We ditched commercial soft drinks at home couple of years ago now, in an effort to eat more healthily and reduce our waste. At that point I started making fruit cordials and ginger beer instead, and they are so simple, I don't know why I wasn't doing it before then.
Homemade ginger beer is something everyone's Mum seemed to make when we were kids, but I hadn't had any for years when I got around to making my first plant. What a shame though, it is delicious! So refreshing on a hot day or after a good gardening session :-) Be aware that because the yeasts in it ferment in order to produce the soda-type bubbles, it is very slightly alcoholic, so don't offer it to non-alcohol drinkers, and watch how much the kids drink! I limit my kids to 1 glass of a sugary drink per day - including cordial, ginger beer and pure fruit juices - anyway as I feel that a lot of refined sugar in their diet is unhealthy.
Anyway, to start off you first need to make a ginger beer "plant", to get the yeasts beginning to ferment:
Ginger Beer Plant
Pour 300 ml (1/2 pint) of tepid, chlorine-free water (filtered or rainwater) into a clean bottle or jar, and add:
* a large pinch of dried yeast OR 3-4 organic sultanas (there are wild yeasts living on their skins),
* 1 heaped dessertspoon of dried powdered ginger, and
* 1 heaped dessertspoon of sugar (I use raw sugar or honey for a richer flavour).
Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover with something that will keep the critters out but allow natural yeasts present in the air access the "plant", such as a doily, milk bottle cover, or a piece of muslin or tulle fastened with a rubber band.
Each day for seven days, add a teaspoon of ginger and a teaspoon of sugar and stir to dissolve. Your plant should froth very slightly on top after a few days, this is a sign that the yeasts are doing their work. After seven days, your plant should now be ready to use!
After you have strained the plant to make the ginger beer (see recipe below), divide the residue in half. Use half to make a new plant for yourself, and the rest to make a new plant to gift to your friends, family or neighbours. When they are all happily growing their own plants, you can discard the other half to your compost heap or worm farm.
To make a new plant, rinse out your container, add the halved reside to another 300ml (1/2 pint) of tepid water, with a heaped dessertspoon of sugar, and stir to dissolve. Treat this the same as a new plant: add another teaspoon of dried ginger and a teaspoon of sugar each day for seven days.
Now that your plant has grown for a week, you can make your ginger beer and bottle it:
Firstly, strain your ginger beer plant through some clean muslin or similar, into a jar, reserving both the liquid and the strained plant.
To 5 litres (5 quarts) of water in a large saucepan, add 3 cups of sugar (again, honey or molasses will give richer colour and flavour). Heat gently and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the juice of two lemons, and the finely grated zest of one of the lemons, plus the liquid from the strained ginger beer plant. Mix well.
Bottle into clean, plastic bottles, capping loosely*. Leave to sit on your kitchen bench or in your pantry for 5-7 days, to allow them to ferment a little. You will notice little bubbles rising to the top or clinging to the sides of the bottles after a few days. Refrigerate at that point, and enjoy :-)
*It is important that you cap the bottles loosely, because the ginger beer will ferment over the next week, producing the characteristic carbon dioxide bubbles which gives the ginger beer it's lovely zing. If you cap the bottles tightly you run the risk of the carbon dioxide building up pressure in the bottles, and overflowing and fizzing all over your kitchen bench, or possibly even exploding! Not pretty ;-) I also prefer to reuse cleaned plastic soda bottles, just to be on the safe side, as they have more 'give' than glass bottles.
It's easy, cheap and tastes great, so have go :-)