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.





56 comments:

  1. I am going to try this this week...I have been a soda drinker for years...but since they decided to use baby parts to make it taste...eew...I will not touch a store bought soda again, EVER..
    I hope I can find everything I need!

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  2. Good luck, let me now how it goes or if you have trouble finding an ingreedient... I may be able to help you find a supplier for the missing ingredients.

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    Replies
    1. Your video states that we should use sassafras root and not the bark but when I go to the epicherbs store or herbaladvantage website, I only see the root bark. Where do I get the sassafras root? (I bought some root on ebay one time but it was hard as rock and offered very little flavor). Thanks and a great video by the way.
      Tim

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    2. Sorry, I found it!! Excited to try.

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    3. No, I found sarsparilla root.. no sassafras root

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    4. Kinda pricy but it's 4oz...
      http://www.amazon.com/Sassafras-Root-Cut-Sifted-4oz/dp/B0082ZFBBS/ref=wl_mb_hu_c_2_dp

      -EricX

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    5. From scratch, natural...but you added Maraschino cherry juice and someone's licorice candy? Also, a cup of sugar and a half pound of honey per quart is nuts. Soda recipes usually call for 2-2.5 cups of sugar per gallon....call it a half cup per quart. Also, spending for brewer's yeast is a waste of money. First of all, most commonly, brewer's yeast is the same as bread yeast. One type of yeast, called "bottom cropping" yeast, will grow at cold temperatures, but isn't necessary when you're aging this stuff for a few days at room temperature. Note that while that there are potential health issues with sassafras. As for the alcohol produced...it's not all that trivial: Probably about 1% (2 proof). On the other hand, it would take about a quart and a half to equal the alcohol in one 12 oz beer. So I wouldn't worry about it. But, my folks used to make homemade root beer and I can tell you that, at least once, I "caught a buzz", as a kid, by drinking way too much of it.

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  3. Hey Steven!

    I live in Copenhagen, Denmark and it is very difficult to get decent root beer here.

    So I decided: I'll try to make my own! And guess what...your video was the first one I came across.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Henrik.

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  4. Hi Henrik, thanx for the msg!
    Glad you found my video/post. Let me know if you have any questions, and good luck on your first soda making adventure.
    Let me know how it turns out.
    Cheers
    Steven

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    Replies
    1. Just been looking for ingredients this evening. I can find everything except for the Black Cherry Bark. Any alternatives to that ?

      Henrik.

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    2. Look for "Prunus serotina" or "Prunus Virginiana" both will work fine...
      Here's 2 sources.. I've used epic herbs before. I've not tried bulk herb store.
      http://www.bulkherbstore.com/Wild-Cherry-Bark-Cut
      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Wild-Cherry-Bark-c-s-1-lb-Prunus-serotina

      HTH

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    3. Mountain Rose Herbs and Frontier Co-op have any spice or bark or root or leaf you could ever need. Mountain Rose's wild cherry bark is really good. You can buy 4oz. 8 oz. or 1 lb at very good prices. I just cracked open the 1st bottle of my 3rd batch of rootbeer and I'm making cherry cream soda for the 1st time, tomorrow. I use a "Ginger Bug", instead of yeast to make my sodas. Gotta watch the ginger and make sure there is no mold on it or it will get moldy and need to be tossed.

      Delete
  5. Hey Steven,

    Sorry to bother you again. I'm just about to place the online order for all of the roots.

    I noticed that a lot of recipes on the net uses burduck and astragalus.

    Have you had any experience with those?

    Anyway: I will try to follow your recipe to the point and let you know how it goes :-)

    Henrik.

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    Replies
    1. I have used burdock and don't recommend it in this recipe. I have not played with astragalus soI cant yet comment on it.

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  6. Hey Steven!

    Got all my goodies from Mountain Rose Herbs this morning - and I'm ready to make my first Root Beer in a couple of days. As promised, I'll let you know how it goes!

    Never managed to find the Wintergreen, though. Would you say it is crucial and/or can be replaced ?

    Thank,

    Henrik.

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    Replies
    1. Great!
      Sorry you had trouble finding wintergreen. It is not a crucial ingredient, and it is fine if you leave it out. I usually add it to give the rootbeer a more "modern" flavor to give people a very slight hint of what they are used to drinking.

      Delete
  7. Have you tried duplicating any of the more popular blends of root beers? Hires? A&W? etc. Have you ever tried Point Premium?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I've attempted to make clones of several commercial root beers. I dont like the flavor of a&w, but I do love mug (have not had too much luck recreating that one though). I have not tried Point Premium, but I do drink quite a bit of Virgils. I'll see if I can get a few bottles of Point Premium and give them a try.

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  8. Hi Steven,
    I tried your recipe this past week and I loved the taste before I bottled it... but after I added the yeast and let it sit for a few days it smelled kinda sour and like beer (tasted fine, though) I didn't use the brewer's yeast, I used Fleishmann's dryactive yeast... could that have been the problem? When you use the brewer's yeast, does it have a "yeasty" smell or taste at all? I was thinking about trying it again with forced carbonation, is there a method I could use that wouldn't involve buying a keg? Thanks for the help and the great recipe!!
    Selene

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    Replies
    1. Great! Glad it mostly turned out. Yeh, the yeast flavor takes a bit of getting used to. I usually make 6 gallon batches and put 5 into a keg to force carbonate and then put the last gallon into bottles and yeast carbonate those (I like the extra depth of flavors the yeast gives it). The type of yeast won't play too much of a role in flavor change (but it does a bit). As for trying again and force carbonating, GO FOR IT!. you can do it easily using various products. Quick and dirty (and possibly dangerous) is dry Ice. Or you can buy a cool little attachment for 2 liter bottles http://www.amazon.com/LiquidBread-The-Carbonater/dp/B0064OKADS
      this thing is awesome for making small test batches.
      If you do force carbonate I'd recommend getting "the carbonater" (link above) That way you don't have to buy a keg (for now).

      Delete
  9. in this video how many bottles does that make?

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  10. Have thouy of trying a cream soda? Just curious.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that was actually my first blog post.
      http://inspiredsoda.blogspot.com/2012/01/orange-cream-soda-attempt-1-success.html

      I have tried a few different cream soda recipees, and dabbled with my own some, but I'm have not found the "perfect" one yet.

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  11. I notice you use glass bottles . . . do they ever explode? I see lots and lots of warnings about this online. Great video btw -- can't wait to give it a try!

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    Replies
    1. In the many years I've been doing this, I've only had bottles explode on me once (when I was making a peach soda). Just watch them carefully by testing carbonation daily to see how it is coming along. Once you get the carbonation right stick them in the fridge, the cold will make the yeast go dormant (No more CO2 produced). No worries.

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  12. This LOOKS really good, so I'm imagining that it will TASTE good as well. This blog doesn't look very active, so I don't know if you will see this/reply. I hope that you do. I hope that you post more recipes and/or reviews. Youtube is nice and all, but a blog devoted to your craft would be more personal and exciting.
    I work at a brewpub (not a brewer) so I'm going to force carbonate using their gear. I'm a little nervous about my flip-top glass bottles exploding and losing all of my work ...and then having to clean it up the mess too (using yeast). Meh, maybe I'll try a couple bottles. Just trying to get my feet wet.
    Post more stuff.

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    Replies
    1. I do plan on posting more reviews and howto's I've just been really busy lately. I'll be posting a how to on making ginger beer soon, along with some others (which I have footage for but just need to compile into a watchable video).
      Thanks for the feedback :)
      Dont worry about the exploding... just watch the carbonation carefully (test daily)
      Good luck and let me know how it goes!

      Delete
  13. Hello Steven,
    I was just wondering if juniper berries and cherry bark are necessary for the recipe, whether or not it would be a massive loss of flavour if removed completely, and if there are possible alternatives to these ingredients. The juniper berries and cherry bark are somewhat hard to find in my area unless I pay for it online to be shipped.
    Thanks

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  14. Hi Steven,
    I have searched for a recipe for crafted root beer, cause of the root beer at "subways" in Germany is not longer sold.
    Sorry for my bad English ;)
    One year ago I have mixed up several lemonades at the IKEA foodbase. Suddenly the foam of the invented drink looks like root beer. Then I want to try to mix it the same way but it does not work :(

    Now I want to try your way and maybe some time late I wan´ne try it with the IKEA ingredients .

    bye steven.

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  15. this is such a nice and useful information for us...i appreciate urs word........soda machine dealer

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  16. Steven the 1 oz you are using - is that a dry weight? It looks like 1/4 cup. So that is what I will try....

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  17. I have been trying to create my own root beer taste for a while now it just doesn't come out at all. I've gotten closer but i just can't find that root beer taste. I don't want to use sassafras because i am hoping one day for a small business. i tried wintergreen and sarsaparilla and both at the same time but its just not that root beer taste. any help?

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    Replies
    1. I too hope to turn this into a product... best thing to do is just play.. it took me forever to build this recipe. I got a lot of the ideas and ingredients from old "Victorian Trade Cards" (look them up on ebay). Old cook books have some pretty good recipes you can modify too. (like the soda dispensers formulary).

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  18. just cracked open the first bottle from the batch i made sunday. A little too sweet for this volume of water, and its lacking a bit of the traditional 'root beer' flavor. Not sur what i can do to add that. My first thought was that it was the sarsaparilla since i didnt smell that root beer smell or taste it in the boil, so i upped to 2oz.

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    Replies
    1. Add more wintergreen and/or birch for a more modern flavor.

      Delete
  19. I just brewed this recipe for the first time today. I followed the recipe to the letter, but the finished product was far lighter in color than I expected (i.e., much lighter than the example in the YouTube video). I'm a beer brewer, and I have a color correction product called Sinamar on hand. So, I used the Sinamar to darken the root beer to the "correct" color (I had to use 4 oz Sinamar -- quite a lot -- in 4 gallons of root beer to get the right color). Any hints on getting a naturally dark root beer? Mine was more like cream soda color.

    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. I've had some batches turn out really light and some very dark.. It all depends on the roots, and how much water you add. Just make sure to adjust to taste don't worry about the color.

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  20. I didn't see a reply to Tyler in December, about the necessity of using juniper berries and cherry bark, whether or not it would be a massive loss of flavour if removed completely. I am looking for recipes for root beer because it is the only "soda drink" on the market that I like that doesn't contain either fruit or citric acid both of which I have now developed an allergy to. Unfortunately that means the only rootbeer I can drink is A&W, the others either have fruit or citric acid, and I'm not sure about the US but it's strangely difficult to find A&W rootbeer although not impossible. This is a long way of asking Tyler's question again, can these be eliminated or is there something that can be substituted.

    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Juniper berries can be elimitated (they are a minute compliment to the licorice root). As for the cherry bark it too can be elimiated without much noticable change.

      Delete
  21. Realize I'm really late to this party, but is this an alcoholic root beer? Realize if you let sugar and yeast sit long enough, anything can be alcoholic. Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. No it is not an alcoholic root beer. it ferments for a very short time (just enought to produce a bit of cabonation, then you stop the fermentation by chilling.

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  22. Is There A Way To Turn This Recipe Into A syrup

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    Replies
    1. I imagine so... The first thing I would try is not adding the extra water to cool.. That'll make it much closer to syrup.

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  23. Can you make vids maybe on other flavors maybe? Or other root beer flavors?

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    Replies
    1. I shot some fottage of how to make ginger beer, and a few other sodas, I just have not had the time or motivation to compile them into a quality video for release.

      Delete
  24. I feel like a real dork, but I watched the video and got excited... Then realized I'm out of internet juice (limited with satelite), and was wondering if you had the recipe of ingredients posted anywhere w/o watching the video?

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  25. 16 quarts water
    3 lbs honey
    1/8 inch licorice stick or 2 to 3 Star Anise
    1 Cinnamon Stick
    ½ tsp Salt
    1 oz Sasparilla Root
    1 oz Sassafras Root (DO NOT USE)
    ½ C Dark Molasses
    6 C Sugar
    1 Vanilla Bean
    ¼ C Chopped Rasins
    1/8 tsp Nutmeg
    ¼ oz (50) Juniper Berries
    1 oz Cherry Bark
    1 oz Wintergreen Leaves (dried)
    1 pack Brewing yeast (not Campaign)
    He also uses Maraschino Cherries & Juice

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  26. Sorry..I posted with notes to myself about DO NOT USE & the cherries...

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  27. Please do not exclude the Sassafras root, it is the KEY ingredient to this recipee.

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  28. Is there a cheaper way to put it into the fermentation process, such as mason jars, there is no brewery shop around me that I can purchase bottles from and shipping them would be quite pricy. I was thinking about putting it into a bottle, putting the grains into the bottle then dumping it into a mason jar or such.

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  29. Kevin, You could try really high quality used glass liquor bottles, usually free from any bar that goes through a lot of liquor. I am going to bottle most of my first batch and the rest will go into those and hopefully not explode.

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  30. My stab at making this into a recipe format, I have not brewed yet but like following a paper recipe so I typed it out from the video. Please edit/delete if you don't think this reflects your method properly.
    Real root beer
    16 quarts water
    1 quart honey
    2-3 Star Anise or pc of licorice
    1 Cinnamon Stick
    ½ tsp Salt
    1 oz Sasparilla Root
    1 oz Sassafras Root
    ½ C Dark Molasses
    6 C Sugar
    1 Vanilla Bean
    ¼ C CHOPPED Rasins
    1/8 tsp Nutmeg, no more
    ¼ oz (50) Juniper Berries Crushed
    1 oz Black Cherry Bark
    1 oz Wintergreen Leaves (dried)
    2-3 Maraschino Cherries & some Juice
    1 pack Coopers Brewing yeast (or red star/fleischmanns)

    1. Measure out all ingredients. In a large Stock pot bring 6

    quarts of water to a boil.

    2. While heating start adding the ingredients:
    Honey
    Star Anise/licorice
    Cinnamon Stick
    Salt
    Sarsparilla Root
    Sassafras Root
    Molasses
    Sugar
    vanilla Bean
    Chopped raisins
    nutmeg
    Juniper Berries
    Cherries and syrup
    Black Cherry Bark

    3. Boil for 1-1/2 hours

    4. Remove from heat and Add Wintergreen Leaves

    5. After steeping wintergreen for awhile Add remaining 10 quarts water to cool and taste test.

    6. Filter as you fill sanitized bottles leaving about 2" head space

    in the bottle. when temps have dropped to 65-90 Add about 7 grains of yeast to each bottle and seal. Shake the snot out of it.

    7. After 3 days start checking carbonation level daily.

    8. Once carbonation level is strong enough to your liking, put in

    the fridge to slow the ferment and force the yeast into dormancy.
    9. Enjoy

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  31. Will it ferment or something if i put the yeast in and leave it in storage for more than 5 days? How long will it remain good once i put it in the fridge?

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  32. Currently collecting all the ingredients... I am very eager to try this. Thanks for all the work you put into this!

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  33. Hi Steven.. I'm in the process of making a root beer extract.. Will you able to provide smaller ratios to your recipe to try out an extract? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete