Root Beer

This has been maybe the most fun, most exciting, severely delicious experiment we’ve done so far. I. Am. Hooked.

So a few weeks ago, we made Ginger Ale. While that was delicious and 100% worth doing again, we wanted to try for a root beer. We worked with what we had on hand at the time, but were able to procure the proper herbs for the brew at the time. That brew was okay; it wasn’t anything like root beer; it tasted more like a ginger mint soda, heavier on the mint.

So we tried again! We were able to get some sarsaparilla, licorice root, and birch bark, but we were missing the sassafras and the dandelion root. This iteration was very (very) good, but it wasn’t really root beer, it was definitely sarsaparilla; and while that flavor profile is very close, it’s not “the one.” One thing about it, though, was that it went absolutely bonkers when we opened it!

Really, this is so much fun, and we’re making such small batches that we can really play with the recipe each time. The next time we made it (the batch we are drinking now), we were able to find some sassafras, but still no dandelion root.

So basically, our process is this:

  • Make a wort (a syrup)
  • allow wort to simmer steep for about an hour
  • cool it with water
  • pour in the fermenting jar
  • add the ginger bug
  • allow mixture to ferment for 1-3 days, depending on weather
  • strain into bottles.

This particular time we made it, we strained the wort before adding it to the ferment jar because I was nervous about allowing the sassafras to ferment. I was nervous about the carcinogenic nature of the safrole oil, and was unsure if allowing the sassafras to ferment would be safe or unsafe. Now that I understand the compound is also found in Star Anise, and many other culinary herbs and spices in similarly low amounts, I am less nervous about it.

Before I go any further, I want to note that this last iteration is very, very tasty. It tastes similarly to commercial root beer, except nowhere near as syrupy (thank you!), and a little less sweet. The flavor profile on these small batch brews changes daily, so we limit ourselves to share one a day and analyze the flavor profile.

I have a few ideas, but I’m trying to limit changes to just a couple each batch so we know what we like and can truly perfect the recipe. For example, in the sarsaparilla batch, Justin thought it was too heavy in licorice, so we halved it for the next batch. By the fifth or sixth day, the flavors really developed in the bottle, and we both agreed that the licorice taste had mellowed and became quite pleasant. By that time, though, we had already made the wort for the next batch, and it was fermenting on the counter.

For the next batch (which I plan to prepare in a few days), we will return the licorice to its original 1T, bring the molasses back up to 1/4c, and reduce the white sugar down to 1/2c. Since we have sourced some dandelion root, I’ll add that for a bitter note. As a side note, this morning we made a syrup out of freshly-dried hops that we collected from the garden. This, too, could work as a nice bitter. I want to try the hops first in a lemon-verbena ginger ale, and see how it goes. More on that soon, I’m sure.

Because we strained the wort into the ferment jar, though, I think the wort was a little weak – or maybe I added too much water; I’m not sure. In any case, while the flavor was very good, we want more of it! Next time: everything is going in the jar, then we’ll strain into the bottles the way we did with the sarsaparilla.

On to the next batch!


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