Hires Based Root Beer v1.1

Vanilla Beans.

Vanilla Beans.

A few things have been bothering me about my interpretation of Charles Hires’ Recipe for Root Beer.

First, the vanilla I’ve been using has been pretty crap. So I stopped at a store which specializes in Vanilla and picked up some Vanilla Planifolia beans. Hi Vanilla Saffron Imports, you rock!

When researching ingredients, I realized that the “Ginger (Africa)” listed in the recipe was probably Grains of Paradise, so I wanted to include that pretty common beer ingredient in my recipe.

Charles Hires also included “Chirreta” which is a Gentian-like bitter root. I had made a couple truly bitter root beers, but I wanted to rein (oops, not reign, thanks Rowen!) in the bitterness in a bit.

I’d also been reading about Wintergreen and that the compounds which create the flavor we associate with Wintergreen are not readily available from a simple infusion. Apparently, the leaves need to be fermented and then the result distilled, for you to get anything really resembling Wintergreen flavor. So I got some Organic Wintergreen Oil.

Finally, early recipes for Root Beer contain spruce oil. If I’m springing for Wintergreen Oil, I might as well spring for Spruce.

Root Beer v1.1

2 tsp Sassafras Bark of Root*
2 tsp Sarsaparilla Root (Jamaican)
2 tsp Wintergreen
1/2 tsp grains of paradise, crushed
1/2 tsp Juniper Berries, crushed
1/2 tsp Licorice Root
1/2 tsp Honey Roasted Licorice
1 tsp Fresh Ginger Root
1/2 tsp Ginger, dried
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp Burdock Root
1/4 tsp Gentian Root
1/3 of a Vanilla planifolia Bean
1 Star Anise

1 pinch Cascade Hope
1/2 tsp Horehound
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate

1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
3 TBSP CA Blackberry Honey
1 TBSP Molasses

1 Drop Organic Wintergreen Oil
1 Drop Organic Black Spruce Oil

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Cool, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 4 parts soda water).

Root Beer v1.1.

Root Beer v1.1.

Whoa! Those essential oils are powerful stuff. I think I need to at least double this recipe to balance them out. The Wintergreen isn’t bad, most modern Root Beer are more serious Wintergreen bombs than this version, but the Spruce scent on this is kind of overwhelming. Authentic or no, I’ll leave the spruce out next time.

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and so Sassafras has been forbidden for use in food or beverage products by the FDA. Sassafras Oil is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales. Use at your own risk.

Dr Chase’s Root Beer

Here’s my favorite Root Beer recipe so far, found in John Hull Brown’s “Early American Beverages”. It is, of course, in the section on Medicinal Beverages.

“Root Beer: For each gallon of water to be used, take hops, burdock, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, dandelion, and spikenard roots, bruised, of each 1/2 oz.; Boil about 20 minutes, and strain while hot, add 8 or 10 drops of oils of spruce and sassafras* mixed in equal proportions, when cool enough not to scald your hand, put in 2 or 3 tablespoons of yeast; molasses two-thirds of a pint, or white sugar 1/2 lb. gives it about the right sweetness.

“Keep these proportions for as many gallons as you wish to make. You can use more or less of the roots to suit your taste after trying it; it is best to get the dry roots, or dig them and let them dry, and of course you can add any other root known to possess medicinal properties desired in the beer. After all is mixed, let it stand in a jar with a cloth thrown over it, to work about two hours, then bottle and set in a cool place. This is a nice way to take alternatives, without taking medicine. And families ought to make it every Spring, and drink freely of it for several weeks, and thereby save, perhaps, several dollars in doctors’ bills.”

Dr Chase’s Recipes, 1869

Well, with a government shut down and a stalemate on health care, perhaps it is time to review this recipe!

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and is forbidden for use in food by the FDA. It is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales of Sassafras Oil. Use at your own risk.