If you grew up in the US, chances are you have fond memories of A&W and Barq’s – there’s just nothing like the woody, spicy taste of root beer.
Think of the name “root” beer – traditionally it is actually made with a variety of roots, herbs, and spices that contribute flavor and color to the concoction. Among the common ones are wintergreen, vanilla, ginger, licorice, anise, birch, burdock, and sarsaparilla, to name a few.
When making your own root beer, trial and error will help you figure out what methods and ingredients you like best.
How to Make Homemade Root Beer
This version of root beer is a soda. Due to the fact that the root beer is bottle conditioned, there’s a small amount (less than 0.5% ABV) of alcohol present in the beer, but not enough to get much of a buzz.
The flavoring in this root beer recipe comes from Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract and makes the brewing process very simple. The most important thing is to halt the fermentation when the carbonation is correct by refrigerating the root beer. Otherwise, bottles could explode.
Feel free to scale this root beer recipe for a larger or smaller batch.
Zatarain’s Root Beer Recipe
1, four-ounce bottle Root Beer Extract
5 gallons of warm, filtered water
3-4 lbs. sugar
5 grams dried beer yeast dissolved in warm water
Fill a bottling bucket with five gallons of warm (not hot), filtered water. Dissolve sugar in water, then add root beer extract and hydrated beer yeast. Mix well, then bottle in about 53 cleaned and sanitized 12-oz. beer bottles. Cap securely and age bottles at room temperature for 24 hours. Open a bottle and check for appropriate carbonation. If more time is needed, check again every 8-12 hours until desired carbonation is achieved. When desired carbonation is reached, store bottles in a refrigerator to prevent further fermentation.
How to Make Alcoholic Root Beer
For those who want to make a “grown-up” or more traditional version of root beer, the technique gets a little more interesting. Instead of a root beer extract, this recipe uses a mix of herbs and spices to achieve the right blend of flavors. Many of them can be found at natural or health food stores in the bulk section. And instead of large amounts of sugar remaining in the root beer, we’ll use malt extract and brew like we would a normal beer. Just keep in mind that because we’re allowing the beer to ferment, hard root beer won’t taste as sweet as what you buy from the store. However, lactose sugar, caramel malt, and Carapils malt help keep the residual sweetness on the higher end.
“Hard” Root Beer Recipe
(5-gallon batch, partial mash)
6.6 lbs. dark LME
1 lb. dark DME
1 lb. caramel 90 malt
1 lb. Carapils malt
1 lb. lactose sugar
4 oz. dried sarsaparilla root
2 oz. dried burdock root
2 oz. dried spikenard root
1 oz. dried wintergreen leaves
1 oz. vanilla extract
0.5 oz. dried licorice root
1 oz. hops (any variety)
1 pack ale yeast
Steep crushed grains in one gallon of water at 155˚F for one hour. Strain out from wort, then mix in malt extract and enough water to make 2.5 to 5 gallons of wort, depending on the size of your brew kettle. Add herbs, spices, and hops and boil for 30 minutes. Strain out herbs and spices and mix in lactose sugar. If needed, top off with enough clean, filtered water to make five gallons. Cool and transfer to a clean, sanitized fermenter and ferment until complete. Bottle or keg as you would otherwise.
That’s how you make your own root beer. As you can see either of these recipes are not all that difficult, and the first recipe would be great to do with the kids.
David Ackley is a beer writer, homebrewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.