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.