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MAKING ROOTBEER IN YOUR HOME

THINGS YOU WILL NEED:

BOTTLES: Once you have decided that you want to make root beer, start accumulating bottles which will accept a Acrimp on@ cap. The best sources for these bottles are motels, service stations, government offices or large private offices where soft drinks are available through dispensing machines. These are usually disposable bottles requiring no deposit, and free for the taking! Martinelli Sparkling Cider comes in smaller bottles which you can use. Some beers, particularly foreign beers, also come with the Acrimp cap.@ A bartender friend might save them for you. For five gallons you will need 60 (more or less) 10 ounce bottles. You can mathematically calculate the number of bottles that you need when you understand that five gallons of root beer including the sugar and extract, will make about 600 ounces of the drink. SUGGESTION: Try to accumulate bottles which are all of the same size so that you will not have to adjust and re-adjust the bottle capper as you bottle the beverage.

CAPS: You can purchase caps at shops which specialize in merchandise for making beverages, particularly wine shops. They are usually sold by the pound, approximately 190 making up that weight. Some caps come packaged by the gross (144). At one time, all caps were lined with cork. This is no longer true. They are now plastic lined. If you buy from a supplier who purchases caps in bulk, you may have Orange Crush caps, Pepsi caps, R.C. Cola caps, or caps designed for any of a number of beverages. If you plan to make rootbeer often, dealers sometimes give better prices for quantity buying. Ask your supplier before you buy. If you cannot find any caps, I bought 36 gross recently from Crown Cork & Seal Company, Inc. so that I would never run out and would be glad to send you some at my cost ($2.00/gross) plus postage. Please understand that I am not in the business of selling caps.

CAPPER: A capper is obviously essential. This device crimps the caps onto the beading at the top of the bottle providing a firm, air tight seal. Flea markets, antique shops, second hand stores might be explored as possible sources for a capper. If you find yourself having to buy a new one, wine shops sell them in prices ranging from a few dollars to over $20. Needless to say, an inexpensive capper is going to be worth just what you pay for it as compared to a more expensive one. If you buy a more expensive capper, be sure that it is ADJUSTABLE in the height of the bottle it will accept, and ask the vendor for some assurance as to the durability of the capper. I know of a case where the handle of an expensive capper broke in capping the first bottle.

EXTRACT: There are several brands of extract including more popular names such as McCormick/Schilling. Specialty shops often carry other brands such as Zatarain. Mail order shops sell one put out by Rainbow Flavors, Incorporated, known as Homebrew. A lady who came to one of my Arootbeer making classes@ and who could not find McCormick/Schilling, advised me that the batch she made using one of these other brands, tasted Awatery.@ In some areas of the country, the name Schilling can be found on the extract. In other areas, it is the McCormick name. The product is the same regardless. I suggest you use a brand that gives you the strength of flavor you prefer and then stick to it. Extract for making a batch is now almost $3.00 a bottle. Once in a while we find it for less in a store that has had in on the shelves for a while. There is no Hires Rootbeer Extract available anymore.

YEAST: I prefer fresh cake yeast but now find myself using the dry because fresh is difficult to find. If you use fresh yeast, use only HALF A CAKE for a batch of five gallons. Fresh yeast, where available, is usually found in the deli section of most grocery stores but it may be necessary to ask a clerk to help you locate it because I have found that it may not be kept in the same place twice. BE SURE TO PEEK AT THE FRESH YEAST BY LIFTING AN EDGE OF THE WRAPPER. It should be a very pleasant light grey in color. If it seems irregular in any way, don't buy it. If you use dry yeast the recommended quantity is a level bottle capful. Read that last sentence again! The word is capful not a cupful. SUGGESTION: If you plan to make root beer, locate your yeast first. It is always irritating to have all things in readiness and then not be able to find the yeast!

SUGAR: A batch of five gallons requires five pounds of granulated sugar. Some people prefer a taste that is not so sweet. If that is your case, drop back to four and one half pounds of sugar. If you are price conscious, generic sugar may be used but takes a little more stirring to dissolve. A Alow calorie@ rootbeer is also possible. Add artificial sweetener, measuring to equal the sweetness that pleases you then aded 20 to 25 tablespoons of sugar. Increase the yeast by one-fourth a cake, or a rounded capful. Remember, there must be sugar in the batch for the yeast to grow. If you are making Alow calorie@ rootbeer, be sure that you use SOME sugar as directed.

A CONTAINER LARGE ENOUGH TO HOLD SIX GALLONS: Because you will be making five gallons you will need a container to hold more than that quantity (sugar and extract increase the volume). The container should NOT BE ALUMINUM. I bought a plastic waste paper/utility basket WITH A COVER. This is kept only for making rootbeer. After each batch it is washed and allowed to thoroughly dry in the air and then the cover is replaced. It is ready for use the next time. The first time you make rootbeer, measure the quantity of water in your container and make a mark with fingernail polish on the outside at the five gallon level. Measuring the water for future batches will be unnecessary. Just fill to the mark.

NOW FOR THE WORK:

You MUST USE TEPID WATER (LUKEWARM). If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If it is too cold, the yeast will not work. I judge Atepid@ by inserting my little finger (clean of course). If I feel neither hot nor cold, I consider that it is tepid.

When you are ready, measure five gallons of tepid water into the large container. If using dry yeast, remove a cup of the tepid water and sprinkle the dry yeast over the surface of the water in the cup, while you continue. Later you will stir this and add it to the batch. If you are using fresh yeast, place the yeast in a cup, add 1 teaspoon of sugar and stir until the mixture liquifies. Set it aside to add to the water and extract after the next step.

Put the sugar in a large bowl. Pour the extract over the sugar and begin to stir. Add enough TEPID water from the MEASURED amount, to convert this into a heavy, but grainy syrup. Do not expect the sugar to dissolve completely. The idea is not to dissolve but to mix thoroughly. When mixed well, add this sugar mixture to the five gallons of water and stir until dissolved.

Now add the yeast and stir well. There should be no granulated sugar at the bottom of the container when you are ready to cap. Now cap!

Once the rootbeer is capped there will be a waiting period of from seven to ten days for the beverage to ripen. The length of time depends upon the temperature to which the bottles have been exposed. While the rootbeer is ripening, it MUST BE KEPT at normal room temperature. During the winter, we keep the ripening batch in the part of the house which we keep at a comfortable temperature. If it is kept in a place that is too cold, the batch will turn out like a thick syrup and will not be usable, let alone palatable.

Start testing the beer in seven or eight days and when it has reached a satisfactory level of effervescence, place in the refrigerator. This immediately arrests the growth of the yeast and prevents bottle explosions. If you wait too long to put the rootbeer in the refrigerator there are two things which might happen: 1. You may have bottles blow up on you. 2. The beverage may become too sharp to the taste and can then ony be used in rootbeer floats or rootbeer freezes.

WORD OF CAUTION: Refrigerate the entire batch when it has reached the effervescence that you prefer.

CLEANING THE BOTTLES: A hint for cleaning the bottles the FIRST TIME: Use a package of B-B shot, shaking the shot in each bottle until the bottle is clean and then pouring the shot into another bottle. CAUTION: DO NOT DROP B-B SHOT INTO THE DRAIN!

After this FIRST thorough cleaning, such extensive work on the bottles will NEVER have to be done again IF you educate your family members to immediately wash the bottles after use and turn them upside down to dry. If it is not convenient to wash them when they are finished drinking the beverage, educate them to put an inch or so of water in the bottle so that any yeast settled to the bottom will not become hard and cake there. You will discover that as the rootbeer ripens, a thin film of yeast forms in the bottoms of the bottles (or the sides, if stored on their sides). If this film dries after emptying a bottle, you will have the task of thoroughly cleaning the bottles again with B-B shot. If you find yourself in a picnic situation where the bottles cannot be immediately washed, be sure that a little water is added to empty bottles to keep the yeast moist, pliable and soluble. Our children and grandchildren all know that they must either wash a bottle thoroughly when finished with it or put some water in it as mentioned above. It is a matter of educating the family.

If bottles have been hard to obtain, always ask that bottles be returned to you. We give a lot of rootbeer away but we always give it away with the admonition: APlease return the bottles.@

HAPPY ROOT BEER MAKING! Please feel free to call me if you have any questions.