So far the experiment has gone quite well. The first two batches were a much bigger success than I expected. I got a good amount of carbonation and no bottles exploded. I'm still working on getting it as spicy as I want and I'd love to be able to ferment to the point of having alcoholic ginger beer, but it's no chore to drink what I've been making.
I'm going to wait to publish the recipe until I get it the way I want it, but in the mean time I thought I share a little about the process. I took the recipe straight from Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation. He gives very few measurements and his directions are quite loose, so I did a little poking around the internet to make sure I was at least on the right track.
Starting the ginger bug was a breeze as long as you make sure to buy organic ginger, the fresher the better. I started with a random amount of water, sugar and ginger and got some bubble action pretty quickly, but it didn't seem vigorous enough to me so I kept it going a little longer. Then it seemed as though I had killed it, but was able to bring it back with a healthy dose of sugar and bit more ginger. I kept that first bug going for about a week and a half before I made my first batch of ginger beer. Then I kept some of it added a little more water, sugar and ginger and kept that going for a few more days before I made the second batch.
While both batches carbonated well, the second batch held the carbonation longer once you opened the bottle. I think this is because I used more of the bug, but I honestly don't know.
As for achieving alcohol I don't think I got much more than Kombucha if I even achieved that. I've been doing a bit more research and it sounds like something around 6% is achievable if I have enough sugar and leave it long enough. However it also sounds like I might need to get a bit more fancy and upgrade to a vessel that I can cap with an airlock. Not sure I need to go all the way to a carboy as 5 gallons of ginger beer sounds a bit intimidating, but if I bottle and cap it who knows. I might be stepping into a whole new arena soon.
First the recipe then the alcohol and I promise to let you in on the final results for both.
Oh, and the peach infused rye with the ginger beer makes a mighty fine cocktail. I'll be working on perfecting that too.