Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ginger Ale #3.1

I brought pre-mixed ginger and herbs to North Carolina to whip up a batch of ginger ale while visiting my brother's family. Just had to add water, sugar, and yeast. I used the bread yeast that was on hand, and in a 70-degree kitchen, it was fully bubbly in two and a half days. Also tried bottle caps on some twist-off bottles, and that seems to have worked fine. An easy New Year's treat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kristmas Kola

zest of 1 small lemon
peel of 2 mandarin oranges
1/3 oz piece of cinnamon bark
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 anise star
1/2 tsp kola nut
1/6 oz fresh ginger
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp wintergreen leaves
1/2 tsp citric acid
1 tsp maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 gal water
1/8 tsp ale yeast

Looking up cola recipes, I found a number of pages listing supposed original recipes for Coca-Cola, and modern reverse engineering attempts. Most used alcohol-based extracts, rather than steeped raw ingredients. I had most of the flavorings commonly used in dried or fresh form, so took a stab at something I hoped would be cola like. While it boiled, it filled the apartment with Christmas scents. Finished, it's pretty unusual. I don't think anybody would take a sip and think Coke or Pepsi. It's hard to tell what the flavors are. Nutmeg and orange seem to dominate. Brown sugar adds something unexpected in a soda. It's not unpleasant, but it's pretty weird.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ginger Ale #3

2 1/4 oz. young ginger
6 cardamom pods, broken
2 Tbsp juniper berries
1 tsp white pine bark
1/4 cup yarrow flowers
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest
1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 gal water
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp yeast

We're on to something here. I took several bottles of this just finished batch to Thanksgiving dinner (fermented in a lighted oven to be sure it would be fizzy on time.) Perfectly floral, ever-so-slightly ginny, tangy and refreshing. It's definitely gingery, but without so much ginger heat. Juniper berries are at exactly the right amount--they would be lost with less, but startling with more. A bit more yarrow, being subtler, probably wouldn't hurt, but isn't needed. It isn't markedly lemony, but is satisfyingly citrusy. The cardamom seems lost--maybe a couple more pods to see next time. The pine, too, doesn't seem to be adding much, but perhaps that's as it should be.

The more gingery recipe certainly deserves to be called "Carribean." What we have here might be more of a "mainland" version.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ginger Ale #2

A couple weeks ago, I visited the new pizzeria in my neighborhood, Pi Bar. I spied in their cooler a tiny bottle of Fentiman's Ginger Beer, and asked for a bottle on the way out. I'd intended to savor it at home, but the bartender opened it for me. It was 125ml of delight, sharply gingery, but with strong herbal fragrances. The label keeps nothing secret: it lists ginger, speedwell, juniper, and yarrow extracts, rather than the usual, coy 'natural flavors.' Although it contains carbonated water, this British company seems to actually brew with yeast at some step of their production. So I promptly went to Rainbow and bought juniper berries and yarrow flowers. (They didn't have 'speedwell.') These, I hoped, would add a better complexity to the ginger-sugar combination than the fruit juice of my last batch.

3 oz young ginger (no skinning needed)
4 cardamom pods, broken
2 Tbsp yarrow flowers
1 Tbsp dry juniper berries
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp citric acid
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/8 tsp ale yeast
1 gal water

I opened a bottle after six cool days, and it was drinkably fizzy, though I'll give it another day before chilling. It's very satisfying, with a hint of herbal scent. I think the cream of tartar gives it a smooth mouth-feel. It definitely can use a good bit more of the juniper and especially the yarrow, which smells lovely raw. It might, at some point, be worth trying to extract the essence with alcohol, rather than just boiling, though that opens up a whole new line of experimentation...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Root beer #4

So, this batch was so finicky, and ended up taking so long, that I have misplaced the ingredient list. It might be lying around somewhere, but I do remember that I increased the burdock and yellow dock, as I suggested to myself after the last batch, and, along with the new, blue bottles, I ordered wintergreen and ale yeast, so it's got that too.

After a week of fermentation, I put the bottles in the fridge and took some to work to share. The bottle I shared with Rachel gushed, and shot all over her office and out the door into the library, but then three other bottles were only slightly carbonated. I gave the remaining four a few more days, and cracking the bail tops only released a little gas. Finally, when I bottled the hard cider I was making (with champagne yeast) I put a little of the dregs in the root beer. The bottle I'm drinking now is really tingly and some of the sweetness has gone boozy. The flavor might not satisfy a 10-year-old either, but I like it.

It's perhaps a bit more bitter than the last batch, and there seems to be more going on. I can't distinctly make out the wintergreen, which, made into a tea, was rather mild, nothing like a wintergreen Lifesaver. Maybe there is some coolness to the aftertaste, though. Mmmm.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ginger Ale #0

The ginger beer I posted about a couple weeks ago seemed a little simple to me, compared to the super-simple Trader Joe's based concoction I'd done before, so I decided to make that again as a base-line to compare to. I still highly recommend that anyone interested in trying to make their own soda throw some yeast in a bottle of lemon-ginger-echinacea juice and let it sit till it's fizzy, but I wasn't as enamored of the result this time. It lacked the really sharp, carribean-style bite you get from fresh ginger, and it was, well, rather juicy. I think I can do better: a project for this evening.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Cream soda" #2

This tweaking of my first cream soda batch is a little bit improved. It has gotten good reviews from the friends who've tried it, though I wouldn't say I'm in love with it. I upped the vanilla, though it doesn't seem as much stronger as I expected. Eileen thinks more raisin, like the first batch, would be good. I'm fine with the raisin flavor being more subtle. For some reason the increased cinnamon still isn't noticeable, perhaps it's masked by the vanilla. It took a full week to carbonate in our cool apartment.

1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
2 vanilla beans
5 inches chinese cinnamon
scant 1/4 cup raisins
4 quarts water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp ale yeast.

EDIT: I just came across an article that mentions that unsplit vanilla bean doesn't provide enough flavor. I didn't split them to avoid the little seeds getting out. Mystery solved.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ginger beer #1

2 1/2 oz coarsely grated, skinned ginger
Juice of one medium lemon
1 cardamom seed, broken
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 qts water
root beer dregs

Boiled flavorings and half the water for 30 minutes before diluting and bottling.

My first attempt at ginger ale/beer from scratch turned out pretty much as expected. It has a satisfying effervescence, and a pretty intense spicy ginger bite, definitely a Caribbean-style ginger brew. The batch carbonated much faster than the "cream soda" I made at the same time. Cardamom can be overpowering, so, as usual, I was cautious. It only contributes a faint hint, so I definitely want more next time. I'm in favor of more lemon too. The bit of root beer that provided the yeast didn't hurt the flavor at all. It's completely satisfactory, but I'm hoping for more.

For the past couple years, from time to time, I've been turning Trader Joe's Lemon Ginger Echinacea juice into super-easy ginger ale. If you are at all curious about brewing your own soda, this is where you should start. Open a bottle of the TJ juice, sprinkle in 1/8 tsp of yeast, seal and shake. (I've used champagne yeast, but I'm sure regular bread yeast is fine, and will probably go faster.) Loosen the cap, and let it sit on the counter for a couple days. Seal the cap and let the plastic bottle harden under pressure (an afternoon or overnight, probably.) Chill in the fridge, and enjoy! (From what I've been reading about making soda in 2-liter bottles, you could probably just seal the bottle from the beginning, but I haven't tried it.)

What I really like about starting with the TJ juice is that instead of water and sugar, it contains white grape and apple juice (100% juice!) and honey, yielding a pretty complex flavor with ease and consistency. I suppose it's really ginger wine or ginger cider, rather than ginger ale. (There's also "natural flavors," vitamin C, and echinacea extract.)

This time, I wanted to try a totally straight-forward ginger beer, and using the fresh ginger gave a stronger bite, but I'll probably take some inspiration from the back of the Trader Joe's label for the next batch.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Cream soda" #1

Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop includes a recipe for "Cream Soda" because "no book of soft drink recipes would be complete" without one. I don't think Cresswell is confident in this recipe because he suggests that it be "a starting point for you in your quest for the ultimate cream soda."

I went ahead and tried a slightly modified and smaller version of the recipe:

scant 1/4 cup raisins
5 inches vanilla bean, split
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
3 inches chinese (coarse) cinnamon bark
3 quarts water
root beer dregs

There was also supposed to be 1/4 tsp cream of tartar added before bottling, but I just realized that I forgot that step (as confirmed by the still-sealed jar on my ingredient shelf.)

The finished product is definitely a starting point. I wouldn't call it cream soda, really. More like cinnamon raisin toast with vanilla icing in a bottle. If ever a soda was meant for breakfast, this is it.

I removed the cinnamon after 15 minutes of simmering, afraid of it overwhelming the flavor. It turns out that once chilled, the cinnamon pulled back considerably. The cinnamon is mostly discernable as an aftertaste; it could use a little more, and that might be good, but would take it even further from anything like cream soda.

Splitting the vanilla bean turned out not to be a great idea. The tiny seeds aren't really a problem, but they didn't filter out well.

Finally, the yeast must have been weak. After six days of warm weather, it still needs more fermentation, though it's definitely going. I'm not sure where to go with this one. Upping the cinnamon and adding the cream of tartar would probably let it live up to its full cinnamon toast potential. If I'm going for cream soda, though, I might do something completely different.

UPDATE: Another couple days, and this finally carbonated properly, and I have to say it's pretty good. Yesterday, I started another batch with less raisins, much more vanilla, and without chickening out on the cinnamon. I'm optimistic it'll be even better.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Between batches

I've got two batches sitting on the stove cooling right now. One is ginger ale, which I'm fairly confident in my recipe for. The other is a cream soda from the root beer book which contains raisins, cinnamon, and vanilla. It smells nice, but I'm skeptical it will taste like what I'd call cream soda.

As I was finishing up the root beer in the fridge, I put a bottle of batch #2 up against my revised batch #3. Number 3 had the same amount of sugar, and had licorice root too, but wasn't as sweet. Both batches had gone in, then back out of the fridge, but I put #3 on top of the fridge to ferment further and gave it even a little more time. This, on top of the fact that I felt like I'd had a wee bit to drink when I drank a bottle this morning, makes me think a fair bit of the sugar got consumed. I kind of like the dryness, but perhaps a little more sugar would be a good idea, and perhaps a little more licorice.

Flavor-wise, #2 definitely had a more sarsaparilla taste. I had cut that root back a bit and put more sassafras in #3. Back to more sarsaparilla without cutting the sassafras is probably the next step. The additional flavors in #3 gave it good complexity, especially the smokey cherry flavor, so those are keepers for the next refinement, which I'll have nothing but cream soda and ginger ale to compare to.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Root beer float!

Home-brewed root beer + homemade ice cream = super homemade root beer float. What a rare treat!

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian suggests that good rich ice cream really needs to be custard-based, but you can make custard using cornstarch instead of eggs.

2 cups half-and-half brought to scalding
2 Tbsp corn starch (mixed with a bit of cold half-and-half) and
1 scant cup sugar added and stirred at heat until thick
1 cup heavy cream and
1 tsp vanilla extract added off heat

Chilled in freezer to 34 degrees and frozen in kitchen-aid mixer ice cream maker.

It is quite custardy--excellent texture, but a very warm flavor. Next time (which my arteries should wait a while for) I might try scalding only half the half-and-half.

And there could always be root beer flavored ice cream...

Batch #3

This is my third batch steeping on the stove.

4 Tbsp sassafras
2 1/2 Tbsp sarsaparilla
1 tsp licorice root
2 Tbsp cherry bark
4 Tbsp birch bark
1/2 tsp burdock
1 Tbsp yellow dock
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 gallon water
1/4 cup dregs from bottle of previous batch

Using the settled yeast from a bottle I'd just drunk worked just fine. It was foaming from sitting at room temperature when I put it in. I let this batch brew for four days before refrigerating. After two there was almost no pressure or bubbling in the bottle I opened. Two more days and it bubbled vigorously without gushing. Once chilled, it isn't as bubbly as it could be, so I think I need to get over my fear of exploding bottles and impatience and let it brew another day or so. It tastes adequately carbonated though.

The flavor of this batch is just the right strength. The increased sassafras and decreased sarsaparilla is a better proportion. Tastes like root beer! Though more herbal, slightly smokey, and nuanced than the commercial stuff. I don't miss the anise (but will probably try a stronger anise/licorice brew at some point.) I think I can stand to up some of the secondary ingredients, like the bitter burdock and yellow dock, for a more grown-up flavor.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ingredient notes

Results from my tea tasting:

Sassafras root
is one of the main traditional root beer flavors, and I'd say the sharper component of that familiar taste. I don't think it's actually used anymore due to something in it being mildly carcinogenic in large quantities in small animals.

Sarsaparilla root by itself has a very fragrant, round, fluffy smell, akin to vanilla. It was less intense in the mouth than in the nose. Very root-beery.

Cherry bark made a quite weak tea. Obviously smells like furniture being made out of cherry wood. I think I can use more than in the last batch without risk of bitterness.

Birch bark was stronger than cherry, very nice, should probably use a lot.

Pine bark is nice, but strong. Probably use sparingly. Might be good with wintergreen (which I don't have.)

Licorice root was super sweet after it sat for a couple hours. Less so when it had only steeped for half an hour. Probably good to use to make low-sugar drinks. Some aftertaste, but not unpleasant.

Sliced stem that I thought might be American Ginseng had an even stronger non-sugar sweet than licorice. Definite aftertaste. I don't think ginseng is supposed to be sweet, so who knows what it is. As long as it isn't dried sea cucumber.

Yellow Dock root tastes like digging up green roots. Green, earthy taste. A little bitter.

Barberry root had a very mild, light wood taste.

Burdock root reminds me of a midwestern stream, or some wood used in boat building. Pretty bitter, maybe offensive to some, but probably adds some good complexity.

The flavors were less discernible once cooled. Putting a pinch of sugar in each didn't hurt, but adding ice and club soda wasn't as helpful as I thought it would be. It mostly just watered the flavors of the teas down.

Taste testing

Today's experiment is underway. I've steeped 10 different ingredients, sweetened the teas, and as soon as I get some club soda, will add some ice and bubbles so I can get a feel for all the different flavors. I want to see if I can pick out the different ingredients in a bottle from my last batch, and figure out what to put in a batch later today.

Experiment #2

This is the recipe for my first successful batch of root beer. The book is full of recipes, but I couldn't resist putting together something using a lot of the ingredients I bought.

3 Tbsp sassafras
3 Tbsp sarsaparilla
1 Tbsp cherry bark
2 Tbsp birch bark
1 anise star
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/8 tsp champagne yeast
1 gallon water

I boiled the roots and bark in 1 quart of water, dissolved the sugar, strained and then added the remaining water and yeast, and bottled it. It fermented for 3 days. The bottle I opened did bubble, so, nervous that the bottles would explode, I stuck it in the fridge. When I poured a bottle the next day it was flat, so I gave them another 2 days at room temperature. At that point I opened a bottle and it gushed. I saw it starting and made it to the sink before it made a mess.

Carbonation was good, but the color was unexpectedly light, and the flavor not as strong as I'd like. But a good first successful batch!

Experiment #1

I bought 8 bottles of Grolsch, but only managed to drink two before wanting to try my first root beer batch.

1 qt water
2 Tbsp sassafras
1/2 tsp licorice root
40 drops burdock tincture (courtesy of Eileen)
1/3 cup sugar
1/32 tsp champagne yeast

Unfortunately, the first two bottles, while having a good traditional root beer flavor, never got fizzy. I'm now using a fresh package of champagne yeast.


A couple weeks ago, I got the book Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop. I promptly went out to buy roots. China Town was my first stop, but that wasn't as productive as I'd hoped. I did get some star anise, cinnamon bark, and what I think is cheap American Ginseng. Rainbow Grocery was more helpful. They have hundreds of glass jars filled with every spice, herb, and aromatic plant imaginable. I more than a dozen jars of various things, including sassafras, sarsaparilla, and burdock roots; and birch, cherry, pine barks. I went a little overboard, mostly because it seems like if you're going to have shelf of witchdoctoresque ingredients, you better go all the way.