Home Fermented Root Beer

Summer 2013 Root Beer Project, Post 18

I recently experimented with home brewed Root Beer, Flannestad Root Beer, but I didn’t quite follow it to its logical extension.

For some reason, while I’ve done a lot of infusions, I’ve never tried fermenting anything (except bread) at home. I’ve never even made home fermented ginger beer.

However, when Charles Hires first created his Root Beer Dry Mix and Syrup in the late 1800s, he expected people to be able to ferment it at home.

I reproduce his instructions here from a booklet circa 1892:

Recipe and Directions for Making Root Beer

Take Contents of Bottle. 4 Pounds of Sugar (granulated is preferable).
5 Gallons of Fresh Water (preferably luke-warm).
Half-Pint of fresh yeast, or half cake of fresh compressed yeast.
When making in cool weather, double the quantity of yeast is used.

The Way to Do It:

Dissolve the sugar thoroughly in the water, then add the Root Beer Extract and the yeast. (If cake yeast be used, it should first be dissolved in a little cold water, then it will mix more readily with the Beer.) Stir until thoroughly mixed, and bottle in strong bottles or jugs at once, corking and tying the corks securely. Then be sure and set in a warm place for several hours, so that it can become effervescent. (If set in a cool place when first made the yeast becomes chilled and cannot work.) It will be ready to drink after being bottled in ten or twelve hours, but will open more effervescingly if allowed to stand for three or four days. After the Beer has become effervescent, it should then be set in a cool place of even temperature. Before opening the bottle place it on ice, or in a cold place, for a short time, when it will be sparkling and delicious.

To make the Beer more cheaply, molasses or common sugar may be used to sweeten it.

A very pleasant drink may be made for immediate use by adding two teasponfuls of the Extract to a quart of water, sweetening it with granulated sugar to suit the taste, then beat half the white of an egg, and mix together.

NOTE. –Occasionally parties write us that they have tried to make the Root Beer, and while it is very good, it does not evervesce, or pop, when it is opened.

Now, when a case of this kind happens, we know that there is something wrong in the making of it. Either the yeast was not good, or else the Beer, when made, was placed in the cellar, or in a cool place, where it became chilled and could not ferment.

A woman in making bread is always very careful that the dough does not become chilled, so sets it in a warm place to insure its rising and becoming light. So it is with our Root Beer, warmth is essential to life. If this simple fact is borne in mind no one will ever fail in making our Root Beer to have it delicious and Sparkling.

When we say “fresh compressed yeast,” we mean the small square cake yeast that is sold fresh every day in most of the prominent towns of the United States at two cents a cake. When only the dry cake yeast can be had, a whole cake should be used. In fact, our experience has been that very little of the dry cake yeast sold is good for anything; we therefore prefer to use good fresh baker’s yeast, or fresh compressed yeast.

If these simple hints are carefully borne in mine the Root Beer is very little trouble to make successfully.

When we say “yeast” we do not mean Baking Powder.

The Charles E. Hires Co.,
Sole Manufacturers,
Philadelphia, PA

Well, right, then. If late 19th Century home makers can do that, so can I.

I decided to try and turn my sweetened Root Beer syrup into a sparkling beverage.

I proofed a teaspoon of active dry yeast with warm water and a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of a clean quart plastic soft drink bottle. When the yeast was active, I added about a cup of my Flannestad Root Beer Syrup, then filled with lukewarm water. I let this sit in a warm cool place overnight. Then in the morning, I placed it in the fridge to chill.

I may have used too much yeast.

Mrs. Flannestad was surprised how much the beverage reminded her of real Beer. I was pleased that the yeasts had consumed some of the sugars, leaving it a slightly dryer beverage.