This past weekend I tried my hand at my first batch of root beer from scratch. I ventured to a local tea store(Wonderland Tea n Spice) to pick up my ingredients. I was a little hesitant about purchasing Sassafras to use in my batch, and the owner of the shop assured me that the quantities that would be used in my batches of soda would be small enough that there would be no harm. My concern, if you are unaware, grows from a longtime ban on Sassafras as a food ingredient by the FDA due to carcinogenic properties. Sassafras is one of the most important flavoring agents in old fashioned root beer, and for the last 40 years an artificial flavoring agent has been used in it's place. However, the FDA's testing methods were a bit extreme-they took pure essential oil of Sassafras(safrole) and injected large amounts into rats(which are naturally averse to it). Since we are not working with pure safrole, and are using a small amount of sassafras(3-6 oz./gallon), each 12 oz. bottle would contain only trace amounts of the carcinogenic component-so little so that one would have to drink 10 bottles a day, everyday for weeks to obtain an amount which would be harmful to the body. In other words, you would probably get sick from the sugar before the safrole would get to you.
However, I didn't account for sassafras in my planned ingredients list, and as such I decided to pass it up and find the ingredients I intended. Next time, however, I will buy some sassafras and try it out.
I went in there with Sarsaparilla as my intended main component-and after smelling both sarsaparilla and sassafras I determined that they don't vary too much in aroma, and as such are probably not too drastically different in flavor. However, I planned on making a root beer that was much more complex then just sarsaparilla on it's own.
So, on to the ingredient list-
3 oz. Sarsaparilla
2x 3 inch Cinnamon Sticks
1 tbsp. chopped, dried Licorice Root
2 tbsp. Anise seed
1x 6 inch Vanilla Bean
1 tbsp. dried, chopped Wintergreen Leaves
2 cups of sugar
about 1 cup of caramel color.
To make the caramel color I combined 1 cup of sugar, 4 tbsp. of brown sugar and 4 oz. of water in a one quart sauce pan, brought to a boil and allowed the syrup to burn(stirring to prevent it from caking on to the pot), and then slowly reduced the heat while stirring occasionally.
I placed my ingredients above(minus the caramel color) into a mesh bag, then combined with 1.5 gallons of water in a stock pot, brought to a boil for 20 minutes, then removed from heat and allowed to steep uncovered for 30 minutes.
I stirred in the caramel color and placed in a sink full of ice water until it cooled to 100 degrees fahrenheit, stirred in 1/4 tsp. of ale yeast and then bottled.
The taste test of what little remained in the bucket after bottling up about 11 bottles revealed too strong of a licorice root taste, so next time around I decided I would use more sarsaparilla and less licorice root(if any).
I decided to use my new bottles with swing-tops for a few reasons; larger bottles to quench thirst; tester bottle could be opened 2 or 3 times. Since the weather has been a little warmer around here(still not hot, but warmer), I decided to check for the first time after 36 hours. A little bit of a pop when opening, and some fizz rushing to the top for a bit of a foamy head. Not enough carbonation-seal it back up and wait it out. Another warm day, so I checked again about 12 hours later-still not enough fizz. I drank the rest of that tester bottle and vowed not to touch another one until tomorrow night(which will place it around 3 days to carbonate).
Also, upon 1.5 days of steeping and carbonation, the licorice root flavor is still very strong, but the other flavors are coming out slowly.
I will write a follow up post to see if allowing to sit in the refrigerator for a few days helps bring out the rest of the flavors present. I'm not ready to give up on this root beer yet-but I have some more ideas for other batches of root beer, and plan on trying every last one of them.
Making soda from scratch(as opposed to extract) is also spurring my creative juices, and I've had a few wild ideas for some other sodas. Posts documenting these weird soda experiments to follow.
Click here for the first follow-up post.
Click here for the second follow-up post