Root beer is a uniquely American drink, distinguished by its sweet, herbal notes, which have been a part of American tradition since the colonial era. Originally, this beverage was crafted by fermenting a mixture of sassafras bark, sarsaparilla root, and various other herbs with sugar and yeast, giving rise to a naturally carbonated, probiotic-rich drink. This traditional method shares similarities with other fermented drinks like kvass and tepache. However, with the dawn of the 20th century, many started favoring artificial flavors over traditional herbal concoctions.
Essentials for Making Old-Fashioned Homemade Root Beer
Herbs for Homemade Root Beer
Making root beer from scratch means getting intimate with nature. While many prefer the convenience of using artificially flavored extracts, there’s an unmatched joy in brewing root beer using genuine herbs. Imagine simmering a mix of roots, bark, and spices, sweetening it just right, and then letting nature do its magic.
- Sassafras: This is the heart of root beer. It imparts a unique, minty flavor. Traditionally, it was also believed to cleanse the blood.
- Sarsaparilla: Renowned for its beneficial effects on the kidneys and skin.
- Ginger Root: Adds a zesty punch. It’s also known to boost cardiovascular health and alleviate nausea.
- Licorice: An underlying sweet, anise-like flavor. It’s a supporter of adrenal health and addresses hormonal imbalances.
- Dandelion Root: A hint of bitterness for balance and a promoter of liver health.
Though simple, brewing root beer requires some attention to detail:
- Always begin with cold water. Herbs release their flavors better this way.
- Add sassafras towards the end to preserve its aroma.
- Experiment with sweeteners like maple syrup or honey. Ensure they have calories for fermentation.
- Add the starter only when the decoction has cooled.
- Use flip-top bottles for capturing the fizz.
- Remember, the fermentation speed depends on your kitchen’s temperature.
Old-Fashioned Homemade Root Beer Recipe
You begin with an herbal decoction, add your sweetener and starter culture, and then bottle it up for fermentation. As the microbes feast on the sweetener, you get a bubbling, fizzy beverage that’s also a probiotic powerhouse.
For a traditional taste, the right ingredients and procedure matter. Here’s the recipe that brings the old-world charm of root beer to your kitchen:
|Cook Time||45 minutes|
|Total Time||2 days 45 minutes|
- 10 cups water
- 3 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
- 1 tablespoon ginger root
- 1 tablespoon licorice root
- 2 teaspoons dandelion root
- 2 teaspoons birch bark
- 1-star anise pods
- ¼ cup sassafras root bark
- ¾ cup unrefined cane sugar
- ½ cup ginger bug (strained)
- Flip-top bottles
- Fill a stock pot with water, then add sarsaparilla, ginger, licorice, dandelion, birch, and star anise. Bring to a boil, simmer for 30 minutes, and add sassafras bark for another 15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and dissolve the sugar. Let it cool for about 2 hours.
- Strain and discard the herbs. Stir in the gingerbug and pour into bottles.
- Let it ferment at room temperature for around 2 days. Finally, refrigerate for 3 days for the bubbles to set. Enjoy your root beer cold!
Brewing your own traditional root beer is not just about creating a beverage, but also about rekindling an age-old connection with nature and tradition. With the right herbs and a touch of patience, you can relive a taste that has been cherished for centuries. So, the next time you sip on your homemade root beer, remember the history and craft that goes into each bubbly gulp. It’s not just a drink; it’s an experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the secret ingredient in root beer?
For the budding root beer brewer, sassafras might seem elusive. Especially if you’re drawing inspiration from the Amish communities of Pennsylvania, who treasure homemade root beer in summer. Sassafras, known by diverse names such as Ague tree, cinnamon wood, and saxifrax, serves many purposes. Historically, it fragranced soaps and flavored toothpastes. The plant’s root, for generations, has been a therapeutic remedy for ailments ranging from infections to bronchitis. Additionally, sassafras oil, when applied topically, soothes arthritis and offers relief from bug bites.
2. Does original root beer have alcohol?
Root beer, in its original form, doesn’t contain alcohol. It’s also devoid of caffeine and gluten. However, the beverage industry thrives on variation. Consequently, you’ll encounter versions like the caffeinated ‘Rev’d Up Root Beer’ or even ones infused with alcohol. A testament to this trend is the hard root beer introduced by Sprecher in 2013.
3. Why is it called root beer?
The moniker “Root Beer” owes its origin to Charles Elmer Hires. In 1875, he launched the first commercial root beer brand, Hires Root Beer. While “Root Tea” was his initial choice, he opted for “Root Beer” to appeal to the Pennsylvanian coal miners. Being a non-alcoholic drinker, Hires showcased root beer as a refreshing alternative to alcoholic beverages.