Homemade Root Beer

Great Fermentations (greatfermentations. com) carries everything you need to make and package your root beer. You’ll need a manual bottle capper ($18.99), clear glass bottles ($20.99 for a case of 24), crown caps ($4.99 for 144 caps), and, if you’d like, a few cardboard 6-pack carriers ($.99 each). The shop also sells Neato Beer Labels ($13.99 for a pack of 40), which in- cludes free access to digital templates you can use to customize your bottles.
Great Fermentations (greatfermentations.com) carries everything you need to make and package your root beer. You’ll need a manual bottle capper ($18.99), clear glass bottles ($20.99 for a case of 24), crown caps ($4.99 for 144 caps), and, if you’d like, a few cardboard 6-pack carriers ($.99 each). The shop also sells Neato Beer Labels ($13.99 for a pack of 40), which in- cludes free access to digital templates you can use to customize your bottles. Maura McEvoy

It’s crucial to sanitize all your gear before tackling this project. The bottles and capper, as well as your kitchen tools (mesh sieve, funnel, long-handled spoon, and stockpot) are easiest to sanitize by running through a dishwasher on its “sanitize” setting. To ready the caps, place them in a pot of cold water over high heat; once the water comes to a boil, let cook for 5 minutes. No dishwasher? No problem. Star San ($7.49 for a 4-ounce bottle; greatfermantations.com) is an acid-based, no-rinse sanitizer that can be used on all of the above, including the caps (just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle exactly).

Featured in: Holiday Gifts, By Hand

Equipment

Homemade Root Beer Homemade Root Beer
Unlike mechanically carbonated commercial root beer, this homemade version, which appeared in Saveur’s August/September 2007 issue, gets its fizz from a bit of yeast. This natural fermentation process renders the brew slightly alcoholic (less than three percent), so it’s best gifted to adults only. Stick strictly to the formula: Too much yeast or sugar can cause excessive fermentation, which could crack the bottles.
Yield: makes 22 12-ounce bottles
Time: 5 days

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. dried birch bark*
  • 12 oz. dried sarsaparilla root*
  • 12 oz. dried sassafras root bark*
  • 14 oz. dried licorice root*
  • 1 2-in. piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 4 cups molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 14 tsp. active dry yeast

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, combine the birch bark, sarsaparilla root, sassafras root bark, licorice root, ginger, vanilla bean and seeds, and 4 quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 hours.
  2. Place a fine mesh sieve over a large (at least 21⁄2 gallons) stockpot. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Stir in the molasses and 4 quarts of cold, filtered water, then let cool to 75°F. Sprinkle in yeast and stir to combine; cover and let ferment for 15 minutes.
  3. Stir the mixture once more, then funnel into sanitized bottles, filling to within 2 inches of the top, but no higher. Cap using the bottle capper (follow the manufacturer’s instructions). Leave bottles to ferment in a cool place (65-75°F) for 12 hours, then refrigerate for 5 days to let the flavor develop before gifting.

*Because this recipe calls for steeping and straining the botanicals, coarsely chopped varieties are preferred. Measurements are listed by weight, which is more accurate than volume when dealing with chunky ingredients.