May 192012

This last Mother’s Day weekend, I was back at my parents house to show my love for my wonderful Mom, try and slay a wild turkey (I didn’t even see any), and of course, make some root beer. My brothers and I felt that we had sufficiently mastered the Mr. Root Beer Kit and I had a bolder idea. I wanted to carbonate my root beer without any yeast by using dry ice. I also wanted to try the Mission Recipe using some Trader Joe’s Mesquite Desert Honey. I eat it all the time at home and the flavor is mild with a bit of a bite to it. I figured it would make excellent root beer, especially when mixed with Bourbon Vanilla extract. I got some McCormick Root Beer Extract and made a full gallon of flat root beer following the recipe. Then it was time for the alchemy (chemistry).

Our Transmutation Circle

If you’ve never read the Manga or seen the Anime “Full Metal Alchemist” you should, for that’s the type of alchemy I’m into. It seemed a simple proposition. Under pressure, 12 oz of soda contains about 2.2 g of CO2. Therefore the all that should be needed is to measure the appropriate amount of dry ice (solid CO2), plop it in the bottle or growler, cap it, use the transmutation circle to transmute some root beer, and voila. The dry ice should sublimate, pressurize the container, then be dissolved into the liquid, fully carbonating it. If measurements or something else was wrong with the plan, surely the transmutation circle would take care of everything. What could possibly go wrong? They could explode if we put too much in. That’s what could happen. So as a precaution we had a large cooler filled with ice ready. After transmuting our root beer we would quickly seal them in the cooler so if they did explode, the blast would be contained. So then, all bases covered.

Adding the dry ice before transmuation

The first spring top bottle went ok, though we had one heck of a time crushing the dry ice small enough to fit inside. After it was all in, we closed the top, placed our hands on the circle and did what all good alchemists do after that, and then into the cooler. We waited a few minutes and didn’t hear any explosions, so that was good. I cautiously cracked open the cooler and heard a hissing sound. It seemed that some of the carbonation was escaping the seal. Hmm. Oh well, move on to the half gallon growler! This is the one I got from Dicks Brewery. I figured that this should be the easiest since the mouth was much larger. However, the large chunks of dry ice started reacting violently, spilling root beer out the top. The obvious solution to this would be … put it in FASTER! Then transmute! Since it didn’t seem to be working. Now cap it, and quickly get it into the cooler. Too Late, the transmutation rebounded … BOOM! Just as I was closing the top of the cooler off blasted the cap. Root beer was everywhere. Luckily I was spared injury and was only covered in my sticky honey brew. My mother was understandably less than pleased and we were ordered to take our alchemy outside and clean.

The ceiling, after the explosion.

We did as told and as we cleaned, we thought that we had the situation under control, but we were wrong. Unbeknownst to us, our actions had been observed, and like carrion birds upon a medieval battle field they descended upon the carnage. WASPS! All the more startling was the fact that it was night, and we were standing on ladders trying to mop the ceiling. Things had gone from bad to worse. But, the foolish beasts were so hypnotized by the utopic predicament and their own gluttony to offer much of a fight, especially against a skilled alchemist, before you train the mind you must train the body after all. I quickly defeated the hordes and then went to check the remaining bottles as well as finish up the last one. When there was no more hissing from the bottles I put them in the fridge.

The next day we gave it a try. It had a wonderful flavor just as I had expected, but there was no Head and it was almost completely flat. I could barely stand it with food. Oh well, try again? This time we added a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to it and poured our flat root beer into a punch bowl and dumped in all of the remaining dry ice, which sadly wasn’t even as much as we had attempted to put in the growler. We ate it with pizza about 15 minutes later. Still flat, still drinkable, barely. Something must be wrong with my calculations or maybe my transmutation circle and alchemy … Oh well, we’ll figure out. Maybe with some better extract and equipment. Who knows, but this is by no means the end.

Clearly somethings not going right with our alchemy ...

Quick, cap it!

All that survived the blast

Punch bowl root beer alchemy

Jan 072012

I am never one to vow in vain. So this past Christmas vacation, as I had returned to my homeland, I gathered my brothers to the kitchen to have our second go at root beer brewing. Since the last time was rather less than tasty, I had been pondering deeply on how to make it better. Since it was too watery the first time I started with a full cup less water. It wasn’t creamy as well so I added a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the water. Since there was a distinct lack of spices I added 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. I added the spices and vanilla extract to the water and boiled it for a few minutes. I let it cool until it was warm and then we followed the root beer recipe as given in the instructions. The only other change we made was to add a full extra cup of honey. Not just any honey though. We added Hartman Honey. A raw honey sold in 10 pound tubs by a local bee keeper who retired a few years ago. And I must say it is the most epic honey I’ve ever had in my life. But since he has retired, you can’t buy it any more so we were using some of the last in the world. You’ve got to use it for something though. Since my parents were watching the Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the adjacent room, our pageantry was much reduced since our attentions were torn (the Twinners hadn’t seen that movie yet) but it was still a great time. After we bottled it we let it carbonate for two days as before. We enjoyed our creation on my Dad’s birthday with a fine meal of barbecued short ribs, chicken, and all of the fixin’s. I had a second bottle the next day for the official taste test.

The first thing that was noticed was a significant improvement in the Head as seen from the picture below. That picture was also taken about a minute after it was poured so you can get an idea of just how amazing the Head had become. It was very frothy and lingered for a very long time. I suspect it was the honey, which increased the viscosity so the froth lingered more. The extra sugar also increased the carbonation by giving the yeast more to eat. The Body was also much better. It had a medium Body to it though it wasn’t watery. It was also creamy. The honey flavor was a tad too strong and it also gave a hint of fruity to the brew. The Bite was decent from both spices and carbonation, but the spice flavors were a little too strong as well. The Aftertaste was a spicy honey and vanilla flavor.

So this was quite an improvement over last time but it was still a little off. The first time it was lacking and this time was a bit too much of the good stuff. Definitely a step in the right direction in a Newton’s Method sort of way. I must say that I actually enjoyed it with the meal and would recommend it over the original recipe any day. I give it 3 1/2 kegs with it barely squeaking in that last half a keg. Though now that we are out of the Mr. Root Beer kit ingredients, I think that we will start brewing using McCormick extract so look for some more fun recipes in the future.

The epic Head on our root beer. This was taken a full minute after being poured.

Nov 272011

So last year for Christmas my aunt gave my younger brothers (identical twins a.k.a. The Twinners) the Mr. Root Beer Kit. I thought it was funny because I’m the one so into root beer but whatever, it uses plastic bottles and extract anyways so I wouldn’t really drink it. Fast forward to Nov. 5th, day of the launch party for, my parents told me that my younger brothers didn’t want the Mr. Root Beer kit and that I could have it. Well, that didn’t seem right to me, plus I’ll only drink from glass bottles (or on tap from kegs, or growlers). I noticed that The Twinners had some empty spring top bottles and the idea hit me, we can just make it in those. But, I’d need more time. So I told my parents that it would be a great family (or brotherly) activity and we’d do it over Thanksgiving break. In that time I acquired another spring top bottle.

So this last Wednesday, after dinner, I announced that it was time to make root beer. The Twinners gathered and we began to read the instructions. We didn’t have any dark brown sugar so a quick trip to the store was in order. Then it was back to work. My Mom thought it would be a good thing to video tape for a family memory or something (I may post it here someday), so we had to wait again for her to get the camera on the tripod. The next half an hour was spent over dramatically reading the instructions, adding the ingredients, improvising song and dance routines about what we were adding, and generally having way too much fun making root beer. We then bottled our results and left them in a cabinet in the laundry room.

After two days the few plastic bottles that we had used were nice and firm so we brought them to the refrigerator to chill over night. Then, yesterday we popped open the bottles with BBQ’d burgers and chicken to try this stuff out. I had another spring top bottle this morning just to confirm my thoughts.

Well, the Body is not very sweet. This makes sense since there is only 2 cups of sugar for a gallon of root beer, but the yeast that you add eats a lot of that. It also wasn’t very creamy and was kind of watered down. The core root beer flavor was there though. There wasn’t really much Bite at all, which was a shame. The Head was decent considering it was only allowed to sit with the yeast for 2 days. The plastic bottles seemed to give better Heads than the glass spring top bottles. The glass bottles had the classic Two Second Head but then still had a lot of carbonation. The Aftertaste was slightly fruity root beer flavor. If you poured out the entire bottle though, the yeast solids that had settled would then get stirred up and you would have a very yeasty root beer, which was pretty nasty.

So overall it was a pretty fun experiment even thought the result was rather subpar. Since we can make another batch, we are going to try that over Christmas vacation. Of course I’m going to add additional seasonings to fix the shortcomings so hopefully we get a better brew. As it stands, just following the recipe the way we did, it only gets two kegs.

The Twinners and I pouring the root beer in the bottle. Clearly it would take three people to properly pour it.

When all was said and done, our bottles of root beer.

The victorious brothers with their root beers.