Learn How to Make Root Beer
Growing up in Minnesota, summers were long, hot, and humid. Nothing tasted better at the end of the day than a nice cold glass of root beer – or even better, a root beer float. We always got Hires, one of the local brands that is hard to find in other states. It tasted more natural than most of the other brands. As a result, this year I decided to come up with something similar, only homemade.
Roots for Root Beer
First of all, many types of roots can make root beer. In years past, pipsissewa, a tiny plant that grows in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains, was the most popular root. Later, sassafras roots were popular until concerns over cancer-causing agents caused the FDA to ban it. Unfortunately, most modern root beer producers replace traditional roots with lab-derived extracts. But fret not craft beverage enthusiasts, there are many roots that still deliver great flavor with safe results:
- Dandelion Root
- Burdock Root
- Yellow Dock Root
- Spikenard Root
- Pipsissewa Root
- Licorice Root
Furthermore, you can use the following for added flavor:
- Star Anise
- Anise Seed
- Cinnamon Sticks
- Wintergreen Leaves
- Sweet Birch Twigs
At one point or another all of these have been used to make root beer. Noteworthy is the fact that sweet birch twigs and wintergreen leaves are what gives Birch Beer its distinctive taste. Use sparingly unless you want a more minty flavor.
Homemade Root Beer
(Yields about 3 gallons)
- 2 oz. dried yellow dock root (find it here)
- 2 oz. dried burdock root (find it here)
- 1 oz. dried spikenard root (find it here)
- 1 oz. dried hops flowers (find it here)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 star anise
- ½ oz. dried wintergreen leaves, or ½ oz. dried sweet birch twigs (find wintergreen here)
- 2 gallons distilled water
- 2 cups organic cane sugar (or 1 cup cane sugar and equivalent to 1 cup sugar substitute like stevia or monk fruit)
- 1 cup molasses (find organic unsulphured molasses here or learn to make your own molasses)
- 3 grams ale yeast, optional (find it here or at a local brewing supply store)
- bottles – (find them here or at a local brewing supply store)
- Begin by bringing the water to a boil. Next, take all of the roots and tie them into cheesecloth. Drop the bundle into the water, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. (Alternatively, you can simmer loose roots in the water and then strain it.)
- Remove the bundle (or strain loose herbs) and add the sugar and molasses. (If using a sugar substitute, don’t add it yet.) Stir well.
- Allow to sit for 15 minutes to be sure all of the sugar is dissolved. Cool and add the yeast. Finally, let it sit a few minutes and add sugar substitute if using one.
- Bottle and let sit for a few days before enjoying.
Does Sugar Have to Be Used?
If you choose to use yeast, it must have sugar to produce carbonation. Most of the sugar is used by the yeast and should not be present in the final brew. Therefore, if you choose to use a sugar substitute, you must add carbonation with carbon dioxide (CO2). Your local home brew store can tell you how it works, or you can get a soda making machine. These machines allow you to add CO2 to nearly any liquid and are perfectly safe. The canisters are refillable and easily obtained at many stores.
When I use sugar in my brew, I use raw cane sugar or demerara – the least processed of the sugars. Some recipes require corn sugar (not corn syrup), but most corn products are likely derived from GMO corn. Use what you feel comfortable with.
If the sugar flavor is too sweet, you can cut it with a bit of citric acid. A tablespoon or so in this size batch should be enough. Be sure to wait until the yeast has worked or you may inhibit the carbonation. Hence, you need to wait to add the sugar substitute. Otherwise it will probably cause the yeast to not work.
Many recipes call for champagne yeast. I’ve tried that, but have found that ale yeast works better. For best results, stay with the recommended amount. Too much could cause bottles to burst.
A Few Notes About Safety
- Always be sure your equipment is clean and sanitized. Dirty equipment can lead to bacteria or mold. Glass bottles can be cleaned, sanitized, and reused, but lids should not be. New lids are cheap and will reduce the chance of a cap blowing off.
- Weighing ingredients is more accurate than measuring by volume.
- Clean up spills right away.
- Open the bottles over a sink due to the possibility of foaming.
- Know where your herbs come from. Don’t use any that have been taken from areas that may have been sprayed.
- And lastly, have fun! You can add quirky ingredients like vanilla, cherry bark, fruit juice, or other flavors. Try a few and make notes. You might just come up with the next best thing.
Have you ever made root beer at home? If so, tell us about your experience!