Root Beer Time

By , April 12, 2012

Once we started making wine again on the homestead these days, it didn’t take long for me to think about other kinds of brewing as well. We don’t drink soft drinks much at all, but we do love root beer and ginger beer. Aly really likes root beer, especially, so when I decided I’d like to make something for her, that was the obvious choice. I decided that I would brew a batch of root beer to be done in time for her to try when she gets home this summer.

Of course, practice makes perfect, so I made a batch to try it out. We had some extract that we’d picked up before moving to the homestead. We made a batch a long time ago, but I don’t remember it much. Time to learn the ins and outs again.

I turned to a book that our brewing neighbor gave us, Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop by Stephen Cresswell (paid link) (check your local, independent bookstore). This slim volume is an excellent blend of American home soft drink brewing history and practical modern advice. Sassafras and sarsaparilla root and bark are the most common among many root beer ingredients, and feature heavily in their recipes. When we next heard that Aly would be visiting a store near her college that has an excellent bulk herb section, I asked her to buy a supply of both. She sent them here, and they’re standing by as I perfect the mechanics of brewing root beer using the extract as a fail-safe.

My brother and I used to make root beer when we were in high school. We had differet goals in mind. David wanted to experiment until we matched the flavor of A&W root beer, while I, ever the purist, wanted my root beer unadulatrated by all the weird extracts Dave insisted on including in the mix.

Ironically, I learn from the guidebook that “real” root beer is a wild mix of different roots and flavors, many of them the very same ones my brother incorporated into our home brew. I owe him an apology.

Making root beer in my early fifties has proven to be far different than it had been in my teens. Back then it seemed like a huge process that took far too long. Now, it seems dead simple, and the batches are ready to drink in no time at all! I assume this is partly the patience and altered view of time that age brings. Mostly, it’s probably just that when one begins making wine, root beer seems a flash in the pan by comparison. It reaches the right age quickly, and is best consumed within five weeks.

As soon as we’d finished the first batch, I wanted to make another one. At first, I thought we should wait, but then I looked at the estimated time. Roughly, 4-6 days from mixing to full carbonation, then 1-2 weeks to “age,” then up to five weeks to drink, so about 8 weeks all told. Two months. That’s when it hit me. Aly might be home in time to taste this most recent batch of root beer! The brief time it takes to make and drink a batch of root beer is all the time we have to wait until Aly comes home for the summer.

That’s a comforting thought. As much as things have changed here on the homestead, none of it has been done without some sort of planning and expectation of Aly’s eventual return. That hoped-for day is drawing near after all this time; the separation is almost over. That seems worth celebrating—perhaps with a glass of homemade root beer.

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