Root Beer!
March 13, 2009 9:02 PM   Subscribe

We're makin' root beer! (Help?)

Me and my buddy want to make our own root beer, and possibly also ginger beer or other soda-type beverages. I would love any suggestions you have to offer: books we should check out, relevant websites, favorite recipes, particular products we need, etc. Please share your home root beer brewing stories, warnings, advice, etc below. Thank you!
posted by serazin to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I made a recipe of the Good Eats ginger ale recipe, just today. It works like it says on the proverbial box, and is very delicious. And also easy.

Did I mention delicious?
posted by ambilevous at 9:44 PM on March 13, 2009

(I just picked my copy off the shelf and checked so I know that...) He doesn't address root beer specifically in the book, but it's a great book on fermentation, and he does have a ginger beer recipe in it.

Wild Fermentation
is the book, and I cannot wait for my cucumbers to grow this summer so I can ferment pickles again! So so delicious. Ultimately you'll probably want a book that's more specifically geared toward beverages, but this one's a great read and good overview.
posted by birdie birdington at 10:24 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're probably aware of this, but if you want to take the very easy way out (just mixing your own soda beverages, that is, not brewing) you could get any soda syphon and CO2 cartridges, buy a bunch of flavored syrups (available in some stores, huge selection online) and have your soda instantly.

Other advice I can think of, if you are force carbonating as opposed to fermenting in bottles or a keg (cheating, that is): carbonate your water before adding sugar or other sweeteners to it, and make sure it's as cold as you can get it to ensure that more CO2 dissolves in it.
posted by halogen at 11:31 PM on March 13, 2009

what you're looking for. His ginger ale is especially fantastic.
posted by the dief at 4:35 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop by Stephen Cresswell for soft drink recipes. We've made the ginger ale and it turned out great.
posted by maurice at 5:04 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you make a case of root beer, store it inside a box or a cooler while it is fermenting/pressurizing in the bottle. If you have put too much sugar or yeast in, and the bottles become glass shrapnel grenades by exploding, at least the explosion will be contained and cleanup easier. Been there, done that.
posted by eaglehound at 8:41 AM on March 14, 2009

This isn't too specific, but since you asked for stories: growing up we made root beer of the type that I think you may be interested in. We bought (from where?) root beer syrup for the flavouring, and added sugar, water and I believe yeast. It looks similar to the Good Eats deal. We mixed it all up and kept it for a week in a lower cupboard in our kitchen, heated by a lamp. Delicious!
posted by kch at 8:57 AM on March 14, 2009

Best answer: I like Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop by Stephen Cresswell for soft drink recipes. We've made the ginger ale and it turned out great.

My friend and I started with this book, but had a different number of bottles and a different bunch of herbs and spices we wanted to put in. I tried to do a bunch of conversions, but in the end we just brewed up a giant batch of root beer tea to taste, added slightly more sugar that we thought was perfect (it was a lot less than any of his recipes recommended), and ended up with a really excellent, rather dry root beer that was fantastic with homemade vanilla ice cream. I didn't write down the amounts of anything we put in, but I can tell you we started adding more stuff we found in the kitchen after multiple tastings. We had: sarsaparilla root, fresh ginger root, birch bark, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, licorice root, black pepper, vanilla bean.

One important thing: make a couple tasting bottles to sample as the fermentation goes on. We just used a couple small plastic bottles with screw on lids. Fermentation is not exact science, and our root beer was done much earlier than the book suggested, but also continued to ferment when in the fridge. We found that putting the bottles in the freezer for 20 minutes or so and then opening them over the sink was helpful to limit foaming out all over the place when we wanted to open a bottle.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:37 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Products: we used a bunch of saved Grolsch beer bottles that we boiled. New rubber gaskets were purchased. Also a new five gallon plastic bucket, big strainer, cheesecloth, and a giant pot for brewing the herbs.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2009

Oh, sorry for the multiple comments- we purchased all the herbs and spices (except those we pulled out of the kitchen cupboards) at the San Francisco Herb Company. Totally worth a visit if you haven't been.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:46 AM on March 14, 2009

If you make a case of root beer, store it inside a box or a cooler while it is fermenting/pressurizing in the bottle. If you have put too much sugar or yeast in, and the bottles become glass shrapnel grenades by exploding, at least the explosion will be contained and cleanup easier. Been there, done that.

Why not use used soda bottles, they lack the certain coolness that glass containers have, but are not likely to cause shrapnel problems. Seems like a good trade off. Plus you don't need to purchase a bottle capper and a crowns.

If you're truly committed to soda making, a CO2 system is the best bet. I can whip up a 5 gallon batch of soda in less than 2 hours. I just mix it, then cool it in my keg and force carbonate it. The infrastructure can be expensive, but having home made soda on tap is really fun.

As far as recipes go, when you're starting off, make SMALL batches. It's really easy to mix up a 5 gallon batch of garbage. Part of the joy of making your own sodas is the ability to customize the batch to your exact taste. Want some more vanilla, go for it. Want a ginger beer that makes your eyes water in pain? Most of these sodas are simply a function of the ingredients you put in. If you want it sweeter, more sour, more carbonated or bland, it's up to you. I think for a first batch, following a recipe can be very helpful. But I strongly recommend taking off the training wheels as soon as you make a batch you're happy with.
posted by JimmyJames at 11:48 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've made this version of homemade ginger ale:
Ginger Ale
1 empty 2 liter bottle
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 - 2 T grated fresh ginger

Put all ingredients into bottle, fill to about 1 inch from top with water. Cap, shake, and leave out on your counter overnight, until bottle is hard when you squeeze it. Put it in the fridge and let it sit for a few days, letting pressure out every once in a while (fermentation slows but doesn't totally stop in fridge).

You can use any yeast, I just used regular bread yeast. It tastes best after the flavors have had a week to blend in the fridge.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:00 PM on March 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I forgot to add, you can make sparkling apple cider by adding 1/4 tsp yeast to a 2 L bottle of apple juice, leaving it out overnight, and then putting it in the fridge. Even better, add 1/4 tsp yeast and 2 T grated ginger to a bottle of apple juice, apple ginger "soda" rocks.
posted by TungstenChef at 12:06 PM on March 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: OK folks, this is a start. I'll update here in a couple weeks after we've tried it. Thanks!
posted by serazin at 3:50 PM on March 14, 2009

Cannot recommend enough using a touch of honey for ginger beer. It really adds some taste that cane sugar can't achieve alone.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 1:05 PM on March 16, 2009

We made home made root beer ( Hire's in a little orange and brown box) years ago and laid the bottles as per instructions on their sides when we were finished. Something went wrong, and the caps came off the bottles. The brown stains on the light blue carpeting didn't come out. They were all used pop bottles and new caps, with an old fashioned hand capper. Use caution and follow the directions to the letter.....then pray!

But many years before that, we did make it successfully. It didn't quite taste the same as Hire's, but it was close enough and we had fun doing it.

It does build quite a bit of pressure!
posted by Taurid at 8:06 PM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: So to follow up, we did make root beer. It was pretty much a bust. I used this recipe and it came out tasting like medicine. My daughter actually described it as tasting like "wood". There was a trace of rootbeeriness, but otherwise, not tasty. It was also not quite sweet enough which surprised me because I like a subtler sweetness and tend to reduce sugar in dessert recipes. As a data point, it did have a very good, strong foam. So strong that half the bottle poured out when I opened it.

Thanks for the advice. I took a bunch of it including using a plastic sample bottle. I'm going to try again when I find the perfect homemade (not extract based) root beer recipe and until then maybe I'll give ginger beer a shot.
posted by serazin at 9:40 PM on April 4, 2009

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