Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to make craft brewed root beer from scratch without the use of extracts

I've been making soda for almost 18 years.  It is a hobby of mine.
The art of crafting a good soft drink, requires a good amount of research and a lot of experimentation.

About two years ago I did a search on youtube for "how to make root beer". The results were pretty disappointing. I was hoping to see what others had done and compare notes, but I could not find a single video on how to make root beer from scratch.  Every single video used a commercial extract.  This would not do! I decided to take it upon myself to teach anyone who wanted to know, exactly how to make root beer from scratch using natural ingredients, the way it was done 100 years ago.

I started right away.  That night I brewed batch of root beer. I make sure to record the footage so that I could produce a video to put on youtube. A few days later I began editing... and editing... and editing... finally I had a rough draft. But it was really rough and I needed to fill in some information gaps and to shoot more footage.

A few months went by and I was ready to brew another batch.  I recorded the extra clips that I needed, but this time I sat on the footage for about a year. This was mostly due to lack of motivation and the dread of editing more video.

Finally I got my inspiration back. Thanks to two 6 hour airplane rides across the US, and had plenty of time to begin working on the video again. This time I was determined to finish. It took a bit of work, but I am pretty pleased with the results.

I hope you enjoy it. I had fun making it, and the soda too. Please feel free post comments. If you ask me questions I will answer them. You can post them on this blog, on Youtube, or on twitter.  I am more than happy to discuss anything soda with you.

If you want to try your hand at making root beer from scratch, please do it. It's not that difficult, it tastes great, and is a lot of fun.

Some people may be concerned about the use of yeast.  Don't worry you temperance minded people. The amount of alcohol produced is extremely minute! You are not fully fermenting the drink like you would beer. You are just fermenting enough to get the desired carbonation, and then that process is stopped by chilling the soda.  If you are truly concerned you and force carbonate using a keg and CO2 @ 30 psi for 3-5 days. If you have a soda stream machine, or even better, a Carbonater cap for 2 liter bottles, that will work too.

There are several down sides to forcing carbonation with CO2:
  • The carbonation does not persist very long (but the soda still has a good head due to the sassafras)
  • It is difficult to bottle - There is a big of carbonation if the bottles are not extremely cold when bottling.
  • You loose a bit of complexity in the flavors.
If you do choose to force carbonate there are some up sides too:
  • You can serve right from the keg.
  • No yeast flavor hints (some people can't stand the hint of yeast)
  • Individual yeast carbonated batches can be produced by putting a bit of the flat beverage into a bottle and adding the yeast as instructed in the video.
Well, that pretty much wraps up this home brewing blog post.  Thanks for reading and watching. Let me know what you think. I look forward to your feedback.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog casts it shadow on the bottle cap!

120 years ago today, the patent for bottle caps was approved (U.S. Patent 468,258). This might not seem so significant, but if you take a moment out of your groundhogs day to ponder how much this device is actually used, pehaps you'll gain a new found appreciation for the infamous bottle topper.
Here are a few links you can use to read more on the subject:

While discussing the topic of bottle caps with a co-worker, the subject of pattents and how they have changed over the years came up.  He suggested a book to me which seems like it would be a pretty good read: Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Have a gander it may change your view on modern patents and copyright law. It's pretty relevant right now, especially with all that is happening with SOPA and PIPA.

While we are on the topic of bottle caps! I wanted to mention two great places to get custom bottle caps made for your home brew projects or special events.  Both of them do great work, and I highly recommend them.

Well, that pretty much wraps up this blog post.
May the rest of your day be enjoyable.
I hope you get a few laughs tonight while you watch Bill Murray.
Oh, and don't forget to thank William Painter (the inventor) for keeping the drink in that bottle for you, and for keeping it carbonated.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The best looking rootbeer, ruined!

Me: Oh, do you guys make your own rootbeer?

Waitress: Why yes we do, it's on tap and it's really good.

Me: Great, I'll have a mug of it please.

Waitress: Anything else?

Me: Nope.

Waitress: Alright, I'll be right back with your order.

A few minutes later the waitress returns with a big frosted mug. It is filled to the rim with an extremely dark rootbeer. A three inch head of foam sits at the top, almost boasting about its strength. Wow! It looks sooo good!  She puts down a coaster in front of me and carefully places the glass on top. Then I hear a sound that I was not expecting..."Clink clink." I think to myself, "What was that noise? Hmm, she must have tapped her fingernails on the glass when she let go of it."

I begin to take look at this beautiful creation, no, this masterpiece, this work of art. Then without even noticing, it draws me in closer with a seductive fragrance of anise and wintergreen. As my nose is tantalized, I notice the foam crown beginning to fall down the side of the mug. And was that a sparkle I saw from beneath the head?

It is time, I must taste it!

I pick up the cold mug and bring it to my lips... "Clink clink". and a cold lip.... Nooooo! Now I see it. The worst thing you can do. And you did it to your own draft rootbeer. Does the brewmaster know you did this? What were you thinking? Would you do this to a beer? NO! So why the hell would you do this? Why would you put ice in the rootbeer?

Your mugs are kept in the freezer, the kegs are stored in the fridge. For gods sake, it does not need ice! It's not a from the fountain commercial brand soda pop, it's ROOTBEER, and not just any rootbeer, it's your rootbeer. Show some respect!

Microbrews, restaurants, and whoever else produces and serves their own root beer. I plead of you, please for all things that are holy. Do yourself a favor. Train your servers, teach them, educate them, and insist they don't water down and ruin your product. Give it to me chilled. Give it to me warm. But please, please, PLEASE, no matter how much you think it needs it, DON'T ADD ICE TO THE ROOTBEER!

Thank you.

Steven Allen

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Orange Cream Soda - Attempt #1 - Success

Last week I finally got my bio-flask for distilling essential oils. I figured what a great opportunity to test it out by getting some orange oil from the zest... But how to use the oil... Then it hit me, Orange Cream Soda!

I have attempted cream soda in the past, but none of them have been "Wow"...

This attempt was quite triumphant!

The Goal:

  • Create a really good cream soda
  • Turn it into a awesome orange cream soda

The plan:
Build a new scratch recipe and tweak it until it's just right. First I needed some inspiration. So I started out with the recipe posted by SodaMancy last August ( and melded it together with the cream soda recipe found in the Homemade Root Beer, sode, and pop Book.  The resulting recipe seemed like a good starting point.

The resulting cream soda recipe:

  • 8 quarts of water (4 to brew 4 to cool)
  • 4 vanilla beans (chopped up into little pieces).
  • 20 raisins (chopped up into little pieces).
  • 1 tbs Rum 
  • 1 drop of cassia oil (dropped into the rum) 
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 4 cups raw cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Cream of Tartar
The orange experiment:
I bought a huge bag of oranges from Costco to use as the orange part of the soda. When I cut into the first orange I got a nice surprise - it was pink inside! I squeezed 4 of the oranges resulting in only about 1/2 cup of juice.  My bag of oranges did not seem so large any more. I would not have enough.  Plus my kids and wife were consuming them faster than I could squeeze them.  They ate 6 of them before I caught them stealing another.   I decided to take the 10 orange peels and put them aside to distill the oil out of them to use in the soda... only to discover that my heating element was not working so I couldn't do that either...

Back to the Cream Soda (What I did to make it):
  1. Add 4 quarts of water to the brew pot and turned the heat on to high.  
  2. Chop up the vanilla beans and added them to the pot. 
  3. Get the raisins, chop them up and add them to the pot.
  4. The water is pretty close to boiling by now...
  5. Put about 1 tablespoon of rum into a small cup
  6. Put 1 drop of cassia oil into the rum - This thins the oil out so that it will mix well with the rest of the wort in the pot. I decided not to use cinnamon bark because I had lots of cassia oil, and it seemed like I should start using it.
  7. Add the rum/cassia(cinnamon)  tincture to the pot.
  8. Add 1/4 cup of honey
  9. Water is boiling... Turn down the heat to a light boil... Add 4 cups of sugar (one cup at a time - waiting for each cup to dissolve before adding the next). 
  10. Let it lightly boil for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
  11. Turn of the heat.
  12. Add and mix in 1/2 tsp of Cream of Tartar (This helps stop the formation of crystals - and right now this drink is very sweet). 
  13. Fill up a 2 quart container with Ice cubes then add cold water to the ice to make "ice water".
  14. Add the ice water to the brew pot (to cool the sweet drink)
  15. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add another 2 quarts of ice water. 
  16. Taste again, - sweetness is perfect. Lost of vanilla flavor, raisins are not overpowering, and there is just a hint of cinnamon in the bouquet. (Imagine the carbonation and you are really close to a finished product)
  17. I wish I had a spectrometer to get the actual sugar levels... perhaps in the future...
Now to figure out the orange part...
I took the cream soda added into several small cups (2 oz into each cup). Added the squeezed orange juice into the cups.... 
  • Starting off with 2 oz into the first cup.. taste a bit... too much orange - cant taste vanilla enough (1:1 ratio)
  • Add 1 oz into 2nd cup... taste a bit... still too much orange - vanilla is present but overpowered. (2:1 ratio)
  • Add .5 oz into 3rd cup... taste... not enough orange (4:1 ratio)
  • Add .75 oz into 4th cup... taste ... just about right a little strong on the orange side (8:3 ratio)
  • Tasted from the 3rd cup again and decided to figure out what to do about my fresh squeezed orange juice shortage.
  • I made some orange juice from concentrate and added .65 oz to a 5th cup.. Tasted and while not as good of an orange flavor as the fresh squeezed, this seemed to be a good ratio to use (3:1 ratio).
I had about 2 gallons of cream soda, so I made made 3 quarts or orange juice and added most of it to the cream soda. (tasting after each quart and frequently during the last to make sure the quantity was just right)

After all that, I am just shy of 3 gallons of a really good orange cream soda.

Next I poured the soda into a funnel with a filter catch the vanilla bits, raisins, and the pulp, directly into a nice clean 3 gallon keg.  Closed up the keg, Added CO2 at 30psi, shook a bunch, and into the fridge for 3 days.

The results:
After the 2nd day of carbonating, I poured myself a test glass to see how it was coming along. It was still a little light on the carbonation but wow it tasted great.  This is a keeper recipe. I'll tweak it a bit in the future but I definitely met my goal,  at least for my tastes...  Now for the real test... My friends and co-workers.