Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ginger Ale #5

I saw this lovely fresh ginger at the farmer's market and decided it deserved a batch of ginger beer. I basically used the successful recipe I've been using, with slight changes, like leaving out the pine bark, and basically guessing at the amount of ginger, since my old roommate took her fancy digital scale to Fairfax. To make sure the yeast, which I'd opened for my root flavor experiment, and which hadn't been refrigerated for a couple weeks before that, was viable, I got it going with a bit of the wort as soon as that started boiling. Both the champagne and ale yeasts I had in the fridge bubbled up fine, so I went with the ale.

Wort, boiled 40 minutes:
1 2/3 cup sugar
about 1/2 cup grated ginger
1/4 tsp cardamom seeds
2 Tbsp juniper berries
1/4 cup yarrow flowers
zest of 1 small lemon (a generous tsp)
1/2 gal water

1/2 gal water
1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp Safale S-04 yeast, pitched when the combined ingredients got to 80 degrees.

The weather has been unseasonably warm (for San Francisco), so this fermented 3 days at somewhere between 75 and 85 degrees. It came out as lovely as any earlier batch and nicely carbonated. It's gingery but doesn't have a lot of bite. The juniper, yarrow, and lemon are pretty much perfectly balanced. Not sure whether the cardamom is showing up. Ginger seems to be a fickle thing, so I guess I need to calibrate my taste buds to the subtleties of raw ginger to account for its variability. Or just enjoy wherever the recipe leads.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Flavor experiment

Last weekend, I set up a little experiment to better understand what some of the individual roots I have taste like. I steeped 8 different teas for around an hour and mixed them with sugar water with yeast so I could make a different flavor in each bottle:

1 tsp of single roots in 4 fl. oz. of water
1 cup sugar to 40 fl. oz. of water
1/8 tsp Safale S-04 yeast

I also did a bottle with Pappy's Sassafras Tea and one with no flavor. Unfortunately, the yeast didn't really take off in most of the bottles. The yeast had spent a few weeks lost and unrefrigerated, but that doesn't explain why some bottles carbonated fine. Anyway, after 5 days fermenting and a couple days in the fridge, I had to taste the results.

What I learned will definitely affect future batches. Other than the classic sassafras and sarsaparilla, the flavors were mild to subtle. If I want these other flavors, I think I need to use more. At the same time, I'm not sure some of the flavors help much, so I'll probably cut back to a simpler recipe and think more about balance.

It's rather difficult to describe the flavors, but here are my notes:

  • Sassafras had a strong, up front, very aromatic flavor. 1 tsp for a serving was around the right amount.
  • Sarsaparilla was super aromatic. Nutty, sweet, and vanilla. My roommate found it "cloying." I like it, but thinking less might be less overwhelming, I mixed it with the sassafras at different ratios and it seemed the best balanced around 1 part sarsaparilla to 3 parts sassafras.
  • Pappy's Sassafras Tea concentrate must have some other flavors besides sassafras--it was nicely balanced and wintergreen flavored. It would be fine with nothing else as a simple recipe.
  • Cherry bark had a very nice, subtle woody flavor. I could probably use more of this.
  • Yellow dock had a green, grassy flavor. Sort of unusual, but I like it
  • Licorice was extra sweet, as expected, with a lingering sweet aftertaste. 
  • Birch bark was a bit sweet but also acidic with hints of vanilla. Not really wintergreen. I'd be curious to try some other source to find that element.
  • Burdock was not particularly bitter and was earthy and green. This bottle got super-carbonated.
  • Dandelion root didn't have much flavor beyond the carbonation, yeast, and hint of alcohol. I should have tried the toasted rather than raw root.
Next step is perhaps to try equal parts sassafras, cherry bark, and yellow dock, with a smaller amount sarsaparilla.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Root beer #8

Somehow I've neglected my root beer hobby for a couple of years. I finally dusted of my bottles and started a new batch. My jars of roots don't seem to have deteriorated, but the wintergreen leaves, which never seemed to have much aroma, were pretty stale, so I left them out. I included a little bit of birch syrup and some "Pappy's Sassafras Tea" concentrate that I picked up in Ohio.

1/4 cup birch bark
3 Tbsp sassafras root
3 Tbsp sarsaparilla root
2 Tbsp wild cherry bark
1 Tbsp licorice root
2 tsp yellow dock root
1 tsp burdock root
1 Tbsp birch syrup
1/4 cup sassafras concentrate
1/4 tsp champagne yeast
 1 gal water

After only about 40 hours at 72°, the test bottle was bubbly enough to drink, though I'll leave it in for at least another day to get it foamy, like root beer should be. I got curious about the amount of carbon dioxide in soda and started Googling. A 12 oz can of coke has roughly a liter of CO2 squozen into it. Crazy. Anyway, this tastes much as I remember the last 8-tree ale recipe, though this has only 7 roots in it and I didn't use ale yeast. It has a bit more bitter edge to it. Not sure why. I should maybe do an experiment, making just one bottle using each ingredient alone. I can chew on the roots, but it would be interesting to taste them steeped, sweetened, and carbonated.

After straining the wort this time, I threw the roots back in some water to boil some more to make some tea. More flavor definitely came out. Maybe it would be more economical to use less of the ingredients and steep the roots in the second half of the water after the first. The flavor balance was different though: much more licorice in the second-run tea than in the soda, it seemed.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fermentation vs. Sodastream, round 1

A few months ago, I bought a Sodastream for instant carbonation. I've mostly used it for straight club soda with a splash of lime juice, but with this last batch of ginger ale, I thought I'd carbonate a bottle with the Sodastream to compare to the fermented brew. I used Safale S-04, which the company's website calls "A well known English ale strain noted for its fast fermentation and rapid settling." It left quite a lot of sediment, which the carbonation instantly stirs up when I open a bottle. It's also really heavy on the diacetyl, which runs over the rest of the flavors in the fermented ginger ale. I've previously used champagne yeast in a number of batches, which, as you'd expect, doesn't give a butterish diacetyl flavor. I think I used Safale S-05 in my one birch beer experiment, and in that context, I liked a bit of butteriness. Fermentis, though, says that their S-05 has "low diacetyl and a very crisp end palate" which sounds better, at least for ginger ale. The fermented ginger ale is also pretty dry, which I like, but might not seem sweet enough for most people's expectation of soda.

The Sodastream-carbonated version is sweeter, with no sugar turning into alcohol. It's much more floral, especially to the nose. The cardamom, juniper, and especially yarrow make it flavorful, even though the ginger isn't very spicy. Pretty nice, though I might add a bit of lemon juice, not just dry lemon zest, to both versions. Because of the particular yeast, the fermented ale is, well, a bit too aley. So I think the Sodastream wins this round. Next time, I'll have to compare it to a champagne yeast or the S-05, and see if the crisper flavor wins out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Back in Business

For Christmas, my dad made me a new temperature controller to replace the one that melted. So I've finally whipped up a batch of ginger ale using my standard recipe, hopefully with slightly spicier ginger this time. Before pitching the yeast, I put a liter of the wort in a SodaStream bottle. Once it's cooled, I'll try carbonating it the modern cheating way and see how it compares to the true-brewed stuff.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Equipment and instructions

I've been posting my recipes without explicit instructions, since my methods haven't changed much since the beginning. But let me go into a little more detail for those who've been asking.

Essentially, I boil water, throw in the dry ingredients, let them simmer for half an hour, and remove the wort from the heat. I've started adding the sugar at that point so I don't get sticky splatters all over the stove. Usually I only simmer the ingredients in half the water. Once it's cooled a little, I strain the wort and pour it into a gallon jug with the rest of the cool water. When it's down to 100 degrees (or the temp suggested on the yeast package), I pour a little into a dish and add the yeast to proof for 15 minutes and then pour that back into the wort. I've found that I get more evenly carbonated bottles if the yeast is totally dissolved (and thus evenly distributed.) I cap and shake the jug a bit to mix and aerate.

Then it goes into the bottles and capped. I use a powdered sanitizer to get everything clean, though I don't think it's as crucial as it is with beer, since it's only fermenting for a few days.

As far as equipment goes, you ought to be able to make do with what's in a regular kitchen and some used plastic soda bottles. (And I've had people highly recommend not using glass, since it will explode if you let it ferment too long with so much sugar.) I have managed to collect a few semi-specialized tools though.

I think this is all the equipment I use to make a batch:

pot for simmering
measuring cup and spoons
stirring spoon
bowl for proofing yeast
strainer and finer splatter guard to strain
bottle caps and capper

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ginger Ale #5

Throwing together a batch with dry lemon zest and a bit more ginger than last time for the holidays.

2 1/2 oz fresh ginger
8 cardamom pods
1/4 cup yarrow
2 Tbsp juniper berries
1 tsp white pine bark
1 tsp dry lemon rind
1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp champagne yeast
1 gal water

Fermented for 72 hours, mostly at 72 degrees. It got up to 80 with the oven light and no thermostat one evening, so I cracked the oven door overnight. Down to the low 60s in the morning.

When I tasted the wort, I was worried: it didn't seem to have any ginger bite to it. I picked up the ginger at an Asian market in Daly City, and biting into some leftover root, I didn't find much spice. Perhaps it was grown fast and wet? The spiciest ginger ale I've made was basically the same recipe, but with young ginger with very thin skin from Rainbow.

Once it had fermented, though, it came out quite nice. It doesn't really have any bite, but it is gingery nonetheless. The yarrow is quite pronounced and it tastes more like the standard canned ginger ale. With some rye whiskey, it makes a really good highball.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Before the birch beer, it'd been a while since I'd brewed anything because I lost my temperature control. After I came back from summer vacation, I put my thermostatically controlled lightbulb and fan in the oven to raise bread without taping over the oven knob and my roommate turned on the oven. I came home to a really stinky smoke-filled apartment one night and opened the oven to see this:

Not a pretty sight.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Birch Beer #1

I spent a small fortune on birch syrup to flavor and sweeten my brews. It's really molassesy. I want to keep the first experiment simple, but I can't resist a couple of other ingredients besides the birch. For a half gallon batch I'm going to try...

2 Tbsp course birch bark
1 Tbsp paper birch bark
1 Tbsp birch syrup
1 Tbsp wintergreen
1 tsp sassafras root
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 gal water
1/8 tsp ale yeast

At 65-68 degrees, this fermented for 5 1/2 days, giving it good carbonation, but not to the point of much head. It's pretty tasty. The test bottle seemed molassesy after 3 days, but with more carbonation and diacetyl from the fermentation, it's at a good level. It's quite sweet and buttery--with a less complex flavors than the 8-tree ale. Maybe a touch more sassafras wouldn't hurt, or some pine. This might be a good base recipe to compare the flavor of ale yeast vs. champagne yeast.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ice cream for floats

Since we were having a party, I thought root beer floats would be a good idea. Here's my refined recipe for vanilla ice cream with a light custardy flavor. Perfect for floats.

4 cups half and half
1 3/4 cups white sugar
2 Tbsp corn starch
2 more cups half and half
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

Bring 2 cups half and half to scalding (200 degrees) and while it's heating up mix in the sugar.
Add the corn starch mixed in a bit of cold half and half.
Whisk to thicken slightly, being careful not to boil.
Remove from heat, cool a bit, and add the remaining half and half, cream, and vanilla.
Chill to near freezing and churn; then move to freezer to firm up.