Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Ginger Beer Factory

I don’t like beer, and I don’t do alcohol, but I do like ginger beer. If I close my eyes, I can conjure an image of happily sipping ginger beer in the sun. Sort of like my images of restfully, calmly drinking tea. It’s a symbol.
So when Anchorage Community House offered a class on Natural Sodas – to include “probiotic honey lemonade and ginger beer” – I was hooked at ginger beer. Not to mention “walk away with final instructions and full bottles.”

I re-discovered my friend Laura as the teacher of the class, too. She assigned us to stations to mix up our varieties. I grabbed the ginger beer station, and my job was to boil sliced up ginger for 15 minutes. Someone else was squeezing lemons, and all of us were sterilizing old kombucha bottles.

After I added sugar, cool water, and lemon juice, Laura poured in her Ginger Bug. Ginger Bug is like sourdough starter; it has to sit and ferment. Since we were doing the make-it-in-2-hours version, we relied on Laura’s homegrown Bug to kick off our natural fermentation.

Then, proudly carrying our bottles of sodas, we went home with instructions to place them in a warm spot and keep a good eye on the pressure. Laura had several stories of bottle explosions in her garage or in someone’s backpack. As long as the soda remains warm, it will keep bubbling and bubbling. You have to get it cold to slow down the process.

This was a Sunday. We were told to check on our bottles on Tuesday, that the plastic lids might bulge a little so we’d know they were building pressure. I stuck my bottles in the laundry room, on top of the boiler.
And forgot about them on Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, the plastic lids were pretty bulgy. Wow, I had made them on Sunday and now, easy as pie, I had soda in three days! This was a miracle! This was even better than the Grand Sauerkraut Experiment. My friend Jinnie says it was the elation of feeling “I can sustain myself” when she grew her first lettuce. I had made soda!

I opened the Honey Lemonade Soda and WHOA! I had a spouting champagne bottle of Honey Lemonade! Foaming bubbles all down my elbow. I raced for the kitchen sink.
Where I tasted some pretty terrific Honey Lemonade Soda.

Fortunately, Ginger Beer wasn’t as out of control. Ginger Beer was perfect. Ginger Beer was terrific! Ginger Beer was a total and complete success!

I have to become a ginger beer factory. Visions of bottles and bottles and bottles happily – yes, happily – dance in my head.

But first, I need to make my own Ginger Bug. I need organic ginger root. I am not sure where to find it, but my friend Judith phones, “I found it at Carrs. It’s right here: organic garlic.” We both think this solves the problem. It takes us a while to realize that, even though they both begin with G, garlic is not ginger. Never mind: Costco has a big tub of organic ginger.

I grate my two tablespoons. I add my tablespoon sugar and two tablespoons water. I make two jars of this because I am an aspiring ginger beer factory. I put it on top of the boiler.

My factory will need bottles. I need lots of empty kombucha bottles with plastic lids. Note to readers: I will take your old kombucha bottles.
The next day, I add more ginger-sugar-water to my Bug. It’s called feeding, but my Bug is listless, decidedly unbubbly. I examine it. I move a chair into the laundry room so I can reach the top of the boiler and watch the pot not boil. The next day, I feed the Bug. I pepper Laura with questions.

I watch my Bug.

I go to Costco, where I notice they have cases of the right kind of kombucha-in-bottles for sale. I notice that the food ladies throw out the jars of whatever they’re offering, so now I have to figure out how to get Costco to offer samples of kombucha so I can get all the throwaway jars. I spy a woman with a case in her shopping cart. It takes all my strength to muster the correct social prohibitions so I don’t give her my phone number and ask for her used bottles.

Laura suggests I dump the Bug and start over again with organic sugar and stale water left out to de-chlorinate. Maybe that will help. Even Laura has occasional Bug flops.

It will take me a while to get the Bug going, but it will also take a while to get all the kombucha bottles I need. After that, I’ll worry about the refrigerator space. Because I am going to sip ginger beer in the sun.

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