Homemade root beer isn’t something that we often make in our house because it has so much sugar, but it’s a nice treat on occasion and way healthier than the stuff on the shelves at the store.
Beyond all the natural ingredients, we ferment the starter for it with a ginger bug. A ginger bug is a natural fermentation that works similar to a brewer’s yeast.
The bacteria formed in the starter, primarily lactobacillus acidophilus, is excellent for gut health and many other potential health benefits.
The American diet has been almost entirely devoid of ferments with the over-pasteurized ingredients and industrial sludge that we subject our dinner plates too.
Introducing some beneficial bacteria in a treat seems like an excellent way to reintroduce it.
It’s a simple process. Anybody can make homemade root beer, but it takes some patience.
Including making the ginger bug, it’ll take from nine to ten days.
The only special equipment you’ll need is some swing-top bottles, or some old beer bottles and a bottle capper. Maybe a funnel to get the root beer from your pot and into the bottles.
When making fermented drinks, one important thing to keep in mind is that they will have a little alcohol in them—only about 0.5% to 1%, but it’s something that you should be aware of.
Most of the ingredients won’t be available at your local grocery store, so you’ll have to either order them online or potentially source them from a brewer’s supply store.
Once you’ve got everything together, you’ll make a tea out of it, then strain it through cheesecloth, before letting it cool.
Once it’s cooled off enough, you’ll add the ginger bug, stir, then bottle it up. It’s critical to let it cool completely, because temperatures over 110 degrees F, can potentially kill the bacteria in the ginger bug. No bugs, no carbonation.
The carbonation in fermented drinks comes from the bacteria eating some of the sugar and expelling carbon dioxide.
Homemade Root Beer
- 1 gallon filtered water
- 1 tbsp. birch bark
- 2 tbsp. sarsaparilla root
- 1 star anise
- 1 tbsp. licorice root
- 1 tbsp. ginger root
- 1 tbsp. fresh mint - minced
- 1 vanilla bean - split and seeded (both will go into the pot)
- 2 tbsp. sassafras root bark
- 1/2 cup molasses - Mild and unsulphured (not blackstrap)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup ginger bug
- Add one gallon of water to a large stockpot, then add the birch bark, sarsaparilla root, star anise, licorice root, ginger root, mint, and vanilla bean, along with its seeds. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
- Add the sassafras root bark, stir, then cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
- Take the pot off of the heat, then thoroughly stir in the sugar and molasses.
- Fill a sink with water, then gently set the pot into it to cool until it reaches no more than 100 degrees F. About 2 hours.
- Once cool, remove the pot from the sink and strain through cheesecloth, into a large bowl or pot. Thoroughly stir in the ginger bug.
- Using the funnel, fill each bottle until there is 1-2 inches of airspace from the top.
- Put the bottles in a cool, dark space to ferment for 2-3 days (depending on how cool you keep your house). Be sure to set them somewhere so that if a bottle cap pops off from the pressure, it won't mess anything up. Move to your refrigerator and allow it to cool for another 2 days.
Sue Waggoner says
At what point do you add the ginger bug?
Cory Doggett says
Sorry, Sue. Somehow I missed that. It should be added in step 5 after the root beer is cool.
If it’s too hot, it will kill the yeasts.
Thank you for pointing that out!