Root Beer Brewing
June 22, 2022 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Are disposable beer bottles strong enough for brewing Root Beer?
posted by Raybun to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you want a fully carbonated root beer, you're probably looking at around 3.5 volumes of carbon dioxide. That's at the upper end, in my experience, of what reused bottles will withstand. What carbonation technique are you looking at here? For a sweet beverage, like root beer, bottle conditioning (adding extra sugar and using yeast fermentation to get the carbonation) is very ticklish, because the yeast won't stop eating sugars when you reach the desired sweetness and carbonation level.

Whatever method you use, as highly carbonated as root beer is, I might advise storing your bottles in a watertight box (e.g. a plastic tote) to contain potential explosion messes.
posted by jackbishop at 5:01 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

What's a disposable beer bottle? Do you mean a plastic 2L bottle, like those used for soft drinks? Or a glass bottle used for beer by a major brewer?

I believe that many common root beer recipes mention approvingly the re-use of 2L bottles.

I homebrew small batches of mead and some beer, and would comfortably put root beer in the same 12-ounce glass bottles that I brew in. But I echo jackbishop's recommendation to put those bottles into a plastic tub with a loose-fitting lid, or a five-gallon bucket with the lid ajar, just as I do with my carboys during fermention.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:33 AM on June 22

I have made root beer in a couple of different ways.

When I bottle conditioned it - as jackbishop says, letting the yeast eat some sugar to carbonate the soda in the bottle - about half of my glass bottles burst. If I'd been lucky, they would have just blown the caps off, but no, the pressure physically broke the glass.

Data point: the bottles were stored in my cool basement, not in a refrigerator. This likely made a difference, but I didn't have refrigerator space for 48 bottles of root beer.

You might be able to find some old returnable glass beer bottles that are heavy-duty enough to withstand the pressure. Returnables aren't really a thing anymore, but older returnable bottles were made of pretty thick glass. Newer ones were much weaker, and in fact were the kinds of bottles that burst on me.

In any case, if you're carbonating in a glass bottle, I would strongly recommend having the fridge space to store everything, and also putting them inside a covered tub/tote in the fridge.

Your question suggests you don't have a keg system - reusable stainless steel Cornelius soda kegs hooked up to a CO2 tank and tap line. I've made root beer this way - mixing/brewing the concoction, transferring it to the keg, and using CO2 from a tank to carbonate and then dispense out of a tap line. I'll never do it another way again.
posted by rocketman at 6:49 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

A family member tried using disposable bottles for root beer. It didn't work out. He bought bottles and if I'm remembering correctly they were about $20 for a dozen. Save yourself a lot of trouble and buy them.
posted by james33 at 7:35 AM on June 22

Champagne bottles are sturdier and designed for higher pressures. Corking might be cost prohibitive, though.

2L or 1L are a good idea. I brewed ginger beer in tonic water bottles. They're more likely to puff out and expand rather than explode or blow the cap off.
posted by erpava at 7:38 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

erpava has the right idea; I used to use sparkling wine bottles when I brewed beer. They make plastic corks that work well enough. You can dip in wax if you're worried about leakage; it'll give your root beers a cool factor.
posted by wile e at 9:12 AM on June 22

FWIW, cider bottles are rated for higher pressures, too. Their standard size is 750ml, and you can use standard, metal, crimp-on caps with them.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:44 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]

I should add: I've bottle-conditioned sodas (ginger ale, not root beer, but the idea's the same) in 2-liter plastic bottles, which have several definite advantages: you can tell how carbonated they are by how easy it is to squeeze in the walls, and when (not if, for a sweet beverage) they get too carbonated, you can vent them by loosening the cap. If you wanted to bottle-condition something like root beer in a sealed container like a crown-cap beer bottle, you'd either need to be using a lot of unfermentable sugars like lactose, or a way to arrest fermentation when it reaches the point you want. Both pasteurization (heating up the bottles) or hibernation (chilling the bottles very cold) could do that, but both have dangers: heating up a carbonated liquid will evacuate the carbon dioxide from the liquid, increasing pressure in the headspace and risking explosion, while hibernating yeasts can slow their effect to a crawl but might not stop it entirely. Those are basically good reasons for a home sodamaker not to try to bottle-condition in glass with a crown cap. Glass with a tightly sealing screw-on cap (like a wine bottle of the non-corked variety) might work OK; glass with a swing-top cap would work less well because it can't be gradually vented. But for soda I really would go with plastic unless there's a really good reason not to.
posted by jackbishop at 10:58 AM on June 22

My family has been making root beer in all manner of glass bottles with crown caps for 3 generations. To my knowledge, we have never had a bottle explode from too much carbonation. This is the recipe we use: We do try to use thicker bottles, simply because they are less likely to break if they are dropped. We have used empty beer bottles without incident. We also have a collection of really old glass bottles in various shapes and sizes. We used to use big glass bottles, but when root beer making was passed down from my grandpa to my dad, my dad decided single-serving bottles are better. I will say, the best bottles are the old 1980s Pepsi 16oz glass bottles.
posted by DEiBnL13 at 9:39 PM on June 23

That recipe working in glass bottles honestly surprises me. I take it you're very punctual in moving the root beer into a good cold fridge within 48 hours? Yeast consuming even 10% of that sugar will carbonate liquid up to 3.5 volumes of carbon dioxide, which is about the outer limit of what I'd trust in reused glass that's not heavy-duty.

(And even if you move it fast, consuming it fast also seems necessary: yeast slows down a lot when it's refrigerated, but it still won't stop, not completely.)
posted by jackbishop at 7:27 AM on June 25

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