Root Beer 0.1

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our scavenger hunt has so far yielded

Brewing kit from a local homebrew store: 20L carbuoy, airlock, bottle cleaner and sanitiser, dextrose, manual (hammer) bottle capper. Haunted by visions of slicing our hands open, getting a proper bottle capper is on my to-do list.

Roots/barks:
sarsaparilla
licorice
burdock
dandelion
wild cherry bark

All of these seem to be widely available except for wild cherry, which we got from Rainbow Wholefoods during a daytrip to Lismore.

Sugar:
After some research, we found two good sources of non-fermentable sugar:
Rice malt syrup is approx. 50% maltose 50% maltotriose. The former is made of two glucose molecules, is easily digestible by yeast and is the primary sugar in most beers. The latter is made of three glucose molecules and is less digestible by most kinds of yeast. Maltotriose is an oligosaccharide (“few sugars”, defined as comprising 3-10 sugar monomers) which is what we are looking for.
Caramelised sugar: when sugar begins to burn and turn darker, it is forming longer sugar chains which produces the distinctive caramel taste. Lightly caramelised sugar should have some sweet oligosaccharides. If left too long, the sugar can become very bitter. We will use raw cane sugar (sucrose, which is 1 glucose and 1 fructose).

Yeast:
To make the sodas last longer, we need a yeast that is inactive at fridge temperatures. The highest temperature yeasts we could find are Belgian ale yeasts which are active at around 19-23C. Classy! We got a vial of White Labs‘ Belgian Wit Ale liquid yeast for $16 which is good for a 20L batch. Still fairly expensive for soda but we’ll see how it goes.

We don’t want to do a 20L test batch, so we saved a couple 1.25L PET bottles to test and compare the two sugars. We then got a funnel, 2 rubber stoppers and another airlock. Now we’re ready to go!

Test batch:
2tbsp sarsaparilla root
1tbsp licorice root
3tbsp wild cherry bark
2tsp burdock
3/4 cup raw sugar
3/4 cup rice malt syrup
5mL Belgian Wit yeast

This is a procedure we’ve adapted from various root beer recipes. Our notes in italics
1. Boil two pots each containing 1L water. Add half the roots to each pot.
2. Simmer 20 mins
3. Caramelise 1/2 cup sugar until it starts to go brown, then quickly add one of the pots. Add 1/2 cup rice malt syrup to the other pot.
4. Let steep 4 hours and taste. Should be more than sweet enough.
Both tasted really really bitter! Added 1/4 cup of each sweetener
5. Strain each pot into a sanitised 1.25L bottle, fill to 80% with cold water and add half the yeast to each. Close bottles and invert a couple times.
Yeast is quite hard to measure without a pipette. Very inexact.
6. Put stopper and airlock in each bottle and move into a cool dark place.

The caramel concoction is a lot darker than the rice malt one. We let them sit in a water bath to slow the temperature variation. Generally the temperature was around 24C.
The rice malt took about 6 hours to get the fine foam indicative of the yeast activating, then bubbled away for about 24 hours until it slowed down to almost nothing. After capping for 12 hours the bottle got firm and went to the fridge. Was slightly fizzy but didn’t foam or anything, could’ve been firmer I guess. The taste was kind of cidery and unpleasant. Down the sink it goes…
The caramel didn’t seem to activate so we added a bit more yeast. It then went basically as above, EXCEPT it tasted even worse! Really chemically. Down the sink it goes too…

Epilogue:
We decided to test all the ingredients individually, which in retrospect we should’ve done before the test batch. We found the culprit: the wild cherry bark. It’s disgusting. Perhaps it’s black cherry bark we needed, or maybe it was off. Either way, it’s outta here! Time to do a batch without it.

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