Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ginger Beer and Root Beer

Here at El Rancho Harpo, especially since I sobered up, we take things like our soda fountain seriously. There's nothing to match a homebrewed ginger or root beer. If you want a taste of heaven try a root beer float when both the ice cream and the root beer are home made.

You can buy the bottles at any respectable homebrewing supplier. Which is also the best place to find things like hops, sarsaparilla, and sassafras root. I like the spring top bottles, but the thing to remember is to always make certain that the rubber seals are new and pliable. We don't want explosions. If you want to invest in a capper and some blanks that will work fine too, as long as you go for thick, brown or green glass to prevent light damage.

Because the carbonation here is achieved by the action of yeast there will be very trace amounts of alcohol. Because the fermentation is stopped quickly the alcohol content will be well below 0.005% which by any definition is a "soft" drink.

These are both tried and true recipes which are fairly easy.


1 gallon water
10 ounces peeled fresh ginger cut into thin medallions
2 cups sugar (I often use the vanilla sugar I keep in the pantry)
2 lemons, washed well and sliced about 1/4"
1/2 teaspoon fresh brewer's yeast

Put the ginger, the sugar, and the water on a high flame in a stout pot. Bring to a boil and boil, covered, for about an hour. Uncover, and add in the lemons, boil uncovered for another 15 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature. Once it is below 85° you can add in the yeast. Allow the yeast to work overnight. I cover during this stage loosely with a cheesecloth. Skim off the yeast scum and strain through a fine mesh screen into the sterilized bottles. Cap tightly and let the bottles sit for at least 12 hours to carbonate further, then refrigerate. Once refrigerated they will keep up to two months. This makes about 12 Grolsch Lager sized bottles.


2 gallons of water
3 tablespoons ground sarsaparilla
1 tablespoon ground sassafrass root
1 heaping tablespoon hops
1 1/2 cups honey (desert sage is what i prefer for the smokiness)
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon wintergreen extract
1/4 teaspoon fresh brewer's yeast

Put the sarsaparilla, sassafrass, hops, and coriander into a slow cook crock pot with enough water to cover and bring to a boil on high setting. Reduce to the lower setting and simmer, covered, for 12 hours. You might need to add in some water from time to time to keep all the ingredients wet. This is a great step for overnight.

Next morning turn off the slow cooker so that the ingredients can all cool to room temperature, proof the yeast in 2/3 cup of warm water. Boil the 2 gallons of water in a large non-reactive pot for ten minutes and allow to cool to room temperature. Strain the stuff from the slow cooker through a fine mesh strainer so that the liquid is joined with the 2 gallons of boiled water. Stir in the honey, the wintergreen extract and the yeast slurry and mix well. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minimum of 12 hours. Skim off the yeast scum and strain into the sterilized bottles. Cap tightly and refrigerate. This makes about 24 full sized bottles. They will last up to two months if refrigerated, but as soon as the kids figure out how good it is two months will not be in the cards.

These are great winter projects for kids stuck inside by inclement weather.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have access to birch or not, but at least for the artificially flavored stuff you find in the Philadelphia area, birch beer has a similar flavor to root beer, but the flavor's not quite as heavy.

- oddjob

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and for anyone reading this who happens to live in northeastern North America (including as far south as DC, maybe a bit further) you may well live in an area where you could grow your own wintergreen. The berries are the edible part and have that distinct "wintergreen" flavor. The bush is a very low grower, a "ground cover" really, that doesn't get more than 6" or 8" high. It will grow in some shade, but if I recall correctly prefers a bit of sun as long as it gets the water it requires.

You may have to compete with birds for the ripe berries. I don't really know for sure about that.

(You may also, possibly, be able to make a tea out of the leaves, but I would have to consult a dependable reference myself before I did that.)

- oddjob

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB, you forgot to include the honey in the list of ingredients, so I have no idea how much you use, or if you have a preference as to which honey you use.

- oddjob

4:17 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

right again, and merci beaucoup for that oddjob. i'm fixing as we speak. . .

clover honey or any other agricultural byproduct stuff will do just fine although i have a local boy's fondness for my desert sage honey. it has a distinct smokey tinge that i find delightful.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Sarsaparilla root beer of your own making. . .my but you do live high on the hog!

I love your recipes, though it's a bit like reading Martha Stewart, in that I shall never be the home maven that she is. I get a vicarious thrill, however.

9:49 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i doubt i'd ever get confused with martha stewart. . .too grouchy for t.v. my whole love affair with cooking was born while i was in jr. high, my mother was in grad school, while holding down a full-time teaching position, my baby sister was still in diapers and i had the temerity to complain about the canned, and pre-prepared nature of our cuisine. i turned, just in time to duck the big "lady's home companion" cook book that was flying at my head while my mother shouted "You can read, can't You?"

even in the boonies of vietnam i was notorious for being able to dig around my little pouch of various spices and seasonings and become able to turn our C and K's into something more palatable. (which doesn't even begin to talk about what a hunter/gatherer's eye can find in that lush terrain)

when i sobered up and became a single parent i also needed ways to convince three very shaken, and mistrustful children that things had indeed changed. first, i started staying home. i quit taking long tours and started doing jingle work within easy driving distance, later recording right at the house. after they started getting used to the idea of me hanging around they began to notice things like how i would meet the bus from school in the afternoons and when they walked in the front door there was a house that smelled of fresh baked breads and pies, and other food that said "home."

i've also tried, since moving back to arizona, to become as close to self-sufficient as i can. this summer's crop got neglected because i had over two months of away from home stuff that required my attention. but usually, my vegetables would have been grown right here. i do trading with nieghbors who grow or raise their own backyard foodstuff. the guy next door has goats, he gives me goat milk, i give back yoghurt. when another neighbor's full acre of heirloom beefsteak tomatoes came in i was right there with them, making spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, marinara, and puree's all to go into the canning line. i got plenty for my own pantry from that. they also know if they give me stuff from their fruit trees and bushes there will be pies, preserves, jams and jellies in the return flow.

all in all, it's a good way to live.

8:31 AM  
Anonymous stephen t said...

My sweetie and I are hooked on the Reed's ginger beer (the extra ginger has a great kick). I'm curious - how does the home-made compare?

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Constant Comment said...

oddjob: once again you and I are in synch! We are both native Pennsylvanians wbo love our birch beer. I never used to be able to find it around Chicago, but in recent years I found some health food stores that carry it.


10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

once again you and I are in synch!

What a surprise ... not! :)

Actually, I love both of them equally. That set of flavors has always been my favorite for soft drinks. Ginger ale is about my least favorite (oh, except for Fresca - grapefruit soda - nasty, nasty idea!)

- oddjob

11:12 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i've had reed's and it isn't bad, but there is a presence both immediate and lasting with the homemade that they just aren't able to achieve. the ginger bite is more pronounced, and the warming sensation goes all way down with a decent residual radiation.

i've had birch beer. and they sell the extract at the place where i get my other supplies. i've just never tried it. there's something about the home brewing. it takes something commonplace like soda pop and turns it into an event. i've had guests who drink turn down after dinner brandy or port in favor of a root beer float like the one they see me fix for myself.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not surprised by that at all. Someone with a discriminating palate realizes brandy is brandy and port is port (even when they're good), but homemade by someone who knows what they're doing is something both rare and special!

- oddjob

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

Yes, M.B., I do believe barter is a fine coin of exchange. To each, according to his need, from each, according to his ability.

It is a lovely idea, and would be practicable were people not so greedy.

4:49 PM  

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