My home brewed root beer turned out delicious. I highly recommend it if you can come by the ingredients. It does have a taste reminiscent of root beer soda, but you wouldn’t confuse the two. Earthier, stronger tasting but less sweet, and the fermentation adds its own flavor in there.
All the ingredients I found at various health food stores, except the birch bark, which I just gathered myself. A fine substitute for birch bark would be wintergreen leaves, which give the same flavor.
So in a pot on the stove go:
- 1/4 ounce each of sassafras bark, birch bark, sarsaparilla root
- 1/8 ounce licorice root
- grated ginger root, small 1″ piece
- 1 vanilla bean, split open to release the seeds
- 2 quarts water
Bring this up just to a boil, then turn off the heat and let it sit covered for 2 hours.
Then strain out all the solids, and stir in:
- 2 more quarts water
- 2 cups molasses
- 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
Let it sit 15 minutes or so, giving the yeast time to start its work and mix in evenly, then you can bottle it. I didn’t do anything fancy for the bottling, and just used some canning jars. Just make sure to leave a couple inches of space at the top of the bottles to keep the pressure from getting too high. Seal the bottles and let them sit at room temperature for about 12 hours. Then refrigerate them for 2-5 days. The more time it has the more fizzy, less sweet, and more fermenty tasting it will be. With longer times it even becomes slightly alcoholic. I tried one after 2 days and it was good, but still pretty flat. 4 or 5 days was perfect in my case.
Good on its own, and even better with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Just a note about the sassafras bark. There are warnings not to use sassafras because it is carcinogenic, and it’s no longer used in commercial root beer for that reason. But from a few sources I’ve heard it’s really only the extracted oils that are a problem, unless you were using a large quantity of the bark. It could probably be left out and substituted with a bit more of the other ingredients, but I didn’t think the 1/4 ounce of it was anything to worry about. I left it in.
This recipe is part of the Pennywise Platter hosted over at www.thenourishinggourmet.com.
Where do you get the different barks?
It just takes some hunting around at health food stores. Some of the bigger chains like Whole Foods have them sometimes, but I usually have more luck at the smaller ones. And if they don’t have what you’re looking for they might be happy to order some in for you, at least the health food store where I grew up always would. I’m sure it could all be ordered online as well, but might be hard to get in such small quantities.
If you meant here in Vancouver specifically, there is a little store on Commercial Drive that has a bulk section with everything except the birch bark, which I’ve never seen for sale anywhere. I wish I could remember what it’s called, but it’s on the east side of the street, around… 3rd ave or so if I remember right.
If gathering birch bark yourself make sure to just take thin vertical strips, so as not to kill the tree, although even this can be dangerous for it.
Mountain Rose Herbs has an online store you can buy all the herbs and barks you need and they ship from Oregon. I have found their prices to be waaaay lower than here in Vancouver, even when you add the shipping cost to the order.
Sweet Cheribum is the name of the store on the Drive. It’s at Napier and Commercial and they have a good bulk herb section but may not have all the ingredients.
i made this for the first time last week. WOW! what a treat i have not tasted anything quite like it.
for bottling i used some Grolsch beer bottles (the ones with the resealable wire tops) which add a celebratory feel to opening them (over the sink!) and sharing a bottle with friends. best after one week in the fridge i found.
Nice! Great tip for the bottles as well. I would love to see photos!
i love root beer!