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.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ginger Ale #4

For our Sunday spring brunch, I thought I should brew up some soda. There's nothing particularly new here, but I'm trying for 11 bottles, even though that won't fit in the gallon glass jug I've been brewing in. Bigger portions on the ingredients to make a more concentrated base, and then a little extra water mixed in some how or another.

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

So, even though this is pretty much the same recipe I've been using, this batch didn't turn out nearly as awesome as the last. First, it isn't very fizzy, despite the mini-test-bottle that gushed after 4 days fermentation and a night in the fridge. (Though Fentiman's has about the same amount of fizz.) The rest didn't go in till 5 days. I'm wondering if the bale-top bottles aren't holding the fizz. The big difference is that this ginger seems to just not have had much punch. It has more in common with Vernor's or Canada Dry (I'm aware they're fairly different) than the Caribbean style ginger beers like Reed's. Aside from sharper ginger (the "young" stuff?) a bit more citric acid wouldn't hurt, though maybe that's only needed because of the tamer ginger. Overall it's good, just not the best.

Eight-tree Ale (root beer #7)

Basically, another attempt to get the root beer to carbonate properly. It's going into capped bottled since the swing tops are going to be full of ginger ale. (Above is the root beer and ginger ale in my temperature-controlled 70-degree oven.) I meant to put a whole tablespoon of yellow dock in, but didn't have that much left.

1/4 cup sassafras
1/4 cup coarse birch bark
2 1/2 Tbsp sarsaparilla
2 Tbsp wild cherry bark
2 Tbsp wintergreen leaves
2 tsp licorice root
1 tsp yellow dock
1 tsp burdock
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp ale yeast
1 gal water

This came out awesome! Finally! I bottled it in reused Fentiman's bottles with twist-off caps, which, aside from one that didn't seal, worked perfectly. Five days at 70 degrees was at least a day too long; the bottles totally gushed and had excessive head. Despite some root beer lost to the floor and sink and waiting for the head to subside, the foaminess was quite satisfying. Very root-beery. Served at our Spring brunch party. Karen said, "there's a lot going on!" Better than the ginger ale for a change.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Root Beer #6 (diet)

My brother is coming to town, and I thought I should put on a batch of root beer to celebrate. Basically, this is recipe #5, except I'm going to try the stevia experiment from the lavender ale. My hope is that this might be a solution to the flatness problem. Stevia will provide the sweetness, and then I'll prime the beer with enough sugar to carbonate it, but not explode the bottle, so it can brew for a week or more and get totally fizzy... at least that's my theory. So here are the ingredients:

1/4 cup sassafras
1/4 cup birch bark
2 1/2 Tbsp sarsaparilla
2 Tbsp wild cherry bark
2 Tbsp wintergreen leaves
1 Tbsp yellow dock
2 tsp licorice
1 tsp burdock
1/4 cup stevia extract with dextrose
1/4 cup sugar
1 gal water
1/4 tsp yeast

I'll let you know how it turns out.

UPDATE: more fizz that didn't last and I'm less in love with the stevia as sweetener. Ended up dumping most of this to free up bottles.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lavender Rosemary Ginger Ale #1

Walking around my neighborhood last weekend, I walked past several rosemary and lavender bushes and it inspired me to try a new concoction.

1/2 oz fresh ginger
1 tsp fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp dried lavender flowers
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp stevia extract (cut with dextrose)
1/8 tsp ale yeast
1/2 gal water

Simmered ginger alone for 20 minutes, with rosemary an additional 10 minutes. Removed from heat to steep with lavender for 10 minutes. Brewed 7 days at 70 degrees.

This recipe was really a shot in the dark, so I was completely prepared for it to be disgusting. It is not. Everything settled leaving the liquid totally clear, but the sediment makes it cloudy with a slight pinkish purple tinge. When I put my nose to it, I was afraid it would be too gingery, but after tasting it, I think the tiny bit of sharpness is needed, as the other flavors are very round. It is distinctly, but not overwhelmingly lavender-flavored. I get almost none of the rosemary, so that can be at least doubled. My room mate, who has a cold and had just drunk tea with honey, found the stevia's sweetness a bit odd. I think it's fine, though it isn't just like sugar. Most people would probably judge the level of sweetness right, but I could use a little less.

As far as carbonation, the small amount of sugar has made it bubbly enough. I'm not sure whether more time would make it any bubblier, and we'll have to see if the other three bottles turn out once they're chilled. This is definitely a good start. Perhaps some rose or ginkgo would be a way to add the next layer of complexity.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Warm Christmas

For Christmas, my dad built me a thermostatically controlled lightbulb and fan so I can carefully control the temperature of the oven at fermentation temperature. It's already been great for bread (set at 98 degrees--as high as the home thermostat will go) and I'm about to try 70 degrees for some root beer. Hopefully this will eliminate the lengthy and flakey fermentation caused by our 55-60-degree kitchen.

Root Beer #5

Since I lost recipe #4, I went back to #3, upped the bitters, as I suggested, and added wintergreen.

4 Tbsp sassafras
4 Tbsp coarse birch bark
2 1/2 Tbsp sarsaparilla
2 Tbsp wild cherry bark
2 Tbsp wintergreen leaves
1 1/2 Tbsp yellow dock
2 tsp licorice root
1 tsp burdock
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/8 tsp ale yeast
1 gal water

This is getting close to what I want. It definitely has a much woodsier aroma than commercial root beer, but it's sufficiently sweet (wondering if more licorice or something like stevia can substitute for some of the sugar, though) and has a complex, well-rounded flavor. There might be a little too much bitterness, so maybe taking the yellow dock back to 1 Tbsp would be good.

It definitely has a taste of ale that you don't find in non-brewed carbonated soda. There must be something in the roots that inhibits the yeast, because even at a steady 70 degrees, the root beer carbonates much slower than ginger ale with the same yeast. After three days, a not-completely chilled bottle got a bit of a head, but wasn't super-bubbly, so I gave it another day. Fully chilled after four days fermentation, and it has a nice bubbly feel in the mouth, but doesn't get a head or look very bubbly. 1/4 tsp of yeast in a gallon seems like a lot, but I'll have to give it a try.

Talking about it with my roommate, I counted the ingredients. Perhaps this should be called eight-tree ale. That has a good ring to it.