Monday, December 24, 2012

Ginger Beer / Ale Recipe: Traditional Yule Recipe - Flashbrewing

Medieval woodcut of brewhouse

We didn't have quite enough handmade goodies this year for Yule, so I felt it was necessary to whip something up.  I had a bunch of fresh, organic ginger from EGS that I couldn't use all up before it dried out, which inspired me to toss together a quick batch of ginger beer for the season.  I'm familiar with the theory, but I never gave a it a try before.

Ginger slices, lemon juice, and sugar in a jug,
with enough water to fill it up mostly to the top.
In the time my journeywoman took to finish one of her tasks, I had completed the entire initial setup. I cleaned and sanitized the one gallon jug for my experiment, cut up about 1/4 cup of ginger in slices that can fit easily into the jug's mouth, and I added the lemon juice, sugar and water. I know it's common to boil the water and sugar to help reduce wild yeast, but all I had available was bread yeast anyway, so it didn't really matter if I got a few weirdo flavours in, too. By leaving out the step of boiling and cooling the syrup, it completely reduces the prep time and makes this a snap!

Bung in the top. If you don't have one,
cloth with a rubber band around it will do.
It's largely to help it bubble without
getting foreign material in the mixture.

Four days later, I filtered out the ginger and left the grouts on the bottom.  There were surprisingly fewer than usual with beer, but the result is still really cloudy.  It stands to reason, because bread yeast doesn't flocculate as much as beer or ale yeast, so there are fewer byproducts that fall out, and more then stay in suspension.

A funnel with cheesecloth in the spout
recovers the most liquid, but takes longer.

Or you can use the cheesecloth filter over a sieve, which is much quicker, if a bit messier...

I used a pop bottle since it can handle pressure. I only did one, and left the rest in the jug, just in case this part didn't work out as well as I hoped. I wanted it quickly, so the bottle can be the secondary fermenter almost immediately.  I should have waited, though.  It was carbonated almost the next day, and I had to keep releasing the pressure to keep it from exploding. (Fortunately, the pop bottles have alot of give.)

By the time Solstice and my guests arrived, we were able to drink fresh ginger beer 8 days after it was first brewed.  It has slightly too many sugary notes and not quite enough ginger zing, but that has of course improved with age.  It is now 11 days since I first threw the batch together, and all the sugar notes are gone, with a fine zip of ginger.  There is a slight yeast note, but only in the nose, which my husband, Tuckamoredew, prefers in a beer anyway. The colour continues to be lovely, and very homemade, but it hasn't clarified any further.

All in all, it was a glorious experiment, rated highly successful by all who imbibed.  It was largely gone by Solstice, but I saved enough of it to continue to ferment and carbonize in the bottle.  For my next batch, I won't actually bottle until a day or two before serving.  In the first week or so, that seems more than long enough for a good fizzle. I served it without chilling.  Maybe I'll try it next time ice cold and frosty!

Here's the recipe I used:

1/4 cup fresh organic ginger, sliced
1 tablespoon organic lemon concentrate (juice of one lemon will do)
2 cups organic sugar
1 tablespoon quick rising bread yeast
enough filtered water to mostly fill to top

Let sit between 1-7 days. Filter. Serve in 1-2 weeks. Bottle a day or two before serving if carbonation is desired.

Flashbrewed carbonated ginger beer, in a Kölsch glass.

The lemon is partly for flavour, and partly for nutrient for the yeast.  Though there was almost no bubbling over, like there is in beer and ale making, I still left some air in the top for it when I poured in the water.  I'll leave less next time.  When everything is in, put on the cap of the jug and shake by inversion a few times, just to get the sugar all dissolved.  I did that a few times every day or so for the first few days, just to be on the safe side, but then I left it alone so it could grout up. Bung it or cheesecloth the top, and let it sit. I put it by the register to keep it warm, but not too toasty. I filtered it after 4 days, but I could have left it a bit longer.  It seems to be perfect by 2 weeks, and I had no desire to add more sugar to ferment after it had used up all the yeast, since I let it do so in pop bottle instead. No extra sugar!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Mulled Wine and Cider: Traditional Yule Ritual & Recipes

Glühwein, or gleewine, is a sacred, ancient winter drink found all over Western Europe traditionally presented to warm and welcome guests in from the cold. Its medicinal herbs and spices can also help fight off colds, aid digestion, and increase circulation.

This drink can be made with wine, cider, and be alcoholic or non, depending on your guest list. Practice a bit to get the ratios and recipe you prefer, and it will become your one of your essential tools for the season. It's versatile and festive, turning any gathering into a Yule party!  

At times of celebrations in many areas, the brandy was first lit on fire in the bowl, with the rest of the brewed gleewine poured over top to snuff it.  We tried it last year for Twelfth Night and it was a huge hit!  We had to improvise the equipment, though. In England, they had a traditional shallow punch bowl designed for this kind of entertaining, complete with herb sieve.  I used a big stainless steel bowl, which showed the flames when the lights were out, but not quite as much of a show as the traditional bowl.  Also, the stainless steel was hot, and I had to use a separate hand sieve, so it was a bit of a challenge to serve...

If you want to get really authentic, don't forget the toast!  That's where we get the concept of "A toast!" from.  Bits of herbed croutons floating about in the mulled wine were highly prized, and one found in a punch cup was cause for congratulations and portended well-being, health, and success for the upcoming year. 

For convenience, herbs can be put into a muslin bag that can be dropped in as is but I prefer to let the herbs float around. Great effect!
For my recipe, the herbs, depending on availability, are whole or pieces of:

lemon peel
orange peel

The citrus note is considered necessary for the recipe and can be whole or fresh peels or even entire fruits floating around.  Try whole oranges pierced with cloves.  I know you might be tempted not to include the sugar, since most recipes are wayyy to sweet, but if you are making the red wine version in particular, you really need it to balance out the flavours. Use stevia for the low-cal version!

You will need:
non-metallic pot (enamel, glass, Pyrex, etc.)
2 bottles dry red wine (zinfandel, merlot, burgundy, etc.) or one gallon cider (alcoholic or non)
7 tbsp sweetener or more as desired (Sucanat, Demarra, or honey preferred)
3/4 cup brandy (optional)

Pour the wine into a large pot and begin heating over low heat. Use a stainless steel pot if you need to, but herbs are affected by metal, and a non-metallic pot ensures the flavours blend better. As it begins to warm, add sugar and spices. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Heat thoroughly, but do not allow to boil! Steep at least 30 min. over low heat. You may add more sugar during this time if desired, stirring well so it dissolves. Now is the time to add the brandy.  Pour it in, or light it on fire in a bowl and pour the wine over top! Serve hot and garnish with orange slices or cinnamon.

There are other traditional Northern European variants, too.  Swedish Glogg has aquavit instead of brandy and the fruit is blackcurrants, raisins or sultanas, and usually includes shaved blanched nuts such as almonds. The ritual is more like our modern version of absinthe, where the sugar cubes are soaked in the liqueur, lit on top in a grate, and then flow into the wine as they burn.

Enjoy, and make merry in your holiday season!