait to try making my own. Thanks for the great article!

  29. Jesse says:

    Tried to make this and it came out with a fairly strong alcohol taste. Followed the recipe to the letter. Going to try using some brewers yeast instead of active dry and cut back on the time I let the brew ferment. I would assume that once there is significant pressure in the bottle it is probably well enough carbonated to chill and bottle. Are my assumptions correct here or is there something else I should try?

  30. Zameera Latchman says:

    I tried this the two different ways and i love it. It has me thinking if i use this same recipe but use different types of friuts if the results will be the same and give the amazing taste. Will let u know out things turn out….

  31. Seth Tyrssen says:

    Fascinating! I, too, grew up in the Detroit area with the taste of the ORIGINAL Vernor’s formula. I’d like to re-create that, or come as close as possible! Any tips on that, anyone?

  32. Allyson says:

    I just found some large glass bottles today. I always wanted to make homemade fermented ginger and root beer at home with no club soda! Can’t wait to try this tomorrow! I’m a stay at home mom now, so I’m not worried about the exploding factor.

  33. Chris says:

    Read quite a few Ginger Beer recipes – liked this one the best. So just made it according to recipe …. Oh almost, I was heavy on the ginger. Also read in another recipe about adding raisins to support the fermentation process – so added 20 raisins. Will update in a few days.

  34. Seth Tyrssen says:

    Please do, Chris! The raisins sound like a good idea! How “heavy on the ginger” did ya go?

  35. Liam H says:

    Nice photos, this looks a great, cheap and easy project for me to try.

  36. Amy says:

    I just released the lid on the second day after brewing it, and its fizzy (I read the comment about opening it every day AFTER it goes in the fridge, after doing it :/) so if its fizzy, is it ready to drink?

    • Seth Tyrssen says:

      I would say, probably not. It will continue to fizz for a while, I expect; I’m no expert but I’ve brewed mead a couple times, and without a “vapor lock” of some sort, I’d have to release the excess gases every now and then. I imagine the same would hold true for ginger ale. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable and experienced will weigh in!

  37. John says:

    Hello,
    I tried your recipe and after two days I opened the bottle to release the pressure and it released a strong sulfur smell. I sampled the ginger beer on the fourth day and although it tasted fine, it has a sulfur odor. The only thing I can think of is that I used “Fleishmans” active dry yeast (from the packets) which is usually used to make bread. Has anyone else had this problem?

    • Adam says:

      Yes! I have had this problem as well. It has to do with the yeast. Mine also had a bad aftertaste. It’s a lot better if you use brewers yeast. The kind of yeast matters a lot!

  38. Rob says:

    Say, has anyone tried this method to make carbonated lemonade or orangeade? I’ve made Lemon “Squash” (UK term?) concentrate for years – just wondering what would happen if I diluted it with water and added some yeast in a glass bottle like that shown at top of this article. Maybe I’ll just try it and post the results!!

    • Rick says:

      It probably won’t work as most brands of squash will have some sort of preservative that will severely slow or even prevent fermentation. If you can find a “no-preservative” brand that may work.

  39. Kevin says:

    Hi
    I have a big pot of bread yeast in my freezer, would that be sufficuent?

  40. Lachie says:

    I cant get past that smell of fresh ginger, mmmmmm!

  41. chris bob says:

    HI! Thanks so much for the recipe. I love ginger beer and particularly like the ones with the sediment on the bottom. Is it ok to skip the straining out the big chunks of ginger or will the ginger make the batch go sour? Thanks again

  42. Susan b says:

    Hi! Just found this while searching for ginger beer recipes. Looks quite easy and would like to try it. After reading the comments I was wondering if there are any updates on it, like, using stevia, or the salt and water to waken, does the reg. yeast (“Fleishmans”)etc. give a sulphur taste/smell. Also what happens if I went heavy on the ginger or left the grated ginger in it. Thank you

    • Rick says:

      Stevia does not ferment so using ONLY stevia will mean your ginger beer stays flat. Using a small amount of sugar – about 2 teaspoons – should give the yeast enough to be able to carbonate the ginger beer. You can then add stevia or other sweeteners to achieve the desired sweetness.

      For the same reason salt and water will not give any carbonation.

      Sulphur smell may possibly have come from bacterial contamination – its good to sterilise all the equipment that you use before you start. I use a weak iodine solution though there are many other ways.

      Going heavy on the ginger is exactly what I do, leaving the ginger in is also fine – I sieve it out as I pour it

  43. Adam says:

    I have a few concerns with this. I tried it, and I know that the bread yeast doesn’t help with the flavor, so I will find some brewers yeast. I just don’t want it to get too high percentage of alcohol to the point it is considered “alcoholic”. What kinds of preservatives can I find to stop the fermentation process?

    • Wallis says:

      Campden tablets or potassium sorbate will work to kill the yeast, as will extreme heat or cold. Wherever you find brewer’s yeast, campden and potassium sorbate will be there too. Popping in the fridge also works, but it takes longer. Hope that helped.

  44. Wallis says:

    Don’t throw away the strained-out solids! They taste really nice in tea or by themselves and help out a lot with stomach aches and colds.

  45. I make my ginger beer with a ginger bug (or plant, as noted above). It’s just ginger, sugar, and water, and it bubbles away on my counter as long as I feed it. It carbonates with wild yeasts. We use that ginger bug to make ginger beer as well as peach soda and raspberry soda.

    I also bottle in glass and have not had an explosion yet.

  46. You should look at getting some Pat Macks bottlecaps, this prevents the bottle from exploding and allows for perfect carbonation without worry.

  47. Jack says:

    Hello,

    because I’m not familiar with this measurement system, could someone please tell me how much of water etc. is in 1 cup (if possible in metric), something like 1 deciliter or more, probably more if you make 2 liters from it? Also tbsp/tsp means tablespoon and is there any big difference if I would put in more or less yeast?

    Tnx

  48. Abe says:

    Do you open it every day after you’ve bottled it? Or do you leave it untouched for those first two days?

  49. My first batch with your recipe rivaled “Vernors” ginger ale … my all time favorite soft drink. I’ve experimented with subsequent batches, but have been dissatisfied with my deviations from your directions. This is a rock solid recipe. Thank you.

  50. Ginny says:

    I don’t have a dishwasher. How would you recommend I sterilize the bottle?

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