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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Root Beer

By request.
Well, at this point you all know I don't measure except for all of you. Like bread recipes! 80% of the time I go into the kitchen and just start baking, the other 20, I try to keep track because I'm trying something new that I plan to blog. (which is also how I crochet.. *laughs*)

I can make it from scratch, but that's a lot of work, so usually, I use the bottles of extract you can buy any good brewing supply house. Our family favorite is Homebrew Birch Root Beer Extract. What we did when we first started making our own root beers at home was buy 3 or 4 bottles of root beer extract at the local brewing place, and then we mixed it with a bit of simple table sugar into sparkling water to taste it and decide which one we liked best. That one won hands down. Your mileage may vary. While you're there, pick up a sanitizer, a one step sanitizer for bottles doesn't cost much, and you know your reused bottles are really clean. Alternately, you can use a bit of bleach and water, then rinse out really well.
You'll need
1 2 liter empty soda bottle
1 Tbs. root beer extract (comes in 2 oz bottles, one bottle is enough for 3 or 4 batches)
1 c. sweetener of choice (maple sugar, birch syrup, sugar, a simple sugar or mix)- or sweeten to taste. Generally we do a cup of sugar and a quarter cup of maple sugar or birch syrup which are both expensive but so yummy!
2 Tbs vanilla
1/4 teaspoon of yeast, you can use a champagne yeast, also from the brewing supply place for a less yeast flavor, but since we buy yeast for bread in bulk, we just use that. It does make the drink yeastier, but we like the flavor.
Most recipes using extract call for making a lot, but we are a family of 4 that doesn't drink much soda, so we scaled the recipe back a lot. Recipes usually call for something like 6 cups of sugar, 4 gallons of water.. uh huh.. no. Plus it calls for boiling the water and sugar to create a simple syrup. My method isn't as fussy and professional. It's quick and easy, and everyone in my family likes it.
Use a funnel to put the sugar in the bottle, sprinkle in the yeast, then add the wet ingredients. Half fill the bottle with water. We have a filter on our sink so we just use filtered water. Shake it up well to dissolve the sugar and yeast. Fill to the neck and shake it well. Put the bottle some place warm for 24 hours.
This is the scary part. The yeast acts on the sugar and ferments causing the carbonation. The carbonation can burst the bottle, it's never happened for me, but I live in Alaska, so warm is about 70 degrees at best usually, so check it!
You check for "doneness" by pushing the side of the bottle with your thumb. When you first fill the bottle, the plastic will give a bit under your thumb, but after the carbonation occurs, there is more pressure and the bottle will be firm and not give. Pop in the fridge to stop fermentation.
This method *does* create a trace amount of alcohol in the finished drink. Not enough to worry about, but.. full disclosure right?

If you want to know about making it completely from scratch, I really love Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop, it's got a mix of modern recipes and old recipes carefully transcribed, plus a lot about the history of soda making in the US. Good book.

The kids love it made from extract, and I always give E choices when we do a bottle, "Do you want to try maple syrup in it?" "How much vanilla?" and she has a blast drinking soda she helped make and has ever since we started. Of course, I've noticed since we made the fifth of double strength vanilla, she wants vanilla in everything possible. At least she's not trying to grab the bottle to use as perfume like my best friend is!
For diabetics and other people sugar restricted, this method needs the sugar to cause the carbonation, it's the feeding action of the yeast. I'm going to try seeing how much I can reduce the sugar and still get carbonation, but in the mean time, if you want to make your own root beer, I recommend using the tasting method we used to test the extracts.
Get some sparkling water, and add in splenda or whatever you choose, plus the other flavorings and just make soda in the amounts you'll drink immediately. It might help to keep a mix of splenda/extract/vanilla in the fridge, and just spoon what you want in each glass. A touch of maple extract will give you the maple flavor.
Also, my husband used to be a soda junkie, he gave it up, but he's found a teaspoon of root beer extract in a glass of sparkling water that's icy cold is just fine for him. He likes the flavor.

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