For many years now I’ve longed to brew my own root beer from scratch. I’ve always immediately dismissed the idea of using an extract, longing for the true rich flavors that I hoped using actual roots might provide. It was almost a year ago now that I actually found a recipe based on the actual roots that would launch me down learning to brew my own sodas. Today you can actually purchase root beer that I make from my own recipe at Five Dot Ranch Beef in Napa, California.
But this post isn’t about root beer. It’s the importance of the lesson that I learned from brewing my own soda. At a basic level a soda is an infusion of aromatics and flavorings into a drinkable liquid that is then sweetened and carbonated. Using this basic idea, a soda can be anything you want. It is a vehicle for flavors, a blank canvas waiting to be painted upon. The liquid could be a juice, or a stock, or any other flavorful liquid. It could be infused with herbs or spices, either fresh or dried or any other flavoring of your choice. You could use mushrooms, lavender, habaneros or thai basil. The sweetener could be honey, agave, brown sugar, molasses or maple syrup. The point is that is flexible, and open for interpretation.
What else makes a beverage a soda? Carbonation! Carbonation occurs through the magic of yeast! There are other methods of carbonation, but I love the flavor and ease of using yeast. The yeast consumes the sugars and creates carbon dioxide create bubbles as well as a distinct yeasty aroma. I love yeast.
When I posted about duck bacon, I said I awoke in the middle of the night excited by two particular ideas. This is one of them. The perfect paint for a blank canvas, Five Spice Soda. It has citrusy notes and a special zing from the szechwan peppercorns. It’s perfectly light, crisp and bubbly. It would be a wonderful beverage for a warm spring day, just tempting you to drink the whole bottle.
FIve Spice Soda:
- 1 Gallon Water
- 3 Tablespoons Szechwan Pepper Corns
- 2 Tablespoons Fennel Seeds
- 12 Pieces Star Anise
- 1/4 Ounce Saigon Cinnamon
- 2 Vanilla Beans, (split and seeded)
- 4 Sprigs Mint
- 1 lb Light Brown Sugar
- 1/8 Teaspoon Ale Yeast
Place half the water in a large pot, covered with a lid on the stove over high heat. Chill the remainder of the water in the fridge or freezer. Bring the water to a boil, add the Szechwan Pepper Corns, Fennel Seeds, Star Anise, Saigon Cinnamon and the Vanilla Beans. Replace the lid back on the pot, remove from the heat and allow to steep for 2 hours. An hour into the steeping, add the mint
Sanitize 6 22 oz bottles in a solution of 1 tablespoon of bleach for every gallon of hot water. Soak the bottles in the bleach solution for 2 minutes before allowing to air dry. Also sanitize a whisk, ladle, funnel and fine mesh strainer.
After the 2 hours of steeping time is over, add the brown sugar to the bottom of large stock pot or container big enough to hold the finished gallon of soda and still allow you enough room to stir. Strain the warm spice infusion through a sanitized fine mesh strainer into the container with the sugar. Whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the chilled water and whisk to combine. Allow the soda to cool down to 75 degrees or below. Whisk in the ale yeast. Allow to proof for 15 minutes.
Ladle the soda into the bottles, leaving two inches of space at the top. Cap the bottles and allow to sit at room temperature for two days to carbonate. Check the carbonation by opening a bottle and tasting. Recap and allow to sit at room temperature for twelve more hours if more carbonation is desired. When the desired level of carbonation is reached, chill the sodas in the fridge until ready to enjoy.