How to Make Alcoholic Ginger Ale

Alcoholic ginger ale is gaining popularity today, but has been around for centuries. Long before Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale in the United States, Crabbie’s and other brands enjoyed a long history of success in the United Kingdom. Regardless of where you live, the good news is that alcoholic ginger ale is very easy to make, and it’s easy to adjust a recipe to suit one’s own particular tastes.

This article will walk you through the basic ingredients of alcoholic ginger ale and give you a simple, easy-to- modify recipe for your first batch. Using basic techniques that even beginning brewers can master, a great alcoholic ginger ale is just a fermentation away!

Sourcing Ginger for Alcoholic Ginger Ale

Ginger comes in a lot more forms these days than just the ground powder on grandma’s spice rack. For brewing ginger ale, you’ll get excellent results from a mix of fresh ginger root and crystallized ginger. Ginger root is a branchlike rhizome made of fat knobs or “lobes” found in the produce section of most supermarkets. It gives an unmistakable bite, crispness and flavor to ginger ale that makes for a very refreshing beverage. To use it in ginger ale, break off a lobe at a time, scrape the peel off with the tip of a spoon, and then dice it very small (but big enough to strain out later) and add it to the hot – not boiling – water before fermentation.

making hard ginger ale with chopped ginger Chopping ginger

Though fresh ginger root is a key ingredient, it is not concentrated enough to give the strong ginger punch that you may be looking for. Crystallized or “candied” ginger will add that punch and take your ginger ale from tasting like the fizzy soda in the green can to a pungent and well-rounded fermented beverage. Crystallized ginger is usually found in the bulk section of organic and gourmet groceries, near the dried fruits. Please don’t confuse crystallized ginger with ginger candy chews, which are a taffy-like candy flavored with ginger. You want the kind that is actually sweetened, cooked chunks of ginger that looks like this:

02 - Crystallized ginger chunks-FCrystallized ginger should also be diced to maximize surface area of contact with the “wort”, but be prepared to wipe your knife clean frequently … it’s sticky.

The earlier you add ginger in the brewing process, the less aroma you are going to get in the final product, due to evaporation of volatile oils during steeping and the escaping of gases during fermentation. Be prepared to add more ginger to the ginger ale after fermentation, just like dry hopping a beer.

Fermentables

Unlike malt, fruit juice, or honey, ginger does not contain much sugar. So it is best to think of it as the primary flavor of your ginger ale, rather than the source of fermentable sugar.

To build a fermentable base for your ginger ale “wort”, you’ll need to dissolve sugar in water. You can use any fermentable sugar, but consider that using anything other than simple sugar will make something other than alcoholic ginger ale (i.e., honey = ginger mead, apple juice = ginger cider, etc.) so simple light-colored sugars are recommended.

True cane sugar from evaporated cane juice is better than table sugar (white sugar, beet sugar). Dextrose (corn sugar) found at homebrew supply shops also has a very neutral flavor that works well with ginger. Whatever you use, make sure it’s light and fermentable. Brown sugars like piloncillo or demerara will add too much molasses flavor for most ginger ales, though that might make for a nice holiday version. Non-fermentable sugars like lactose or maltodextrin will add body and creaminess, which are not recommended.

So stick to light, fermentable sugars and feel free to experiment. Golden syrup? Light candi sugar? Why not?

Wood Background Banner - candi sugar

Flavorings

Ginger and sugar alone will make a one-note and somewhat uninspired ginger ale. Additional flavorings are a great way to add a little character.

Citrus is an excellent companion for ginger. Limes, lemons, and oranges are all good choices, but you can use any citrus you can get your hands on. Zest the fruit and add it (just the zest, not the white pith) along with the juice of the fruit to the hot water before fermentation. You can also add additional zest after fermentation.

Spices can also be added, and the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Grains of paradise or pink peppercorns make excellent additions to a summer ginger ale, while holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove would make a wonderful holiday ginger ale in the winter. Always add spices in moderation. Remember that you can add more later on if the flavor isn’t strong enough, but if you add too much and brew a spice bomb, there’s no way to take it out.

Yeast

Ginger ale is a light, refreshing beverage, so neutral ale yeasts that throw off minimal esters and phenols are best. There’s no need to get fancy; simple dry yeasts like S-04 and US-05 are great choices, with S-04 producing a slightly fruitier version and US-05 a little cleaner. If you use dry yeast and keep the OG around 1.050-1.060, there is no need for a starter, but if you use a liquid yeast or more sugar, a starter would be best.

Adding yeast nutrient to the ginger ale “wort” is always recommended. Unlike beer wort, the simple sugar solution at the heart of your ginger ale is lacking in yeast accessible nitrogen, amino and fatty acids that yeast need to thrive, and it’s such a light beverage that off-flavors from stressed yeast will be noticed.

In a pinch, if you don’t have yeast nutrient, take a tip from meadmakers and add a handful or two of chopped raisins prior to fermentation.

Aerate well by shaking, stirring vigorously, or using an aquarium pump/oxygen system, and keep fermentation temperatures within ranges suitable for ale fermentation. Again, it is crucial to set the yeast up for success.

Backsweetening

The simple sugar base of your ginger ale is virtually 100% fermentable. After fermentation you will have a very dry ginger ale with an FG in the 0.996-0.999 range and a flavor reminiscent of champagne, so you will probably want to backsweeten the brew. If you’re bottling, any sugar you add will ferment and cause bottle bombs, so you’re limited to artificial sweeteners. The recipe below calls for granulated (baking) Splenda, which measures out like sugar and produces a good ginger ale that any brewer can make.

If you keg, however, the best way to backsweeten would be to use potassium sorbate to stabilize the ginger ale after fermentation is complete (potassium sorbate will not halt a fermentation in progress) and add sugar at kegging time.

Whatever sweetener you use, it should be dissolved in water first so it will mix evenly.spices banner-F

Post-Fermentation Additions

Just like dry hopping beers, adding spices and other flavorings after fermentation is an excellent way to add a final burst of flavor and aroma to your ginger ale. Spices can be added directly to the fermenter and steeped for 1-2 weeks before racking off. Alternatively, you can soak spices and zests in a vodka tincture for 1-2 weeks and then add the entire mix to the fermenter, bottling bucket, or keg.

Recipe

Finally, the recipe!

03 - Ginger ale in glass-FThis will yield 5 gallons of medium-flavored alcoholic ginger ale with an ABV of 6.4%. For a lighter, crisper ginger ale (like alcoholic Canada Dry) use about 2/3 of the ginger and limes recommended below.

For a fuller “craft” ginger ale flavor, use about 1-1/2 times as much ginger and citrus.

The recipe below takes 3-4 weeks from brew day to bottle. Primary fermentation will be done long before that – properly cared-for yeast make short work of those simple sugars – but as with beer, extra time will give the yeast time to clean up after themselves.

Ingredients:

• 2 lbs peeled, diced ginger root

• 5 lbs organic cane sugar

• 5 limes (zest and juice)

• Water to make 5 gallons

• Yeast nutrient (dose per manufacturer instructions)

• 1 packet S-04 yeast

Boil 2.5 gallons of water, then remove from heat. Stir in sugar and yeast nutrient until well dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved add the ginger root, lime zest, and lime juice. Steep for 15 minutes. Strain and pour the mixture into primary fermenter and top off to 5 gallons. OG should be about 1.045. Aerate and pitch S-04 yeast. After 2 weeks, you should have reached a FG of around 0.996 and you’re ready to backsweeten. You’ll need:

• 2 cups of water

• 3 oz peeled, diced ginger root

• 4 oz diced crystallized ginger

• 3 cups granulated Splenda (for baking)

Boil the water, then remove from heat. Stir in sweetener until dissolved, then add both forms of ginger and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and add directly to the fermenter, or to a sanitized carboy and then rack the ginger ale onto it.

Let the ginger ale rest for 1-2 more weeks for the flavors to marry and mellow. Then rack to a bottling bucket with priming sugar, following usual beer bottling procedures. Target 2.5 volumes of carbonation.

Give the yeast at least 3 weeks to carbonate in the bottle

When carbonated, chill and serve for a refreshing ginger ale that is sure to please all your friends!

Photo Credits -

Chopping Ginger - Ian Sommerville
written by Shawn Marchese

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20 comments on “How to Make Alcoholic Ginger Ale”

  • Little confused. You said that adding sugar if you are bottling will cause bottle bombs, but then you say to add priming sugar prior to bottling.

    Reply
    • David Doucette
      David Doucette June 14, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Adding a large portion of fermentable sugar to back-sweeten would indeed. Adding an appropriate amount for priming would not. To clarify; add non-fermentable sugar for back sweetening (fermentable sugars for back-sweetening will ferment out and not be sweet anymore), add fermentable priming sugar (just like you do for beer) before bottling to carbonate. Do not add fermentable sugar in the back-sweetening amount to carbonate the beer (boom).

      Reply
  • I just brewed a Rootbeer (Not your fathers...) about a month ago that called for a mere SIX GRAMS of Splenda ( aka, sucralose ) and the sweetness was close to undrinkable.... and this recipe calls for THREE freakin CUPS ?! Don't forget, sucralose is NOT fermentable which means that ALL of what you're adding is going directly to the sweetness. As much as I like to try new recipes, I may just give it a go BUT with the knowledge ahead of time that there's a good chance this will end up being a "gift" to my younger brother and his wife.

    Reply
    • David Doucette
      David Doucette June 14, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      I believe the difference is the splenda for sweetening coffee and tea (which is what your recipe called for) and the baking splenda which is vastly different than its brother.

      Reply
      • How would you recommend obtaining a higher alcohol content with this recipe?

        Reply
        • You could add more of the same fermentable sugar that you are already using, but you may need to consider making a starter for your yeast at a higher OG.

          Reply
  • I don't bottle at all. Can you leave some explicit instructions for kegging? The article mentioned using potassium sorbate. Just looking for specific amounts regarding a standard 5 gallon batch. Thanks!!

    Reply
  • In this recipe it says boil 2.5gal water add ing. let steep 15 min than strain?
    Why am I straining the wart? wouldn't it be better to let it all ferment together
    than transfer to another secondary fermenter threw a strainer? than back sweeten. I want to try this but I would let it all work together than strain.
    Please answer this I want to try this tomorrow. Thank You

    Reply
    • I agree, why would you strain it? I'm planning to make this in a couple of weeks, I will not be straining anything.....after one week - 10 days, I will sample and rack to the secondary....then leave it for two weeks... I only strain when I rack to the bottling bucket...what's the worse that could happen? lol

      Reply
  • Great looking recipe, I'm thinking about making this, but am trying to decide which fermenter to use. How much of a krausen does this form? Since there is no grain I would not expect much, like a cider, but I've had small krausens in ciders and meads depending on the yeast.

    Reply
    • Virtually zero. I got about a half an inch that disappeared one day later. Lots of movement in the airlock afterward though. Yeast remained very active, just no krausen.

      Reply
  • Any suggestions if one were thinking of going the honey (mead) route?

    Reply
    • David Doucette
      David Doucette June 17, 2016 at 8:25 am

      I would make a sweet traditional mead, then add the ginger in secondary. I have some really nice sweet (like 1.030 sweet) ginger meads.

      Reply
  • Douglas George June 21, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    I bought most of what I need to get this going but my wife is wondering if other sugar substitutes can be used. She mentioned that Splenda for baking has sugar in it and I just confirmed it has 10 calories per 2g serving. It has half the calories of sugar but still contains sugar...

    She has Stevia and Swerve and would rather those be used since the are 0 calorie. I want to get some advice before trying an alternate since I hate to throw away anything alcoholic.

    Reply
    • David Doucette
      David Doucette June 22, 2016 at 7:31 am

      Stevia should work. I haven't heard of swerve before, but any should work. What I would do is, before bottling, pull a sample and add a small measured amount of stevia at a time to figure out how much works well. Then multiply that amount out by the amount of bottles you will have and add it in.

      Reply
      • Douglas George June 22, 2016 at 10:28 pm

        Thanks for the reply, I'll play a little bit to see what it takes to make something that is sweet enough.

        How much will the sweetness change over the 1-2 week phase while the back-sweeting and additional ginger is flavoring it? Just want to make sure I don't make a choice based on the taste when its added and find that is totally different after the 2nd phase completes. My wife said Stevia can get bitter if you use too much so we may need to find a blend of some of the sugar substitutes to find a workable solution. The Ginger Ale is mostly for her so I want to make it "her way" but maybe I'll save out a gallon or 2 and use the baking Splenda as a "control" sample for comparison.

        Reply
  • A year or so ago I I made a batch of something similar to this. It was a 2 gallon batch and I used 8 oz of fresh ginger to the boil in the last 5 min. It was so spicy with the ginger it made my lips burn. (Think hot peppers). 2 lbs of ginger seems excessive to me or is it because you don't boil but steep? Just curious what you think. Thanks

    Reply
  • Rather than back-sweeten with a non-fermentable sugar, is there anthing wrong with adding ginger during the racking stage and sweetening with cane sugar before bottling- then pasteurizing after carbonation is achieved (using a plastic test bottle to insure it doesn't makeep bottle bombs.)?

    Reply
    • David Doucette

      If I were to go this route, I would bottle in all plastic soda bottles as they can hold crazy amounts of pressure, and instead of pasteurizing, just refrigerate the batch from that point. This is a method that many soda makers use.

      My concern with pasteurizing in glass bottles would be if you failed to full pasteurize and it continued to ferment in storage.

      Reply
  • I made this recipe a while back and I gotta say that the crystallized ginger thing makes no sense at all. You lose spice and Aroma through fermentatio, but crystallized ginger is steeped in sugar syrup. So adding it starts up the fermentation process again, but with questionable sugars that add off flavors.

    The added spice in cryatalized ginger comes from the steaping process. bringing ginger in water to 80° c and lettng it rest for 1hr would add just as much spice, without adding the sugar. The spice in ginger comes from a molecule called gingerol when it is heated too much it converts to zingerone, which is less spicy. So heating brings out the spice, but too much heat kills it.

    I have played with simmering gjnger in a slowcooker all day, dehydrating it and heating it to 72°c, peeling washing and rinsing with Star San and adding it fresh, heating it in vodka to 72°c. I havd used a micro-plane, blender, cheese greater and food processor on it.
    Ultamatly, he best results I have achieve in bringing the Spice out in ginger were from washing, peeling, starsan rinse and freezing it over night, then grating it up and covering it until it reaches RT befor and adding it at the racking stage.

    Also, different strains of Ginger contain different levels of spice. If you can get fresh Jamaican ginger, that's the bomb.

    Reply
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