Lacto-fermented soda skillshare – make your own ginger ale, cola, root beer and more
One of the really popular workshops at the PASA Conference this year was titled: “Lacto-Fermented Soda Making: The fun and easy way”. John and Dana Eisenstein of Jade Family Farm were incredibly generous in sharing their expertise (they say it’s just a hobby – their real vocation is vegetables), and I’ve tried to summarize the workshop as best I can.
John started with a caveat: If you’re hoping to make the sweet stuff like commercially available sodas, this is not for you. These drinks have a distinctive crispness, some might say sharpness, to them. The bonus of these sodas is that they are probiotic and easy to digest. Before starting, it is important to use clean equipment – bottles, jars, utensils, hands should all be thoroughly washed and dried. Sterilizing everything, however, is not really necessary – this is easy, remember!
Fresh (very important) ginger root
1- one quart Mason jar
A large pot for boiling water
Sweetener (evaporated cane juice, sucanat, honey, agave syrup, malt extract, maple syrup – avoid white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, “raw” sugar, corn syrup).
Flavoring (ginger, burdock, sassafrass, herbs, your imagination)
A fine mesh strainer
Large glass container, bottle or brewer’s carboy with a fermentation lock
or a brightly colored balloon (the color is just for fun) and a pin
Clean glass beer bottles – from beer with non-twist-off caps
A good funnel that fits into the mouth of beer bottles
Bottle caps and a bench top capper (available at home brewing supply houses)
Patience, vigilance and an appetite for adventure.
This recipe is for Lacto-fermented Ginger Ale, so you’ll need:
4 oz. ginger root
3 C. sucanat or other sweetener
Juice from 4 lemons
1 Q. starter
Let’s get started!
The Starter – “In order to ferment anything” John tells us, “you need a starter. Ours is cultured from fresh ginger root”.
- Chop 1-2 tablespoons of fresh ginger (using a box grater or food processor is nice and quick)
- Add to a quart mason jar full of non-chlorinated water.
- Add 1 t. of white sugar and cover container. Store at ~75 degrees and add 1 t. white sugar daily for 6 days until the starter is active. You’ll know it’s active when you see little bubbles coming off of the ginger and the water becomes somewhat cloudy. If bits of mold appear on the surface, scoop the mold off. If it returns, sorry, you’ll need to start the process again with clean everything.
- So, after a week, you should have a live, bacteria-rich starter!
The Wort – John says: “Wort is the word for the soda before it is fermented. You need 1 ½ C of sweetener per gallon of wort, good water and flavorings. Flavorings depend on the kind of soda being brewed,” he says, but encouraged us to use our imagination when it comes to our favorite flavors. We’ll be using ginger for this recipe.
- Finely chop/shred/process ginger – count on 2 oz. of ginger per gallon of wort.
- Boil 3 C. Sucanat, 4 oz. ginger in approx. two quarts of water for 20 minutes. Add the juice of 4 lemons and let cool.
- When cool, transfer to larger fermenting vessel, add enough water to equal 2 gallons, then add 1 Q. starter – except for 1 inch of bottom with ginger chunks. This can be made into new starter.
The Fermentation – Keep the mixture covered and in a warm (75 degrees F) place. If using a carboy and fermentation lock, you’re all set. Otherwise, a rubber balloon with a few pin holes poked in it then placed over the opening will keep bad stuff out of the ferment while allowing gas from the fermentation process to escape.
- Taste the soda after two days and every day thereafter. When it is a little bit on the sweet side, it’s time to bottle. The remaining sweetener will be consumed and the soda will be perfectly flavored. This seems like the only time in the process that requires extreme vigilance.
- Bottle the soda using a funnel, clean beer bottles and a capper. Again, keep it warm to allow for the fermentation to continue.
- Taste the soda every day (recapping with a new cap) and when the carbonation level is to your liking, refrigerate immediately. OK, I guess this part requires vigilance, too. John provided a firm warning in his materials:
“WARNING: If you use more than the recommended amount of sweetener in your wort, fail to refrigerate your carbonated soda promptly or neglect your soda in any way, you run the risk of over carbonation and potentially exploding bottles, flying shards of glass, and almost certain gruesome death! So pay attention.” What can I say, I like the drama of the statement.
You’re done! Really. Ready to drink. And soda will keep in the fridge for a long time. “Years”, says John. “Really!”
So, if you liked this process, and you want to do it again, you will need to feed and care for your starter by adding 3-4 t. of white sugar to the remaining chunks of ginger and fill the quart jar with clean water. Continue to feed the starter 1 t. of sugar every 3-4 days. The starter can be put into a “state of suspended animation” by sleeping in the back of the fridge. Awaken it by feeding sugar and leaving in a warm spot.
3 C. Sucanat as sweetener
2 oz. sassafrass
1 oz. sarsaparilla
½ oz burdock
1 Q. starter
Boil herbs and sucanat in some water for 30 minutes. When cool, add enough water to make two gallons and add starter (except for 1 inch of bottom with ginger chunks). Ferment. Good optional additions are limes and vanilla extract (add vanilla at bottling).
Cola (we like to call it Ferm-a-cola…Coka-ferma? hmmm…)
3 C. Sucanat as sweetener
2 oz. cola bark nut (we have now clarified this recipe, and it calls for cola nut, which can be found through herbal supply stores.)
Juice of 4 limes
Boil cola bark and sucanat in some water for 60 minutes. Add lime juice and cinnamon. When cool, add enough water to make two gallons and add starter (except for 1 inch of bottom with ginger chunks). Ferment and bottle. This does contain caffeine.
Happy soda making!