Homebrew Root Beer! (2024)

Introduction: Homebrew Root Beer!

About: We’re working on a “quick” book, in the style of our family ring-bound cookbooks, where all the recipes are 45 minutes or less. I’m currently working on the pizza and sandwiches chapter. It’s a lot of cheese t… More About Dan Zuccarello »

Growing up, my dad was always brewing something. Most of the time his brew pot was full of brown ale or chocolate stout, but occasionally he would pull the step stool up to the counter and we would brew a batch of homemade root beer together. He kept the recipe short and simple (much like my attention span at the time) by working with a bottle of root beer extract and a basic brewing method combine the proper proportions of water, sugar, extract and yeast; bottle; and ferment. This was a far cry from many of his beer recipes, which took the better part of a day to make, but the resulting root beer did the trick for my youthful palate it was my absolute favorite drink.

Now, I wouldn't call myself a root beer fanatic by any means I certainly don’t drink as much of it as I used to but when I have a craving for a glass, I almost always go for the small-batch brands, which are packed with a lot more spice and rich flavor than those made by the larger cola companies. Maybe that’s why, when I finally tasted some of my own root beer, I was disappointed with its relatively boring flavor.

In all honesty, I really shouldn't have expected much from my root beer in the first place. After all, I had been relying on a bottle of grocery store extract for all of the flavor. Curious to see how to go about producing a respectable bottle of homemade root beer, I started researching various recipes. I figured it would be a challenge, but I quickly realized that while my initial recipe was almost effortless, making a batch from scratch didn't require that much effort either. It was time to get out the brew pot again.

Step 1: Establish Roots

In the days before you could buy bottled root beer extract in just about any grocery store in America, the typical root beer recipe started by steeping sassafras root the primary source for the flavor that we recognize in root beer in hot water, then adding sugar and yeast, and allowing the mixture to ferment in bottles. To further enhance the flavor of the beer, additional root barks and twigs such as sarsaparilla, burdock, and birch were also added. While foraging in the woods for these ingredients was once standard practice and still not uncommon even today, I was happy to discover that I could instead find them neatly packaged and ready to use at my local home brew store.

Step 2: Get Aromatic

Over time other aromatics were added to the brew pot to enhance the flavor of the root beer. Searching through various sources, it was not uncommon to find recipes calling for ingredients like licorice, vanilla, mint, ginger, citrus zest, cinnamon and the like. For my recipe I wanted to incorporate some of the traditional roots with a few interesting aromatics without creating a laundry list of ingredients that was a hassle to gather.

Step 3: Water It

I decided to base my recipe off of 1 gallon of water, which was enough to keep my refrigerator stocked for a while and could be easily handled in a small kitchen I’d leave the multi-gallon batches to the professionals. I preferred to use filtered water because my tap water at home was pretty metallic tasting.

Step 4: Steep It

With 2 quarts of water in my saucepan, I then added my roots I chose a combination of sassafras and sarsaparilla along with some spearmint, star anise, ginger, and cinnamon for spice, and a vanilla bean for fragrance. After bringing the mixture to a boil, I covered the pot and allowed everything to steep for about 2 hours.

Step 5: Sanitize It

With the root beer mixture off to the side, it was now time to start sanitizing my bottles and equipment. While homemade beverages are a highly unlikely source of food poisoning, any bacteria that do make it into a batch of homemade root beer can cause sour off-tastes and ruin the batch. For some, like my dad whose is a chemist by trade, the brewing area can imitate laboratory settings; for others, simply dunking their equipment in soapy water is sufficient. I tried to aim for the middle of the road. I washed all of my equipment in hot soapy water and then did my best to sanitize everything as well most importantly the bottles. I found that a simple 2-minute soak in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach for every gallon of hot water) did the trick. Make sure to drain everything well, for at least 30 minutes.

Step 6: Strain It

After 2 hours of steeping, the root beer mixture was ready to strain. At this point the liquid was more of a concentrate so I added the remaining 2 quarts of water to dilute the mixture along with the sugar. I could have started with all of the water in the beginning, but I found that adding half of the water at this stage helped to cool down the mixture quicker, which was necessary before adding the yeast. Granulated sugar would have worked just fine, but I tested several versions of this recipe with different types of sweeteners and found a combination of 1½ cups brown sugar and ½ cup molasses was best. The darker color of these two ingredients also helped to achieve the signature look for the root beer.

Step 7: Cool It

Before adding the yeast, I cooled the root beer mixture further to around 75 degrees. If the mixture was too hot, there was a chance that the yeast would die. Most recipes I found recommended ale yeast because it did not impart any flavors, though I also read recipes that called for regular active dry yeast. Since I was already at the home brew store to pick up my sassafras and sarsaparilla, grabbing some ale yeast was convenient and what I used in my recipe, though I am sure traditional yeast would have worked as well. Once I added the yeast, I allowed 15 minutes for proofing before I began bottling.

Step 8: Bottle It

There are several tools out there for bottling batches of home-brewed beverages. However, I found that for a small batch like this, the easiest way to bottle was with a funnel and a ladle. I simply lined the bottles up, placed the funnel on top of the bottles, and ladled in the root beer mixture. I preferred 22-ounce glass bottles, though 1-litre plastic soda bottles and smaller glass bottles would work as well. To avoid any exploding bottles, I filled the bottles to within 2 inches of the top, leaving adequate room as pressure built up in the bottles.

Step 9: Cap It

Depending on the types of bottles used, the capping procedure can change. For my glass bottles, I placed a metal cap on top of each bottle and secured it with a bottle capper. Once capped, the bottles needed to sit at room temperature (ideally 62 to 77 degrees) so that the yeast could begin to eat the sugars and carbonate the root beer. The carbonation time depends on the type of yeast used and the temperature of the room, though in general it takes between 36 and 72 hours. I found that 48 hours was an appropriate amount of time for my root beer, which was sitting in a 75-degree room. To check carbonation, I just opened a bottle and poured a glass.

Step 10: Chill It

Once the carbonation was right, I placed all the bottles into the refrigerator and waited a couple days for the flavors to meld. Refrigerating the bottles also caused the yeast to go dormant, which restricted the production of carbon dioxide even with the 2-inch gap I provided, too much carbonation would still cause bottles to blow.

Step 11: Fizz It!

Wan't to make it fizz? Sodastream is a great carbonating machine.

Step 12: Drink It

The end result was a huge success. The root beer was full of unique spice and rich flavor—everything I was looking for. Most recipes I found recommend drinking the root beer within 5 weeks for the best results, but my first batch only lasted 5 days. Cheers!

Homebrew Root Beer! (4)

Participated in the
Manly Crafts Contest

Homebrew Root Beer! (2024)


Can you homebrew root beer? ›

Brewing root beer from extract is very quick and root beer extract can be found in most homebrew shops. Brewing a root beer from scratch takes more time and some effort — especially in finding some of the less common ingredients if there isn't a well-stocked natural foods store nearby.

Why is root beer illegal? ›

Since safrole, a key component of sassafras, was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1960 due to its carcinogenicity, most commercial root beers have been flavored using artificial sassafras flavoring, but a few (e.g. Hansen's) use a safrole-free sassafras extract.

How much alcohol is in homemade root beer? ›

Home-brewed root beer has a slight alcoholic content (around 1%). If chocolate mint is unavailable to you, substitute spearmint. Be sure to sanitize the plastic bottles before use.

What is the best root beer extract for homemade root beer? ›

Best Extract for Homemade Root Beer

I won't dissuade you from using widely-recognized brands out there, but I will tell you that my favorite extracts are Watkins root beer extract or Zatarains root beer extract. Both of these extracts are extremely delicious and have an intense but well-balanced root beer flavor.

Is sassafras the same as sarsaparilla? ›

Both beverages are named after their distinct differences in ingredients when they were first made. Sarsaparilla was made from the Sarsaparilla vine, while Root Beer, roots of the sassafras tree. These days, Root Beer recipes do not include sassafras as the plant has been found to cause serious health issues.

What is the best yeast for homemade root beer? ›

Avoid baking yeast as well, despite some recipes calling for it. It imparts a yeasty flavor and is slower to work. Use a neutral dry ale yeast instead. Your root beer should be drinkable for about five weeks.

Why is sassafras illegal? ›

Well, sassafras and sarsaparilla both contain safrole, a compound recently banned by the FDA due to its carcinogenic effects. Safrole was found to contribute to liver cancer in rats when given in high doses, and thus it and sassafras or sarsaparilla-containing products were banned.

Why is root beer bad for you? ›

You would not like to consume it because it can cause weight gain and lead to chronic conditions such as diabetes. The sugar content can erode your teeth enamel, weaken your teeth, and cause tooth decay. Caffeine: The caffeine present in caffeinated root beer can make it hard for you to sleep at night.

Is sassafras toxic? ›

The safrole in sassafras root bark and oil can cause cancer and liver damage. Consuming just 5 mL of sassafras oil can kill an adult. Sassafras can cause sweating and hot flashes. High amounts can cause vomiting, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and other severe side effects.

What is the secret ingredient in root beer? ›

What Is Root Beer—And What Is It Made Of? The main ingredients in root beer are pretty much the same as any other soda: water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, and flavoring, both natural and artificial. However, root beer's unique flavor comes from sassafras, a tree root native to the United States.

Is root beer and vodka a thing? ›

A vodka and root beer combination, topped with whipped cream and garnished with a cherry.

Does alcoholic root beer exist? ›

In recent years, one of the more popular flavors of root beer is hard root beer, which contains alcohol. In 2013, Sprecher released its own version of hard root beer.

What two flavors make root beer? ›

The Origins of Root Beer

But as the two ingredients most closely associated with modern root beer are North American sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and South American sarsaparilla (Smilax sp.), root beer is genuinely made up of uniquely American flavors.

How long does homemade root beer last? ›

How long will my Root Beer last? Your homemade Root Beer Syrup can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container for 6 weeks. If you carbonate bottles in 2L bottles, we advise drinking them within 1 week.

Does McCormick make root beer extract? ›

Customers like the taste, quality and ease of preparation of the drink flavored extract. For example, they mention it makes a very good root beer, it's easy to use and convenient.

Is there an alcoholic version of root beer? ›

In recent years, one of the more popular flavors of root beer is hard root beer, which contains alcohol. In 2013, Sprecher released its own version of hard root beer.

Is there such a thing as hard root beer? ›

The first hard root beer was produced nationally only a few years ago. Sprecher Brewing Co., of Glendale, Wis., introduced hard root beer to the market and sparked the interest of other, larger brewing companies, and brands like Not Your Father's were created.

Can you use root beer as a mixer? ›

Root beer is an amazing mixer!” says Juyoung Kang, the lead bartender of The Dorsey at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. She praises the “great baking spice notes” that echo and enhance the flavors imparted by whiskey barrels.


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