How to Brew Root Beer and Ginger Ale
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For that Authentic Old Fashioned Taste
Before the advent of refrigeration, there was no way to preserve juices for more than a day or two as they would spoil. However, ancient peoples soon discovered that there were two types of spoiling - contamination by yeast and contamination by bacteria.
Contamination by yeast resulted in the sugar, which occurred naturally in the fruit, being converted to alcohol which then acted as a preservative as well as providing a kick when it was consumed.
Contamination by bacteria resulted in the juice turning sour and consumption of the contaminated juice often leading to illness or even death.
Grapes have both a high sugar content as well as yeast which grows naturally on their skins and this resulted in the first wines being made from grapes. In time, people began to understand the brewing process and were soon brewing alcoholic beverages from every type of vegetable material available.
Since these non-grape fruits and other plant materials did not contain enough sugar for brewing, sugar had to be added and, by controlling the amount of sugar, you could control the alcohol content of the beverage.
Alcoholic beverages known as small beers were brewed in Elizabethan England and Colonial America. These small beers had a low alcoholic content ranging from 2 - 12 percent and were consumed by children and many women.
Original root beers were made from a variety of berries, tree barks and roots. In America sassafras root became a popular ingredient in the making root beer (sassafras was also used to make a medicinal herb tea).
Stopping the Fermentation Produces a Fizz
A by product of the fermentation process is the release of carbon dioxide gas.
Normally, the gas is allowed to bleed off but, if the brewing container is sealed, leaving no means for the gas to escape, the carbon dioxide ends up dissolving in the liquid giving the drink its effervesce.
This build up of dissolved carbon dioxide also results in stopping the fermentation process. The result is a sweet, effervescent or fizzy drink with a very low alcohol content.
In the past century or so, large scale commercial producers of root beer and other effervescent drinks have developed processes for dissolving or injecting carbon dioxide in without resorting to the fermentation process.
Thus, modern commercially produced soft have the fizz found in to original versions of these drinks but lack the small amount of alcohol that resulted from the original process.
Below are recipes for making root beer, ginger ale and other flavors of soft drinks using the fermentation process. Since, the fermentation process is stopped after a few days by refrigerating the drink, the alcohol content will be extremely low.
Ingredients and Materials Needed
- One 2 liter soda bottle with a screw cap, Any two liter soda bottle will do so long as it has been thoroughly cleaned and is completely dry in
- One Funnel, This will be needed when pouring the mixture into the soda bottle
- 1 cup of Sugar, Use more if you prefer a sweeter root beer
- ¼ teaspoon of powdered baker's yeast or dry champagne yeast, (either will do so long as it is in powder form and not past the package expiration date as yeast)
- 1 tablespoon of root beer extract
A Note on Yeast and Root Beer Extract
Baker's yeast can be purchased at any grocery store (usually found in the baking aisle).
Champagne yeast can be found in wine making and home brew stores as well as on line.
Because yeast is a living organism it is important to use yeast before the expiration date on the package as only live yeast will work in the fermentation process.
Root beer extract is also often available in the flavorings section of the baking aisle of many grocery stores (usually in the seasonings and flavorings section) as well as online and in wine making home brewing stores.
- Using the funnel, pour the sugar into the bottle and then pour in the yeast.
- Remove funnel and shake bottle to mix sugar and yeast.
- Replace funnel and pour in root beer extract.
- Leaving funnel in place, fill bottle half full with water from tap. Use this opportunity to rinse root beer extract from tablespoon and funnel into the mixture in the bottle.
- Remove funnel and swirl contents in bottle until dissolved.
- Fill bottle to the neck with water and screw cover on tightly.
- Let bottle sit at room temperature for about four days or until bottle feels hard like an unopened bottle of soda in the grocery store.
Storing and Opening Your Root Beer
Store in a cool place where the temperature is below sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).
Before opening, place in refrigerator and chill thoroughly. Loosen cap slowly when opening to allow gas to escape and avoid liquid fizzing over.
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Instructions for Brewing Ginger Ale and Other Soft Drinks
Recipe for Ginger Ale:
Except for the root beer extract, the process, ingredients and tools are identical for ginger ale.
However, with ginger ale you can either use ginger ale extract (which can be found at the same wine making and brewing stores or on line sites as the root beer extract) or substitute 1 ½ tablespoons of grated fresh ginger root (you have to grate it yourself) in place of the 1 tablespoon of ginger ale extract.
Otherwise simply follow the root beer recipe above and substitute ginger ale extract or freshly grated ginger extract for the root beer extract.
Recipe for Other Soft Drinks:
When you go on line or into a wine making shop, you will find numerous other flavor extracts that can be used to make flavored sodas. Some, like vanilla (for cream soda) or orange extract, can also be found in the baking aisle of your local grocery store.
These are the same extracts that are used for baking. In the case of cream soda, you may want to use a little more than 1 tablespoon of vanilla for the cream soda depending upon your taste.
Some Final Advice
Diet Soft Drinks - unfortunately, you CANNOT use the fermentation process to make diet soft drinks as yeast will not cause artificial sweeteners to ferment.
Do NOT use glass containers - always use plastic containers as the pressure build up inside the bottle during fermentation will often cause the bottle to explode and scatter broken glass all over.
I know this from experience as, years ago, prior to the advent of plastic soda containers, when we were teenagers, my parents let my brother and I make root beer.
After a couple of successful batches, the weather warmed up and we had two, one-gallon jugs explode on us. In addition to broken glass all over the room in the basement we had a very sticky mess to clean up.
Watch the Temperature - Do NOT keep fermenting soda at room temperature for more than four days.
In fact, you should move it to a cooler place (65 degrees Fahrenheit or below) as soon as the bottle becomes as hard as an unopened bottle of soda from the store.
While you won't have the glass problem, the plastic bottles will still explode if the pressure gets too great and you will have a sticky mess to clean up.
Links to Other Sites Dealing With Root Beer and Ginger Ale
- Benefits of Ginger - Health Benefits of Ginger Revealed
The benefits of ginger are real. Learn about using ginger for nausea from gastrointestinal distress; as one of the best and safest morning sickness remedies; as well as other ginger health benefits.
Dr Frankhauser's ginger ale recipe.
A more detailed description, with graphics, of the process for making homemade root beer.
Full Text 19th Century Cook Books from Google Books For Those Who Would Like to See How They Brewed Soft Drinks in the Old Days
- Jennie June's American Cookery Book: Containing Upwards of Twelve Hundred ... - Jane Cunning
An 1866 cook book written by Mrs. J.C. Croly (Jennie June). The complete book is available online from Google Books so you can scroll through it to to page 272 for her ginger ale recipe.
- The American housewife: cook book - Miss T.S. Shute - Google Books
1878 Cook Book by Miss T.S. Shute. A complete book from Google Books containing recipes and advice from that era. Scroll to page 255 for 3 ginger ale recipes.
- Handy Household Hints and Recipes
A 1916 book by By Mattie Lee Wehrley. The complete book is available from Google Books. Scroll to the middle of page 243 or click on the link below to see a recipe for root beer.
- Common sense in the household: a manual of practical housewifery - Marion Harland - Google Books
1893 cookbook by Marion Harland. A complete copy of the book from Google Books. See page 487 for a recipe for Jamaica Ginger Beer (ginger ale).
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