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.