There is so much information to know about making ginger beer! I have spent my entire Saturday morning reading up on the different options.
Now I just need to decide how 'hardcore' I want to be about this. The simplest option would be to boil some water with ginger root and sugar, essentially making a ginger simple syrup, which I could add to bubbly water.
Taking it up a notch, I could do the same sort of thing, but add a bit of yeast. This would result in a (probably negligible) amount of alcohol, and a time-sensitive beverage. Here is a really nice article about this method, designed for school children to make, I guess.
The thing is, it is tricky to have and store a sweet and carbonated beverage. The addition of yeast in the beverage will carbonate the beverage by turning sugars into alcohol + CO2. But since you want your beverage to also be sweet, you have more sugar than you want to turn into alcohol. So when you make ginger beer this way, you need to drink it within a day or two of putting it in a bottle. This is probably not a huge concern (especially if you avoid glass bottles), but it does mean making very small batches. And if you have small batches, then you don't really want to use champagne yeast, because the amount in a package would be total overkill. Maybe there is dry champagne yeast, which you could just use as you need? We normally buy liquid yeast packages though. And I'm getting disorganised in my thoughts here, but I've read that using bread yeast can add strange flavors.
The ultimate project then would lead to pasteurization. This allows you to put a beverage with sugar and yeast in a glass bottle, cap it, let it ferment a tiny bit to produce carbonation (while leaving some sugar to result in a sweet beverage), and then you pasteurize to kill the yeast, thus preventing further fermentation and the risk of bottles exploding. Pasteurization is a whole other animal. I'm not sure if I'm ready to tackle these risks just yet.
Actually when I was doing all this reading it reminded me of the time I gave away all our de-labelled and cleaned bottles when we moved from NH to Sweden. Basically I was thinking that we had spent many hours taking labels off of so many bottles that it would be a shame to just recycle them all. So I put an ad on freecycle, just to see if anyone wanted them. I actually got a few responses in a timely manner. I gave them to the first guy to contact me, who told me he was so glad to get them since he had tried making a batch of rootbeer which had resulted in exploded bottles, so his supply of bottles was lacking.
This is getting really wordy, but I have to say, I have a pretty big concern about exploding bottles. That isn't something you want to take lightly.
At the same time, Greg and I (mostly Greg) have a slight interest in making cider, so learning the art of pasteurization could be a useful skill for our future.
For me, it all sort of comes down to my goals for making ginger beer. A few weeks ago I was trying to find an interesting restaurant in Stockholm, and I found a dumpling place and they had ginger beer on the menu, and ever since then I've just been wishing I could more easily get myself some ginger beer. (That restaurant was, sadly, not open on the weekends, which I didn't realise until we were standing outside the door.)
So if I just want the experience of ginger beer, any of these methods should suffice, so logically it makes sense to just do the simplest and cheapest option, which would be one of the first two. Both are really simple, and I'm sure both are quite economical, but I could check the numbers to maximize that benefit.
I think my plan will be to start with one of these methods, because I just really want to drink a ginger beer. Then, after I can do more research on pasteurization and gain some confidence in my (our) skills in that area, step up the ginger beer-making game.
Also, for reference (for my future self, mainly), I read this entire forum which was really useful. And here is one that will be useful for pasteurization research, but really? I can handle 17 pages, but 108?
I've done a lot of other reading as well, but if anyone has tips or sources I'd love to hear about it. Brian, are you still lurking? When you made cider did you pasteurize it? I think we had some friends 'pasteurize' by exposing their cider to some sort of light? I don't know, but is this a thing?