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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sugar & Spice & All Things Nice

When I was a mere lad of a knightlet, all over the British Isles people used to relish a frothy, fizzy, gingery, beer which was made at home. All you needed was a bit of sugar, ginger, water and a ginger beer 'plant'.

But it wasn't a typical green, leafy kind of plant. It was a sloppy, white mass that lived in a jam jar.It would be regularly 'fed' with sugar and every so often the liquid would be tapped off, diluted and bottled. The liquid would ferment in the bottle, producing the fizz. After about a week or so it was ready to drink.

The plant was treated like a chain letter. As it grew it was halved and passed to family and friends.

No one has ever worked out where the first ginger beer plants came from, but the mystery of its identity was solved by a pioneering scientist in the late nineteenth century. Harry Marshall Ward studied how plants and microorganisms live together in symbiotic relationships.

He became curious when a friend at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, gave him a ginger beer plant. As the years passed he built up a whole collection of ginger beer plant specimens and painstakingly identified, separated and attempted to grow the different organisms within the mixtures.

His analyses revealed that it was a type of organism new to science. He described it as a 'composite body', consisting of many microorganisms living together. Not all of these microbes helped in making the beer, but two organisms were present in every sample, and seemed vital to the production of ginger beer. One was a fungus he named
Saccharomyces pyriformis. The other was a bacterium, which he named Bacterium vermiforme, and is now called Brevibacterium vermiforme. Together, they produce the essential ingredients of traditional ginger beer: carbon dioxide and alcohol.

A fulsome account of how you can make this delicious drink can be found at;

The brews we made were never alcoholic, ( although it seems it could be ). maybe we were too young or impatient to get to that stage as all we wanted to do was drink the stuff and divide the plants and make dozens more. Gradually the joy of owning a "pet" plant, largely died out in the playgrounds of the island... and apart from a few cans of commercial soft drink Ginger Beer, it became, with the rise of Coca-cola, a rarely seen drink.

So you can imagine my Joy the other night, when on a Soccer advertising hoarding on TV I saw advertised ALCOHOLIC GINGER BEER !!!, at which point I all but fell off the couch, as the marriage of my childhood taste and my grown up desire, appeared tangible before me.

So I give you Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer, and I raise a glass to the marketing man who realised that there is a whole army of grown-up baby boomers out there, to whom the memory of growing their Ginger Beer Plants in the 60's now means Crabbie's has a ready made market for their product.
Sir Dayvd ( always keen to let things become alcoholic ) of O.


  1. Thanks for the recipe! Reminds me of McGraths', where they serve Ginger Beer in the Copper Mugs that hang behind the bar.

    Sir Hook Who Loves Beer & Ginger of Warrick

  2. We used to do something similar with flour, sugar: Amish Bread. The stuff just kept multiplying like liquid Tribbles.

    But, you're right, it was fun to share and enjoy fresh bread -- to a point.

    Sir Bowie "Who has always been a root beer fan" of Greenbriar

  3. flour, sugar and milk - sitting in a covered bowl on the kitchen counter for a week to ferment and then divide and share - and bake a few small loaves of Amish friendship bread!

    first thing I thought of too

    there is probably a way to make the starter for the ginger beer too --
    another experiment??

    Lady Suz,
    the name Crabbies makes me smile :)

  4. Suzzzzzzz, I'm wondering if you are right...that the Armish Starter is also the Ginger Beer Plant, sounds very similar. As you say...I can sense an Experiment, literally brewing. :)

    Sir D ( who is becoming the Fifth Beatle , in Liverpool over the weekend..) of O