things can be called "root beer". One is the
modern root beer which used to be flavored with
sassafras but now is flavored with wintergreen (see What
about sassafras root? below for further explanation). This page deals with
that kind of root
beer. The other is any ale made from roots. Instructions on how
to make an ale or beer from
roots are here.
Of course, they are very similar ,as the modern drink we know as root beer is descended from the medieval ale they called root beet, but I choose to call the more alchoholic beverage "roots beer" to distinguish between the two.To make a simple root beer, peel
a beetroot and discard peel. Chop up into small pieces. Put into a slow
cooker and add a quart of water, a quarter-cup of sugar and a tablespoon
of pickling spice or any mixed spices. Cover and simmer for 1 a day. Let cool, strain out chopped beetroot pieces and spices and put
into a 2-quart plastic soda pop bottle. Add a quarter cup of yeast
starter, screw on cap tightly and in a few days when the bottle is firm
to the touch, transfer to fridge and drink within a few days.
Meanwhile, back at the point where you strained out the chopped
beetroot pieces, put them back in the slow cooker and add another quart
of water and quarter-cup of sugar and repeat the whole process. In fact,
you can keep repeating the process and keep getting a fizzy
drink/carbonated soda for as long as the beet root and spices keep
flavoring and coloring the water, which will be a reddish brown on the
first batch, medium brown the second time and successively paler for
As with all ale recipes, after you make the first batch, you can decide
what you want to increase or decrease in terms of ingredients or time
of processing. You can start with more beetroots at the beginning to
make more as you go along. If you want to make a stronger alcoholic beverage, add
more sugar and let it brew under airlock for 3-7 days before putting in
plastic soda pop bottles.
Brown sugar, molasses and other sugar syrups have also been used.
Popular mixed spices for root beer have included juniper berries, star
anise, cloves, cinnamon and sassafras, but many others have been used.
If you have any aromatic herbs growing in your garden, try those in
various combinations to see if you can come up with a root beer that is
distinctly your own.
Some of the Basic
Root Beer Spices:
1 ounce burdock root
1 ounce dock root
1 dandelion root
1 handful white birch twigs
1 star anise
1 juniper berry
1 licorice stick
1 inch piece of vanilla bean
1/2 cup brown sugar
roots, herbs and spices in water. Bring to a boil, simmer for 30
minutes and then keep on low heat (slow cooker at low setting)
overnight, covered. Add water if necessary to maintain 4 1/2 quarts.
replace liquid in
baked enamel saucepan. Add sugars and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve,
Remove from heat, cool to
lukewarm and transfer to glass or ceramic crock.
Add yeast and stir well.
Cover crock securely with a
loosely woven cloth that will allow liquid to breathe but will keep out
Leave in a warm place to
When first signs of
fermentation begin to appear (tiny bubbles or foam around top of crock)
pour into clean plastic soda pop bottles and cover tightly.
Bottle and store in a cool
place. Makes about one gallon.
Using dry yeast and store-bought
flavoring extracts to make one gallon of soda:
teaspoon of yeast in a cup of warm water for about 5 minutes
tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of
extract, or follow directions on extract
1/2 cups sugar
• 3 quarts water + 1 cup of water with yeast
Pour liquid into plastic
bottles, leaving a few inches of
headspace at the top.
Cap tightly and wait 4-6
until bottle is firm to the touch and
cannot be squeezed.
Refrigerate and drink.
Root Beer Recipe
or things to have on hand.
2 ounces or 50 grams
of raw beet root
an ounce or thereabouts of dandelion roots
1 stick of licorice root [or: a drop of licorice flavoring, or a
clove (if you have it) 
1 juniper berry (if you have it) 
star anise 
1 gram of fennel, a teaspoon of fennel tea or a fennel teabag
1 tablespoon of malt extract 
3 ounces of sugar syrup (or 6
tablespoons of sugar) 
1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar
1 teabag, regular or decaffeinated
3 1/2 cups of water
the dandelion root
Soak dandelion root(s)
in water to loosen dirt. Remove
part of the dandelions (see Edible
Dandelions for ways to use dandelion
leaves), wash and peel the roots.
can either weigh
the dandelion root to get an idea of how much you have,or you can use a
handful, or you can use whatever you have.
the Beet root
ounces or 50
grams of raw beet root
peel and chop
beetroot. Cut the dandelion roots into small pieces (a good-quality
kitchen scissors will make it a lot easier to cut dandelion root than
trying to cut them with a knife.).
Put a cup of water
into a blender with beet and dandelion roots. Blend on high for a
minute until both roots are pureed and liquid is smooth.
extract to the beet and dandelion root blended liquid and stir.
the beet and
dandelion liquid with the malt extract in it into a glass jar and cover
the jar with a loosely-woven piece of cloth through which air can pass
can't get into it. And let it sit over night.
the tea with spices
|And 1 heaping
tablespoon of dark brown sugar. (If you are using table
sugar rather than sugar syrup in the ingredients, add the 6 tablespoons
of table sugar at this point. )
the pint of
water into a baked enamel saucepan and add the brown sugar. Put it over
high heat and bring to a boil.
clove, fennel, licorice and teabags into a ceramic teapot. Pour the hot
water & brown sugar over them and put a cover on the teapot.
with a quilt, tea cosy or blanket to keep it as warm as possible for as
long as possible. Then put it in a warm place, if possible, and let it
| Making the root beer
The next day:
Pour the liquid with beetroot and dandelion root through a fine mesh
strainer. Discard the pulp or add it to the sauerkraut.
and strain the tea that had been steeping with spices into the strained
beet and dandelion liquid. Discard the spices and teabag or re-use them
to make more tea for whatever purposes you make tea for. (See Tea)
3 ounces (6
tablespoons) of sugar
yeast starter or a pinch of store-bought yeast to the liquid 
(See Harvesting Wild Yeast if you would like to use wild or airborne
yeast for your fermentation. You will need to begin culturing your wild yeast about 10
before starting to make this beverage.)
half a cup of
water, or enough water to bring it up to about 3 1/2 cups.
in a plastic
soda pop bottle and screw cap on tightly.
bottle is firm to the touch and cannot be squeezed, soda is carbonated
and ready to drink. .
bottle is not yet
ready to drink.
to cool and drink within a few
did this root beer taste, you might ask? Well, to paraphrase Douglas
Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, it tasted almost
but not completely, unlike root beer. That is the problem with making
root beer. I didn't have sassafras root, which is the genuine flavor of
root beer to Americans who are used to sassafras or its imitators to
flavor root beer, and I won't use wintergreen, which is the modern
flavor of root beer, so I could not approximate anywhere near the
flavor we expect of root beer. It tastes good. I drank the whole thing,
it's got good body and nice flavor, and it's made with raw beet root so
it's good for you and for your liver, not to mention it technically is
made of roots so it's more a root beer than what passes for root beer
followed by "if you have it" are things that I did not have on hand
when I made this sample root beer and took the pictures, but I would
have used if I had them. Original root beers were always made this way,
with whatever was available to make them with, and not to a precise
recipe. Use what you have available and you may discover your own,
special proprietary root beer.
If you didn't have a star anise, you could probably use a Canadian
Wintogreen mint instead, but it probably has chemicals in it, not to
mention wintergreen, which is the flavoring of modern root beer but
personally I am none too sure of how good/bad it is for you.
Instead of 1 tablespoon of malt extract, I use 2 tablespoons of a
mixture of malt extract and water that I had mixed half and half with
hot water previously. I do this so it
will be easier to pour. A side effect/benefit is that once the water is
added to the malt extract, it begins to take on a slow fermentation. I
have to keep it in the fridge because of this, but it means whenever I
use it I get the advantage of having this natural airborne yeast to add
to the ferment.
the amount of sugar added to these recipes has always been the most
challenging part of writing them down, as I need to include different
forms of sugar, dry sugar or syrup, and different measures, tablespoons
and cups and quarts or liters and milliliters, in a recipe designed for
people all over the world, than what I use at home.
The measure I use for fermented beverages that I make at home is this:
100 milliliters of sugar syrup to 700-900
milliiters of liquid.
To do this, I make a sugar syrup with 1 part liquid (water or tea) to 2
parts sugar. The resulting syrup comes out to a little bit more syrup
than there was water in the first place, so a tablespoon of syrup comes
out to almost 2 tablespoons of dry sugar. Having this syrup on hand
makes it a lot easier to make all my beverages. I then add 100
milliliters of this syrup to between 700 to 900 milliliters of liquid;
700 if I am making something I need more sugar in, such as kombucha or
wine, and 900 if I am making a sweet soda pop or small beer.
In my case, I don't need to add any yeast because the malt extract I
mix with water begins to ferment (I have to keep it in the fridge), so
the airborne yeast that has already started in the malt extract liquid
is sufficient to start the fermenting.
Fresh home-brewed soda is a real food and like any real food
will not keep after a few days.
about sassafras root?
root used to be used as the
main flavoring ingredient of root
beer. If you have ever sniffed a sassafras root, you will know why, as
it has an exquisite taste and aroma. The US government then outlawed it
on the grounds that massive quantities of it caused cancer in rats, and
commercial root beer is now flavored with oil of wintergreen, a known
toxin that is deadly in high doses. Personally, I prefer sassafras
root, which you can't buy but you can pull up saplings under a mature
sassafras tree, but I cannot recommend it here because it is illegal
and it would probably violate the terms of service of this website.
(Read my disclaimer.)
There is, however, sassafras root bark for sale that claims to use only
the bark of the root and not the inner supposedly cancer-causing pith
of the root, and this can be used for home-brewing. File (pronounced
"fee-lay", as in file gumbo) powder is also for sale that is the
ground-up leaves of the sassafras tree. This, too, can be used in home
brewing to impart something of the original flavor of the root beer at
less cost than the much scarcer root bark.