The GBP (Ginger Beer Plant)

Ginger Beer Plant brewing

I have always liked ginger beer and whilst vaguely thinking about making some but not having made any since I was a teenager (using dried ginger and dried yeast), my internet enquiries revealed bits of information about a Ginger Beer Plant. Not really a plant in the conventional sense but a strange growing hybrid of fungus and bacterium. Having found a couple of articles about this strange beast they suddenly brought back long lost memories of an end of term Biology lesson where the teacher gave one of the girls in my class a Ginger Beer Plant to brew from over the holidays. The idea was that she should grow it on and then divide it up to share with any of the others in the class who would like to try it. At the beginning of the next term most of us had forgotten all about it until the next Biology lesson when the teacher enquired about the health of The Plant. At that point the holiday guardian of The Plant had to admit to feeding and tending to it rather too well - the vigorous brew she had developed during the holidays had exploded in her Mum’s airing cupboard and liberally doused all the family’s clean washing with immature ginger beer. The Plant didn’t survive her Mum’s wrath.

It was really only at this point that I realised that my previous efforts at brewing a fizzy ginger drink in the past did not produce the traditional old English ginger beer that I had heard of. Mixing yeast and ginger, dried or fresh, and fermenting them together simply doesn’t produce ’real’ ginger beer. From what I could remember the end product had been quite harsh and if not drunk quickly would continue to ferment but became less palatable.

What exactly is it?
The traditional Ginger Beer Plant is a composite organism containing both a fungus called Saccharomyces pyriformis and a bacterium called Brevibacterium vermiforme, botanist Harry Marshall Ward is attributed to have formally identified it. It’s a very old traditional ‘plant’ that used to be divided up and handed on to friends and family as it increases in volume during the brewing process.

My internet browsing led me to an online supplier of a Ginger Beer Plant and so became one of my more useful late night online purchases.

This is what the Ginger Beer Plant looks like:

It’s funny stuff – it looks a bit like tapioca and feels slightly crunchy a bit like cartilage, it doesn’t smell though.
Brewing ginger beer is in 2 stages but is very simple. The first stage consists of mixing the plant with water, sugar and flavourings and letting it brew for a few days until it has reached maturity. The second stage requires you to strain the liquid from the plant, bottling it and leave to ferment for a short time before drinking. The plant that has been strained off can then be used as the starter for your next batch of ginger beer.
How to make Real Ginger Beer
(Makes 2L)
1 Ginger Beer Plant
2L water (filtered water or tap water left to stand overnight in a covered jug)
200g granulated sugar
1 good sized ‘thumb’ of fresh ginger (or to taste)
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
As with all culinary activities cleanliness is important so ensure all utensils and storage containers are scrupulously clean before you start.
Peel the ginger to remove outer skin, slice fairly thinly and then either grate or put into a blender until you have a fine mush. Using clean hands squeeze the juice out of the mush into a clean container large enough to hold all the ingredients (you can also put the mush into a piece of clean muslin and twist it to get the juice out). The amount of ginger you use is really according to taste but fresh ginger is: a) ‘as cheap as chips’ and b) far tastier than using dried ginger.
Add all the other ingredients to the ginger juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then set aside in a covered container for between 2 – 5 days. How long you leave it depends on how warm your environment is. The important thing is actually not to let it get too warm otherwise it bubbles out of control leaving no time for flavours to develop. I usually leave mine for about 5 days in the kitchen which is approximately 17°C (though obviously a lot warmer when I’m cooking).  Taste it to determine if it’s ready to bottle. If it’s sweeter than you would like to to taste then it’s time to bottle.

Strain through a sieve/funnel into a clean bottle. Put a top on it and LEAVE IT SOMEWHERE SAFE. 
 (I only say this as I have teenage memories of an experiment with yeast and Bramley apples in an attempt to make cider…using old-fashioned glass cider bottles. Too much yeast = explosion in food cupboard leaving glass shards embedded in cupboard door).


I am assuming you will use the ubiquitous 2L PET bottles used by all the fizzy drink manufacturers. These are safe to use and you can tell if the ginger beer has brewed sufficiently by feeling the bottle. It will feel fat and solid if there has been enough brewing activity happening inside. Mine usually take around 5 days to reach this stage. Then drink!

The strained off solids can be used to start your next batch of ginger beer.