Ginger Wine is a very popular, warming alcoholic drink, first produced in London, by Stone’s of Finsbury in 1740. The drink’s popularity rose during a 19th Century cholera epidemic, people mistakenly thought that ginger offered protection against the disease – it didn’t, but sales increased regardless. In the UK, ginger wine is exceptionally popular in winter, especially when mixed with blended Scottish Whisky to make a Whisky Mac (said to have been invented by Sir Hector MacDonald) – very popular when out shooting or playing golf. I know this sounds like a reckless combination, but when you are standing in a frosty field, waiting for a pheasant, a little nip to keep the cold out makes all the difference! Just like a St. Bernard with brandy in the alps.
I came across a recipe for ginger wine a few years ago and have been meaning to make it for some time. It’s relatively cheap and easy – all that’s really needed is a little patience, while it ferments.
Ginger Wine recipe (1 gallon):
6 inches (250g) fresh ginger root
1 gallon water
1.5kg Demerara sugar (or honey)
a few cloves
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
500g sultanas (or raisins), squashed
1 sachet of white wine yeast
Do sterilise all equipment before commencing! I use Campden tablets for this – 6 to 1 pint of hot water, but other products would work just as well.
Grate the ginger into a saucepan, add the sugar and cloves, plus the water. If you like a fiery ginger taste, double the quantity of ginger.
Heat until almost boiling, stir to dissolve the sugar, put the lid on and leave for 30 minutes. I turned the heat and let it steep.
My large saucepan could only manage 6 pints plus sugar and ginger. That’s OK, it can be topped up to 8 pints when adding to the fruit.
Squash the sultanas with a rolling pin (or similar) and add them to a bucket with the zest, juice and flesh of the lemons and oranges. Only zest 1 lemon and orange or the taste will be too strong in the finished wine. Raisins are traditional, but sultanas will produce a more golden colour.
Pour on the warm ginger and sugar water. Top up with cold liquid now – it helps in temperature reduction. Top up to 7 1/2 pints – allow an additional 1/2 a pint for the yeast.
Allow to cool to 25ºC before stirring in the yeast and nutrient (you can buy a sachet of white wine yeast and nutrient combined – look online, as most home brew shops have left the high street). Beware, temperatures above 40.6ºC will kill the yeast! Some yeasts need to be activated first – they should be stirred into lukewarm water and allowed to sit for half an hour before adding to the ginger wine. If in doubt activate the yeast.
Throughout, the smell of the fruit and ginger is just like Christmas.
Cover the bucket (I used a large plate), stir daily while the yeast starts fermentation (within a few days). Ideally, use a fermentation bag inside the bucket and tie it at the top (putting the bucket and lid inside a large dustbin bag will suffice). Ginger wine is quite attractive to fruit flies and if they get in, they’ll turn it to vinegar! You will know when the wine is fermenting – there will be bubbles and a fizzing sound.
After 10 – 12 days, strain the ginger wine into a demijohn with airlock and leave for a month or two, until fermentation stops. The airlock will stop bubbling (carbon dioxide is a product of fermentation) and the wine will look clear – there will be sediment in the bottom of the demijohn. Expect fermentation to take 6 to 8 weeks.
Decant the ginger wine to a clean (sterilised) bucket using a siphon – leave the dregs and sediment in the bottom of the demijohn – this way the wine will be clear without filtering. You will find that the yeast will have eaten most of the sugar and the ginger wine will be somewhat tart. This can be rectified by adding more sugar or honey (to taste) – I added 20 level dessertspoons of Demerara sugar. Bottle in green or brown bottles and leave to mature in a dark cupboard – it is drinkable straight away, but the taste improves with age.
Ginger Wine can be drunk neat, with lemonade, brandy, or my favourite, with whisky. I recommend mixing a Whisky Mac with 1 measure of blended Scotch to an inch and a half (4cm) of ginger wine.