After two tries at making old-fashioned root beer with herbs, I had to admit to some experiment fatigue. I just wanted to have some success to guzzle down with abandon on a hot day. If only I could get some success, I would promise to go back to making it from scratch! I sure have been learning a lot, and I've gotten a much greater respect for brew masters of old! How did they persevere?
The first experiment yielded a good flavor but lousy color. The second experiment yielded great color but lousy flavor. So I decided to cave and try a less nostalgic experiment to see if it were at all possible to come anywhere close to both good flavor and good color.
I got ingredients and a recipe from our local home-brew shop. The recipe used an extract, sugar, and champagne yeast, so there would still be an element of risk. I wanted my root beer to have a small fizz and a head of foam, and to achieve that I need to ferment it. The fizz in this recipe was not going to be from alcohol. It was going to be from carbon dioxide.
Here's what I did:
For 1 gallon of root beer I used ...
• 1/8 teaspoon champagne yeast
• 1 tablespoon root beer extract (I used Homebrew Root Beer Extract from Rainbow Flavors in Osage Beach, Missouri)
• 2 to 2-1/4 cups white sugar
• enough filtered water to make 1 gallon
Note: filtered water is important in making fermented drinks. Water that has fluoride or chlorine in it is going to interfere with the fermentation.
1. Dissolve 1/8 teaspoon of champagne yeast in a cup of warm water (98 degrees feels just slightly warmer than your finger; not hot, not cold. Our core body temperature is around 98.6, but our skin temperature is less.) Let the mixture stand 5 minutes or longer to dissolve, and stir thoroughly with a non-reactive spoon like wood or stainless steel. Store whatever yeast you have not used in the fridge.
2. Shake the extract bottle to mix. Combine 1 tablespoon of extract and 2-1/4 cups of sugar with enough warm filtered water to dissolve the sugar (also store whatever you have not used in the fridge). After dissolving, I tasted it and I think it was too sweet, so I'd go with 2 cups next time.
3. Add the dissolved yeast to the sugar/extract mixture. I used a gallon-sized pitcher that had been sterilized. Now, add warm, filtered water to make one gallon. You can taste it at this time. Warning: don't double dip the spoon or you'll introduce germ laden saliva. At this time you can add more sugar if you like it really sweet. Take care how much you add, of course, as it can't be taken out if you add too much.
4. Fill sterilized bottles and leave at least 2 inches of air space at the top. I used my grolsch style bottles with the rubber and metal clip top. Filling it all the way will not leave any room for the carbon dioxide that will build up. You could have a popped bottle. I saw it happen when my dad made his own beer. Also, bottles need to be sealed or the brew will be flat or sour from bacteria that might get in.
5. Turn the bottles gently to check on their side to check for leaks. If there are no leaks, set the bottles somewhere where they are at room temperature for 3 or 4 days. Then, put them somewhere cooler, like a basement or apartment fridge, set on 50 degrees. I'm told if you can age it at least 2 weeks then the flavor will be better, but I'm going to check mine in 3 days because I'm impatient. Also, as natural carbonation takes place a little yeast deposit will form on the bottom, so be careful when pouring it to avoid getting this in the glass. It can give the drink an "off" flavor. Refrigerate after opening.
After 3 days, this is what I got. Lots of effervescence and pretty decent flavor. It didn't taste like A&W root beer so my husband was not completely won over, but it was cold and satisfying. We'd just been out planting our pomegranate trees and I was hot! It tasted good to me! There was a slight yeasty flavor, but it was the most like classic-root-beer taste of all my experiments. Now, with this success under my belt, I am all primed to try the ingredients of the first experiment with the ginger bug of the second experiment as my fermenting agent. Bottoms up!