Brew Day: Coopers Ginger Beer

Along with a fruit beer, a ginger beer has been on my girlfriend’s wishlist for a long time. Crabbies is the most prominent commercial example of an alcoholic ginger beer. Locally Ginger Libation by Green River Ambrosia is out of this world. I have heard a “Drunk and Stormy“, a Dark and Stormy with Ginger Libation is to put it lightly dangerous.

If you google “homemade ginger beer” there are 1.8 million results including recipes for both making non-alcoholic ginger ale and an alcoholic ginger beer. Guess which kind I am interested in! One article that intrigued me was How to Make a Ginger Bug. Essentially the process involves creating, for lack of a better term a starter wort to use to wrangle and culture wild yeast.

In the end I decided to just brew a kit. After looking around I settled on a Coopers Ginger Beer can kit.  A can kit is a beer concentrate that you add water and sugar to to create a full batch. In most cases it is essentially hopped malt-extract. Since the extract is already hopped, there is no need to boil. Inside the lid of the can is a packet of yeast. In the early days of the homebrewing renaissance, can kits were it. They weren’t necessarily designed to make great beer. They were designed to make cheap beer at home easily.

Seminal hombrewing books like How to Brew and The Complete Joy of Homebrewing included instructions in how to make the most out of can kits and how to use them as ingredients in recipes. Tip one was to not use the yeast that came with the kit. There is no way to know how old that packet is. Usually the yeast itself does not compare to the excellent dry yeasts you available today that only costs a few dollars. The second tip was to use malt extract instead of the table sugar the instructions on the can said to use with the extract. Malt extract will not only make a less harsh tasting beer, it will also make sure the yeast have enough nutrients to properly ferment the beer. Some of the recipes included a late hop addition to provide more hop flavor. The can kits on the market now are a vast improvement on the kits that were out there 20 or 30 years ago and can be used to make very good beer. Cooper’s is a brewery from Australia that also sells kits and homebrew ingredients. Their products are excellent across the board. Every time I am at The Outback, I wish they had a Cooper’s beer on draught instead of Fosters.

If I was brewing a conventional beer where the flavor comes from malt and hops, I would use dry malt extract. In a ginger beer where we are fermenting simple sugars, and the flavor comes from the ginger, it is not necessary. I found an entire thread with ideas of how to pimp a Coopers Ginger Beer. I am taking a cue from Ginger Libation and adding a can of frozen concentrated lemonade and limeade. The concentrates should add some degree of citrus flavor and additional fermentable sugars. Since they are frozen the concentrates do not contain any preservatives that would kill the yeast. Instead of raw sugar I added brown sugar to provide some caramel notes to balance the heat from the ginger. After using too much water, I threw in an extra pound of corn sugar and frozen ginger root to try and make sure the beer isn’t too watered down.

I have never brewed a can kit before. I started brewing with un-hopped malt-extract and boiling hops. I remember going to the homebrew shop to buy ingredients for my second batch wonder what the heck all of these cans were. Now, two and a half years later I am going back a step behind where I started. It is the easiest way to make beer at home. This batch took all of 20 minutes. With all of the beer I have that needs to be bottled, easy was certainly appealing!

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