How to make homemade ginger beer

The secret to good ginger beer is in the bug, says Sheryn.

Words: Sheryn Dean

There are many legendary tales of ginger beer exploding in old beer bottles. Believe me, it can be messy.

That’s why I prefer to use 1.25L plastic drink bottles or smaller – any bigger is too much to drink at once. Plastic is much safer, stronger and more flexible. However, I still store my ginger beer in a cool room, inside a large plastic box with a clip-down lid.

Ginger beer is made using a yeast ‘bug’ that you keep on the bench and feed each day. You can use it to make beer once a week. The result is then bottled for two weeks before drinking.  Like all yeasts, it needs the right temperature to do its work. In warmer situations it will be more active.

Be careful when opening as it tends to fizz over, which is another benefit of the plastic bottle; you can unscrew the lid a little at a time.  You will need enough plastic drink bottles for about 24 litres in total as this recipe makes eight litres a week. Bottles must be cleaned well and stored upside-down with the lids off so they dry out. Keep the right lid for the right bottle so you get a good seal.

The bug


¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp lemon pulp
1½ tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
12 sultanas
2 cups water


Put all ingredients into a glass jar and cover with muslin or an open weave dish cloth. Hold in place with a rubber band to keep insects out. Leave in a warm place until mixture starts to ferment (you will see bubbles rising). Once fermenting starts, feed each day for seven days with two teaspoons of ground ginger and four teaspoons of sugar. At the end of this week, it is ready to make into ginger beer.

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Ginger beer


The bug (recipe above)
4 cups sugar
1 litre boiling water (or enough to dissolve sugar)
6½ litres cold water
½ cup lemon juice


Make sure your bottles are very clean. If in doubt, sterilise with baby bottle steriliser or rinse with water and a capful of bleach (unscented Janola) before filling. Strain the ginger beer bug through cheese cloth or a double layer of open weave dish cloths. Reserve the strained liquid. Place half the ‘bug’ (the sediment now in the cloth) back in the jar. Add two cups of water and feed daily with two teaspoons each of sugar and ginger for the next seven days (so you can make it up again). Give the other half away or throw into the compost.

In a large container (I use a stainless steel bucket) dissolve the sugar into the water. Make up to 7.5 litres in total with cold water and add the lemon juice and reserved ‘bug’ liquid. You can bottle now, or leave it to settle for 24 hours, then strain off the sediment and bottle (I never think that worth the effort). Fill the bottles, leaving a good amount of airspace, and screw the cap on tightly. Label with the date so you know when you can drink them. Keep for two weeks before use.


• A cool storage area reduces the chance of explosions.
• You can check and reduce potential explosions anytime by squeezing the bottle. If it is very tight (blown out), relieve some of the pressure by (gently) cracking the lid. Reseal tightly.
• Chilling before opening reduces the risk of it frothing over. Even so, open carefully over the sink.
• Keep the bug going by feeding daily and dividing in half each week. You can be a bit relaxed about it – when we couldn’t drink it fast enough, we reduced the feeding to one teaspoon each of sugar and ginger per day and made it up fortnightly.

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NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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