As I mentioned in a post last week, I am going to be competing in the Iron Brewer competition this fall, and one of the select ingredients that we have to use is fresh or dried ginger root. Hence, I have been doing some research and talking to various other home brewers who have brewed with ginger, so I figured I would share my findings.
When to use ginger?
Ginger can be added at many points during the brewing process, and depending on when it is added, you can achieve varying flavor profiles. If added into the boil, you should add with about 10 minutes to go. Adding it much earlier can boil off some of the more delicate flavors. Adding ginger to the boil can produce a nice fresh ginger flavor, but you do loose some of the heat/spiciness of it.
The other option would be to add the ginger root into secondary fermentation. Because it’s added after the boil and after fermentation is nearly complete, it is less likely to loose flavor. However, you do gain the spicy heat of the ginger to a much greater degree when you don’t boil it. It is often said that if you want the ginger flavor only, add it to the boil, and if you want the heat only, add it to secondary. I have not tried both methods to compare, but that seems to be the general consensus.
You can also use ginger in the keg with similar results as adding it to secondary. Lastly, you could fill a randall with pieces of ginger root and run the beer through it on the way to the tap. I would imagine that you would not pick up a ton of ginger flavor but may produce an overly spicy beer this way, but it could be a fun thing to try. Maybe a mix of ginger and hops would be a good way to randall a ginger beer.
How much ginger to use?
The amount of ginger root you add to the beer is highly dependent on the style of beer you are attempting to make. If you are making a ginger ale, and the goal is to taste a LOT of ginger, you can add 10+ ounces of fresh ginger to your boil. But if you are brewing a style that only needs a subtle hint of ginger, then as little as half an ounce with 10 minutes left in the biol would be noticeable. Two to four ounces in the boil seems to be the common ground that will result in a significant ginger flavor but also allow some other flavors to surface as well.
As with anything, I would recommend erring on the side of caution here and show some restraint. You can always boil a little ginger in water and add it later if it needs more ginger flavor, but there isn’t a good way to remove ginger flavor if you add too much to begin with.
Do you need to sanitize it?
I would not worry about sanitizing your ginger for most applications. But again, it depends on when you add it. If you are dropping fresh chopped ginger into your primary fermentor right after the boil, then you should consider sanitizing it first. What I would recommend as an alternative is to add the ginger to the last 10 minutes of the boil to sanitize it, and then you can transfer that ginger, along with your beer, into the fermentor.
If you’re adding ginger after fermentation, then you run a much lower risk of infection, but if you are concerned about it, you could always boil the ginger for a minute or two in a saucepan of water and then dump the entire thing straight into the fermentor or keg.
Skin it, dice it, puree it?
This depends a lot on what you’re looking for and your specific application of the ginger in the beer. The one rule to keep in mind is that you are going to get an increase in flavor as you increase the surface area of the ginger. For most applications, dicing the ginger into small bits is often the best choice because you get substantial surface area, and you can still use a false bottom, hop bag, or strainer to remove the ginger from the beer when you are done with it. A puree, however, will be the most surface area, getting the most flavor from any particular amount of ginger, but once you add it to the beer, it’s hard to remove it, at any stage.
Difference in fresh and dried ginger root?
I prefer using the freshest ingredients that I can find, and that carries over to ginger. The one thing to keep in mind here is that the fresh ginger will impart close to twice as much flavor as dried ginger does, so be sure to take this into account when you are deciding how much ginger to add to your recipe.
I purposely did not mention candied ginger because we are not using it in this competition, but I do know that it will impart a slightly different ginger flavor to your beer, and I have had some great beers that have had ginger added into secondary fermentation, however, I do not have enough information to make any specific recommendations about candied ginger.