There’s an old-fashioned charm to homemade root beer with its odd array of roots and bark, flowers, leaves and berries. Fortunately, this old-fashioned herbal root beer recipe is easy to make at home.
You’ll need aromatic herbs, a little bit of sugar and a starter culture like ginger bug or kombucha. And within a few days you’ll have a naturally fizzy, bubbly brew.
Jump to Recipe | What is it? | Herbs | Safety | Brewing Tips
Root beer is a distinctly American drink with a sweet, herbal flavor that’s been made since the colonial era. Traditionally, brewers made the drink by fermenting an herbal decoction made with sassafras bark, sarsaparilla root and other herbs with sugar and yeast to make a naturally bubbly, probiotic soft drink.
In the 20th century, the traditional herbal recipe fell from favor, and soft drink manufacturers began making it with artificial flavors. Moreover, they stopped culturing root beer and, instead, carbonated it.
While most home brewers make their root beers from artificially flavored root beer extracts, there’s a certain undeniable charm of brewing root beer the traditional way. Slowly simmering a decoction of roots, bark and spices, adding a touch of sugar, and then stirring in a starter.
Then all you have to do is bottle the brew and wait for those beneficial bacteria and yeast to do their work.
Sassafras, sarsaparilla, ginger root and birch all give the brew its distinctive flavor, but without the additives.
How to Source Your Herbs: You can buy organic and ethically wildcrafted herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs.
There’s three basic steps to making homemade root beer. First, you’ll start by making an herbal decoction by simmering the herbs in water until they release their aromatic compounds and other constituents. Then you’ll sweeten the brew and add a starter culture, so that it ferments. Lastly, you’ll bottle the root beer and let it culture.
As it ferments, all the microbes in your starter culture will consume the sweetener. As a result, your root beer will be fizz and bubble. And it’s a great source of probiotics, too.
Homemade root beer is easy to make, and is just about as simple as boiling water or making tea. But, there’s a few things to keep in mind as you make this recipe.
Sassafras is the dominant flavor in traditional root beer recipes. It also contains safrole, a naturally occurring polyphenol that you can also find in nutmeg, cinnamon and other herbs.
In the 1960s, a study conducted on lab animals implicated safrole in liver damage. Of course, the lab rats were fed massive quantities of safrole – the human equivalent of consuming about 32 twelve-ounce bottles of root beer a day. After the study was released, the FDA required commercial soft drink makers to remove sassafras from their brews.
As a result, wintergreen came to replace sassafras in commercial root beer recipes.
Interestingly, while massive quantities of safrole caused liver cancer in lab animals, it seems that small doses may actually play a protective role for humans (7-10).
And the small amounts of safrole in your homemade root beer are likely just fine.
1-4) Fleming, T., et al. (ed) (2000) The Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicine. Medical Economics Company.
5) Armanini, D., et al. (2004) Licorice reduces serum testosterone in healthy women. Steroids.
6) Liangliang, C., et al. (2017) Purification, Preliminary Characterization and Hepatoprotective Effects of Polysaccharides from Dandelion Root. Molecules.
7. Yu, et al. (2011) Safrole induces cell death in human tongue squamous cancer SCC-4 cells through mitochondria-dependent caspase activation cascade apoptotic signaling pathways. Environmental Toxicology.
8. Yu, et al. (2011) Safrole induces apoptosis in human oral cancer HSC-3 cells. Journal of Dental Research.
9. Du, et al. (2006) Safrole oxide induces apoptosis by up-regulating Fas and FasL instead of integrin beta4 in A549 human lung cancer cells. Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry.
10 Chang, et al. (2006) Safrole-induced Ca2+ mobilization and cytotoxicity in human PC3 prostate cancer cells. Journal of Receptor & Signal Transduction Research.
Ever wonder what else you can do with all your shiny beer making equipment? How about making root beer? Many commercial breweries turned to root beer production to try to stay afloat during Prohibition, and some craft breweries and brewpubs make root beer today. Our article will help you get to the root of the matter with tips and 4 great recipes.
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As a novice in the kitchen, the idea of beverage making is Brewing your own root beer is one of those areas where you can put your own.
As a novice in the kitchen, the idea of beverage making is something that seems less intimidating and is an enjoyable extension of brewing tea or mixing a drink. Brewing your own root beer is one of those areas where you can put your own signature on an old fashioned tradition that took off in America. Root beer has all sorts of associations, whether you think of cowboys boiling tree bark in the wild west, or pharmacist Charles Hires’ early concoction of 16 wild roots and berries, or the popular drink used for an ice cream float in diners of the 1950s. [Impatient people, check out the recipe at the end of the post]
Root beer is a small beer, a low- to no-alcohol drink that fits into the group of soda, pop, or soft drinks. Brewers of root beer sprang up and advanced in prominence around the 1920s as a legal drink during the prohibition. Players like IBC, Barq’s, Hires, and A&W were some of the early ones that still have names in today’s society, although it might be interesting to note that Dr Pepper Snapple Group now own and dictate the current taste of most rootbeers on the grocery shelves.
There are many roots in the world and hundreds of other popular ingredients that work well in the family of root beer and small beers. Back in the day, sassafras and sarsaparilla were among the top flavors used in root beer. Today, the taste most familiar to mainstream rootbeer is wintergreen. This is because in the 1960s, sassafras was banned by the FDA after discovering safrole, an oil that is known to be carcinogenic in rats in high doses. However, home-brewers continue to use it–as basil, cinnamon, and nutmeg all contain safrole as well. When used in small quantities, it is no different than sitting next to a campfire and breathing some of the “carcinogenic” smoke.
There are other recipes which are very informative, but use pre-made extract which is less inventive in tweaking the core flavor profile. The first batch I made tasted more like a craft ginger ale because of the yeasty tartness, but I’ll be updating the recipe as I homebrew more batches.
I did not use the below ingredients in my first brew, but you can add or substitute these in your wort. The amounts are a starting point.
Bring water to a boil. Simmer ingredients for 1 hour. Hops can be added anytime throughout the cooking process. Check out the temperature effects on the flavor of hop tea. Let wort cool to under 105 degrees F. Strain, and funnel into your bottle.
Add your extracts, sugars, and liquids to the bottle. Shake up all the ingredients until dissolved.
Let the yeast sit in the warm water for 15 minutes. Afterwards, add this to the bottle, then top off the bottle with clean water until there’s only an inch of space from the cap. The less oxygen in there, the less oxidation (leading to off flavors and smells). But leave just a bit of room for a foamy head (just like beer) and for fizzing when opening.
Let the yeast ferment into soda in a dark place. Or if you are lazy, cover the bottles with your leftover laundry. Wait anywhere from 4 hours to a week, depending on the temperature and complexity of the nutrients. Warm weather indoors will speed up the process compared to a cold house without a heater running. Typical time will be 1-3 days.
When the bottle doesn’t flex under firm pressure, it is ready to permanently toss into a refrigerator to inhibit further carbonation. Any lollygagging after the bottle stops giving when squeezed will only increase your risk of over-carbonation and exploding fluids. After refrigerated, the bottle will need some pressure released. Slowly loosen the cap until a faint noise lets you know the compressed gas is escaping. Let the craft root beer sit in the fridge with the slightly loosened cap. You can drink 12-24 after it has cooled. Be careful not to unscrew the cap too fast on first opening, as you might get overflowing root-beer (after all, it is carbonated soda).
* Tweaking the sugar sources will have a direct impact on the flavor. Experiment with brown sugar, 2/3 c agave nectar, honey, or other sugary substances. Sweet fruit juice can also be substituted for water and part of the sugar contents. Some sugar (glucose, fructose, dextrose, etc) needs to be present for the yeast to work its magic, but you can replace part of the sugar with stevia or other sugar alternative. If you are looking for a sugar-free alternative, you could skip the yeast and use pre-made or force carbonated water, but use a lower quantity of sugar substitute.
The following sites have more rootin-tootin recipes and more anecdotes about the drink.
These old fashioned root beer recipes were among the first carbonated soft drink recipes published. Good homemade root beer is foamy in the glass and has a very pleasant and truly unique flavor — fresh, yeasty, sparkling, and with just the slightest hint of alcohol. It tastes great!
By experimenting with the old recipes, you'll get to experience the wholesome and delicious soft drink your great-great-grandparents once enjoyed as children. And once you taste it, you will love it.
Made From Scratch Right in Your Own Kitchen
Watch the above YouTube video and discover how easy it is to make genuine homemade root beer from scratch with natural ingredients.
The Fleishmann's® Yeast Company (c. 1915)
This vintage carbonated beverage recipe is one of the best. It was first published around 1915, and afterwards it appeared in numerous publications. Fleischmann's is a registered trademark of ConAgra Foods.
1 cake compressed yeast; 5 pounds sugar; 2 ounces sassafras root bark; 1 ounce hops or gingerroot; 2 ounces juniper berries; 4 gallons water; 1 ounce dandelion root; 2 ounces wintergreen.
Wash roots well in cold water. Add juniper berries (crushed) and hops. Pour 8 quarts boiling water over root mixture and boil slowly 20 minutes. Strain through flannel bag. Add sugar and remaining 8 quarts water. Allow to stand until lukewarm.
Dissolve yeast in a little cool water. Add to root liquid. Stir well. Let settle and then strain again and bottle. Cork tightly. Keep in a warm room 5 to 6 hours, and then store in a cool place. Put on ice as required for use.
Lee's Priceless Recipes (1895)
For each gallon of water take hops, burdock, yellow dock, sarsaparilla, dandelion, and spikenard root (all bruised), of each 1/2 ounce; boil 20 minutes; strain while hot; add 8 or 10 drops of oil of spruce and sassafras mixed in equal proportions.
When cool enough put in 2 tablespoonfuls of yeast; molasses, 3/8 pint or white sugar, 1/2 pound gives the right sweetness.
The Book of Knowledge and Sure Guide to Rapid Wealth (1873)
For 10 gallons beer, take 3 pounds common burdock root, or 1 ounce essence of sassafras; 1/2 pound good hops; 1 pint corn, roasted brown. Boil the whole in 6 gallons pure water until the strength of the materials is obtained; strain while hot into a keg, adding enough cold water to make 10 gallons.
When nearly cold, add clean molasses or syrup until palatable — not sickishly sweet. Add also as much fresh yeast as will raise a batch of 8 loaves of bread. Place the keg in a cellar or other cool place, and in 48 hours, you will have a keg of first-rate, sparkling root beer.
Writing this page reminded me of the first time I made homemade root beer using a Hires® Root Beer Extract kit back in the 1960s. I placed the capped bottles under the bed in the spare bedroom to carbonate, and I totally forgot about them.
A few evenings later my wife and I were watching television in the living room, when suddenly we heard a loud POP!
Starting with the kitchen, we looked in every room, but could not discover the source of the puzzling sound.
The following evening we heard the same loud POP again, and then seconds later — POP! POP! Twice in a row! We were totally baffled.
Suddenly, we remembered the root beer.
What a mess! Nearly a dozen bottles had spewed their yeasty, sugary contents all over the underside of our bed and the floor beneath it. The moral to this sticky story:
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a small, fast growing tree native to southern Ontario and the entire eastern half of the United States.
It's commonly seen in clumps of saplings, but it can reach a height of 50 feet (15 m), or more. Its roots have a distinctive root beer fragrance.
Sassafras tree bark, root bark, and essential oils were once used by Native Americans and settlers to make tea and root beer. However, sassafras is now banned as a commercial flavoring ingredient in the USA and Canada, since it contains Safrole which is a potential carcinogenic.
Therefore, always exercise moderation, caution, and common sense if using sassafras in old fashioned root beer recipes.
Roots, barks, essences, yeasts, and bottling supplies for making homemade root beer can best be found at local homebrew shops, but if none are available in your area, try searching online.
The early settlers made a "small beer" that they fermented using yeast and molasses and flavored with whatever edible herbs, barks, and roots they could find locally.
These old home brews evolved into the familiar soft drinks now known as root beer, sarsaparilla, and ginger beer. The rich, sparkling flavors of these refreshing nonalcoholic beers are still popular today.
Learning how to make root beer is a real achievement, and it's so very easy when the little secrets have been mastered. Simply follow the old fashioned root beer recipes, adjusting the quantities when needed, and don't be afraid to experiment.
Experimenting is all part of the fun. Soon, with patience and a bit of practice, you will become an accomplished root beer maker.
By the way, Grandma was blessed with pure water from her old stone well, but the use of filtered water might help many of us to produce better tasting homemade root beers. The purer the water, the better the beverage!
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Grab an ice cold, creamy Root Beer at these delicious Indiana best choice to enjoy their craft brewed specialty Butterscotch Root Beer. Root beer floats, sundaes, malts and other sweet treats are all made to order, so do.
A tulip glass filled with Big Axe Brewing Company’s Root Beer // Photo courtesy Big Axe Brewing Company
Brewers across the state take pride in crafting drinks that are innovative and refreshing—and that includes root beer. Root beer not only provides a non-alcoholic option at local taprooms, but it also allows brewers to experiment with flavors through handcrafted sodas.
“Much like the craft beer scene, it’s been fun to watch and sample and see all the new varieties come up, each with their own unique twist,” says Chris French of Big Axe Brewing Company of Nisswa, Minnesota.
While brewers use many different spices and extracts, that classic root beer flavor comes from sassafras and sarsaparilla roots. However, brewers have used artificial sassafras flavoring for more than 50 years, since scientists discovered the root’s safrole oil causes liver damage.
The sweet, syrupy drink we now know was developed in the mid-1800s, though Native Americans had been making teas with the same ingredients for centuries beforehand. The beer part of the name is often linked to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where pharmacist Charles Hires used the term to market his root beverage extract. Being a teetotaler, Hires originally planned to call the mix root tea, but decided “beer” would sell better at the event, even if the drink contained no alcohol.
Minnesota has a storied past when it comes to root beer, from Prohibition-era 1919 Root Beer made by August Schell’s Brewing Company in New Ulm to the handmade pops of “root beer lady” Dorothy Molter in Ely, from throwing back a chilled Killebrew at a Twins game to drinking a Fitger’s Driftwood Draft in Duluth. The brewers listed below represent a new era of root beer makers who are mixing things up with each pour.
The Red Wing Brewery taproom in Red Wing, Minnesota // Photo via Red Wing Brewing Company Facebook
Reproducing antique beer recipes is part of Red Wing Brewery’s mission, and they stay true to it with Good Old Zimmie’s Root Beer. Since it opened over five years ago, the brewery has had root beer on the menu for customers who want to enjoy the craft beer scene but are either underage or don’t drink, according to owner Scott Kolby.
“Breweries that make their own root beer offer a house-made alternative for patrons that want a non-alcoholic beverage when they are out with their family and friends. Many people are grateful for this,” he says.
Good Old Zimmie’s taps one local resource for its natural sweetener: real maple syrup. While purchasing maple syrup from a local sugar bush costs more than other sweeteners, Kolby says it adds another layer of flavor.
“Real maple syrup rounds out the sweetness so that the flavor is reminiscent of the old fashioned root beer barrel candies,” he says.
The only place to find this root beer is at Red Wing Brewery, but it is available by the growler for carry-out or by the glass for those sticking around a while. Kolby noted that it goes well with their pizzas, but above all, it appeals to all sorts of customers.
“We wanted to serve a beverage that was made on-premise that non-beer drinkers of all ages could enjoy,” he says. “This encourages a family atmosphere at our brewpub.”
Tree Fort Soda’s product line up including a bottle of their Root Beer on the right // Photo via Tree Fort Soda Facebook
Found in bottles across the Upper Midwest, Tree Fort Soda was started by Twin Cities resident Eva Duckler when she was just 17. The Blake School gave her graduating class time off to work on their senior capstone projects. For her project, she began making sodas, perfecting her floral blends of natural spices, and started a company to sell them.
When the capstone project was finished, Duckler turned to her brother, David, for help producing the drinks on a larger scale. He was the perfect ally because, for starters, he already owned Verdant Tea with his wife, but also because he and his sister had always been huge root beer aficionados.
“Tasting different kinds of root beer became a game of searching our imagination like some sort of mental botanical database for placing the different flavors,” Eva Duckler says. “[…] We always searched for our perfect brew but never quite found it. So it naturally follows that we’d grow up to do it ourselves.”
As a result, Tree Fort is the “kitchen sink” of root beer recipes. Using real honey as a sweetener, it moves beyond the classic sassafras and sarsaparilla flavor with a mix of wintergreen, anise, cinnamon, marigold, and peppercorn.
“We started out brewing 15-gallon batches, simmering herbs and spices on the stovetop and selling sodas one by one out of kegs,” she says. “Over time, we grew from one botanical root beer inspired by old pre-Prohibition recipes to four sodas bottled and sent all over the Midwest.”
A bottle of Glewwe’s Castle Brewery’s Root Beer. The small family-centric brewery is located in Prior Lake, Minnesota // Photo via Glewwe’s Castle Brewery Facebook
A mom and pop shop is the most accurate way to describe Glewwe’s Castle Brewery. Mark and Laurel Glewwe run the business, which started making root beer and other hand-crafted soft drinks in 1994. They began selling the beverages 10 years later as a way for their son, Erik, to raise money for college.
“He has since graduated—go Gophers!—and is only tangentially participating, so it has fallen upon my wife and I to keep it operating,” Mark Glewwe says. “It is more of a hobby getting out of control rather than a true money-making business.”
Glewwe’s Castle Root Beer is available in 12-ounce bottles, 16-ounce and 32-ounce swing-top resealable bottles, as well as kegs and growler fills at the brewery, a pole barn at the Glewwes’ Prior Lake home. It also is available at farmers market in Prior Lake and is expected to be a tap option at the Boathouse Brothers Brewing taproom in Prior Lake once it opens.
What makes Glewwe’s Castle root beer special is its blend of sassafras and birch that’s sweetened primarily with honey. The root flavor was stronger originally, Glewwe says, but his kids advised him to cut back when they began to sell the beverage.
“The result seems to be reasonably popular, so much so that we are ranked fairly highly on two national website rankings, Anthony’s (Root Beer Barrel) and Eric’s (Gourmet Root Beer Site),” he says, adding that the bottle labels bear “Eric’s Seal of Approval.”
The exterior of Vine Park Brewing Company, located on West 7th Street in St. Paul, Minnesota // Photo by Brian Kaufenberg
While Twin Cities homebrewers and home vitners know it as a place where anyone can make and bottle their own beer and wine, Vine Park has also been making a mean root beer since 1995. Owner Andy Grage says his wife motivated him to create the naturally sweetened, caffeine-free pop.
“My wife is a root beer connoisseur, and she wanted a root beer that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup. So we use organic cane sugar and locally sourced honey to sweeten our root beer,” he says.
Vine Park sells its root beer at the taproom in 12-ounce bottles. Customers can buy them individually, in six-packs, or by the case. For large gatherings, kegs are available, and the brewers offer a tap and ice buckets, if needed, as well as a phone number for troubleshooting. If your family or group of coworkers can’t finish a keg in one day, brewery staff will recarbonate the pop so that you can transfer it to 22-ounce bottles.
The Grages spent three years perfecting their recipe, adding different flavors in different quantities, before releasing it at Vine Park. But the end result strikes a refreshing balance, Grage says, adding: “It’s got just a touch of wintergreen to offset the sweetness.”
A glass of Big Axe Brewing Company’s Root Beer in the brewery’s taproom which is located in Nisswa, Minnesota // Photo courtesy Big Axe Brewing Company
For a cold float in the northwoods, the craft root beer from Big Axe Brewing Company makes the cut. French, owner and head brewer, says the taproom has been serving refreshing root beer since opening in 2015.
“It’s been a great addition to our beer-focused lineup, especially for all the kids that come up in the summer. They love it, and a lot of adults dig it, too,” he says.
Big Axe’s root beer is only available in the taproom. It pairs well with a burger from the brewery’s kitchen, or customers can order a float with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream to wash down their meal. Either way, what makes the soft drink unique is its balance of sweetness, herbal and root flavors, and viscosity, which is why French himself is a fan of the drink.
“It’s not syrupy and it’s not too watered down, but right in the middle for sweetness and flavor,” he says. “In fact, on a hot summer day while brewing beer, I can easily put down several glasses just like I could as a kid and not feel over sugared or root beered out.”
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