I hadn't planned on making ginger ale, much less writing about it, but sometimes when life hands you a bowl of simple syrup that's too dark for making limoncello, you make the best of it, and the best of it was ginger ale. It happened this way:
At this point I should probably admit that I wasn't using a recipe, and from this point on was relying heavily on Steve's brewing experience. He also bottled beer the day before, so there was still a large bowl of sanitizing liquid on the counter. Star-san is a couple of acids that sanitize brewing equipment, and doesn't need to be rinsed out of, or off your equipment. I used it for sanitizing ladles, and funnels, and fine mesh strainers, etc.
To a quarter cup of filtered water (we don't have spring water running from the tap), I added a quarter teaspoon of baking yeast. Steve says that baking yeast is the same strain of yeast that is used for ales, but the difference between baking yeast and ale yeast is that they've been selected (as in horticultural selection) for different jobs. It bloomed, and because the ginger ale hadn't cooled enough yet, I added a gravy ladle full of the ginger ale to the yeast to feed it. Once the ginger ale cooled into the eighties, I pitched the yeast and stirred it into the ginger ale.
Bitten by the homemade soda bug, I started researching root beer the next morning, and this is where I scared myself. Most home soda makers bottle in plastic bottles because it's too easy to have a glass soda bottle explode and become extremely dangerous. One fellow said he came home to find his glass bottles had exploded and shards of glass were imbedded in the walls at eye height. Also, most home soda bottlers don't leave it at room temperature longer than twelve hours; I was past that by several hours and in glass, so I quickly and gingerly (no pun intended) put all the bottles away in the refrigerator. You may be wondering why the danger with soda and not so much with beer. At the point beer is bottled, the yeast are pretty much dormant because they've eaten all the sugar in the malt in the beer. The beer gets bottled with a controlled amount of sugar, a teaspoon, and the yeast wake up again and eat that sugar creating bubbles. They're done when the teaspoon of sugar is all gone. In soda, you have a great deal more sugar, and the yeast will go nuts at room temperature. If left out long enough, they'll keep eating and producing gas to the point of explosion. The trick with soda making is to let them eat enough sugar to create the right amount of bubbles and very little alcohol, leaving most of the soda sweet, and then get the bottles cold quickly to make the yeast go dormant again. One of the things that I also learned in my research was that a quarter teaspoon was about twice what I needed, and then I'd further grown my yeast prior to pitching by feeding it. So I was very nervous about my ginger ale.
I think I ought to wait until all the soda is gone before I decide to do this again, but I'm pretty sure that I will. The next time, I will not make it quite so sweet, and I'll use less yeast, more like an eighth of a teaspoon, and I'll use a proper ale yeast and not baking yeast. I would also use vanilla extract at the end, rather than using the bean, because I had to filter against those tiny little seeds to keep them out of the beer bottles. The whole process has me intrigued though, and I'm researching root beer from scratch, which is fairly difficult, because the FDA has taken sassafras out of the consumer loop due to the presence of safrole in it which is a carcinogen. Well, it is for lab rats; you'd have to drink like fifty root beers a day to have it start being a problem, but I think the ensuing obesity-related diseases or diabetes would probably get you first. One fellow said that his grandmother had a cup of sassafras tea every day and lived to be eighty-nine, and did not die of cancer. I'll have to come up with a recipe that doesn't use it though, because I probably will not be able to get my hands on it; I can't buy it and I don't live in the right part of the country where it grows wild.
Once I have a recipe for ginger ale that works and a process that's not so scary, I'll post about it again, if you want to try it at your own risk.
The limoncello? It was a complete success, and I'll post about that another time.