January 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a blog to document attempts at homebrewing original drinks with yeast, starting with a root beer.

Root beer:
There are generally three major ingredients (plus water):

Roots: Standards include sassafras, sarsaparilla, burdock, wintergreen (apparently the dominant flavour in artificial root beer), birch and dandelion. Many of these have medicinal properties but also many are specific to the US. We would like to find local and native alternatives where possible.

Yeast: Mass-produced sodas are made with force carbonation instead of yeast, but that’s no fun. Fermentation has been used for all of human history and releases all kinds of wonderful tastes and nutritious compounds*, and conveniently it can also make drinks fizzy! Root beer usually doesn’t have enough yeast nutrient to make the alcohol volume more than 0.5%, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Something to experiment with.
*We highly recommend the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, a compendium on the uses of fungi and bacteria for food and drink.

Sugar: Lots of it… It’s a given for sodas to be loaded with diabetes-inducing amounts of sugar, but does that make it ok? Do I want to be producing large amounts of something that is obviously bad for me? Here’s a chance to really make a different kind of soft drink. I’m not talking about artificial sweetener mind you! That is certainly not our vibe. A little about yeast-carbonated sodas…
Sugar has two uses in yeast soda. Some provides sweetness and yeast turns the rest into carbon dioxide resulting in a sweet, sparkling beverage. Any alcohol brewer can tell you that such a beverage (eg, champagne) is hard to produce. This is because after bottling, yeast will eat the sugar you allocated for sweetness and produce enough carbon dioxide to blow up the bottle. For champagne, it is eventually killed by the alcohol but even then a special bottle is still required! For yeast sodas, the generally accepted way to mitigate this is to use a plastic bottle, whack it in the fridge when it’s firm (i.e. carbonated enough) and consume it soon. Plastic bottles can only be reused a couple times and are generally quite unsatisfying, but beats shards of glass in the face.

So, an immediate goal is to make a naturally sweet soda that is good for you and has a long shelf-life …and is delicious. One method is to use two kinds of sugar: a fermentable sugar for carbonation (consumed by the yeast) and a non-fermentable sugar for sweetness (consumed, hopefully, by us and friends).


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