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.