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Old 10-14-2012, 04:16 AM   #21
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Boy, does this thread make me feel my age. I'm old enough to have enjoyed sassafras candy whenever I could get my greedy, sticky little hands on it as a child. It's been awhile...

As a (long-ago) lover of the flavor of sassafras, I can't quite imagine wintergreen doing the trick. Of course, we're talking about something similar, not somehow identical, but still, wintergreen just says "GUM" to me. Somebody suggested a blend of several things, including wintergreen, and I think I'd go with that. Sort the "Dr. Pepper" approach...it's not really prune soda, but everyone I know thinks it tastes like prune soda, without a prune in sight.

Let me know how it turns out. Now you've got me craving the stuff again and unless I go wild root digging up in the Ozarks I wouldn't even know where to look for it. Sigh.

EVERYTHING yummy gives us cancer. Snark.

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Old 10-14-2012, 06:59 AM   #22
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I just made six single-flavor sodas, including: Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, Star Anise, Licorice Root, wintergreen, and molasses. My nose and taste buds are pretty much pegged at this point, so will have do a more thorough evaluation tomorrow...but here is what I came up with so far:

Wintergreen: Distinct "grassy" aroma and flavor. While not unpleasant, I'm having trouble figuring out how this will contribute to the traditional expectation of root beer flavor.

Sassafras: I think I made it a little too strong...as it totally wiped out my taste buds after a small sip. Definitely had a spicy, astringent quality to it. However, the flavor and aroma definitely are on the right track for root beer. I'll try diluting it a bit tomorrow and see if it tastes better.

Sarsaparilla: This was one of my favorites. Has a distinct earthy, creamy aroma and flavor...kind of a cross between root beer and cream soda.

Star Anise: Fantastic licorice candy aroma and flavor. I can see a bit of Star Anise and Sarsaparilla possibly making a good substitute for sassafras, but will experiment with blending ingredients tomorrow.

Licorice Root: Distinct woody, earthy aroma and flavor. There is a faint licorice aftertaste at the back of the tongue. I really didn't like the aroma or flavor of this at all. Once mixed with the same amount of sugar as the other sodas, it was distinctly sweeter though...so the "myth" that licorice is sweeter than table sugar appears to be true...or at least it contributes to the sweetness...so if added to a recipe, the amount of sugar could be significantly reduced and still maintain the same level of sweetness.

Molasses: Distinct Gingerbread Cookie aroma and flavor.

My preliminary guess is that a decent first run root beer could be made by a combination of the following:

1-gallon batch:
1.0 oz Dried Sarsaparilla Root (Smooth, creamy earthy flavor as foundation)
0.75 oz Dried Star Anise (sharp, sweet bite to add some high-notes to the flavor)
1 tsp Molasses (full, nutty, caramelly, somewhat spicy and earthy to fill out the flavor profile.)
2 cups table sugar

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Old 10-14-2012, 07:07 AM   #23
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ryan, please post your method for creating the sodas you used for comparison. Do you grind the roots? Use them whole? Boil? Steep? Make a syrup and dilute?

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Old 10-14-2012, 07:14 AM   #24
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I got the ingredients from my local homebrew shop. They were all dried roots, bark and leaves that had already been chopped.

I did not grind any of them, as it seemed unnecessary...except for the star anise that possibly could have benefited from being chopped up or ground a bit.

I simmered each of the ingredients for about 20 minutes at a low boil. My batch volume was 1/2 liter, which required topping back up after evaporation...this also allowed the convenient use of ice-cubes to rapidly cool and simultaneously replace the lost liquid.

I simply used a stainless sieve to screen out most of the chunks after the boil. The remainder of small particles that made it through the seive typically just settled to the bottom of the pan, and then I decanted off them after letting it cool for a few minutes.

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Old 10-14-2012, 07:17 AM   #25
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How much sugar per volume of water?

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Old 10-14-2012, 07:20 AM   #26
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I used a quarter cup in a half liter of water and it seemed about right to me. Scaled up, thats about 1.5 to 2 cups per gallon.

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Old 10-15-2012, 06:52 PM   #27
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Ryan - how did your experiment compare to the big names....Barq's, A&W, Mug....etc.?

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Old 10-15-2012, 07:50 PM   #28
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I did a small batch mixing some of the ingredients, and it turned out pretty good (very drinkable). It's definitely root beer, but not quite where it needs to be yet. Here is what I made:

0.5 liter batch:
0.13 oz Dried Sarsaparilla Root
0.13 oz Dried Star Anise
0.25 tsp Molasses
0.25 cup table sugar

The anise was a little too strong, so will back that off a little on the next batch. Also, the backbone of the beverage was somewhat lacking that "sassafras" punch though...still working on how to add that. Perhaps more sarsaparilla and/or molasses.

Also, after much online research, I discovered that wintergreen leaves must be "fermented" before the wintergreen flavor comes out...so the previous wintergreen soda that I made may not be (and hopefully wasn't) representative of what wintergreen tastes like (previous batch smelled and tasted like hay/straw!).

I have a bit of the dried wintergreen leaves steeping in water right now. Apparently it takes a day or two for the enzymes to convert something into methyl salicylate, aka "Wintergreen oil." I'm also going to see if I can find a bottle of wintergreen oil at the local health food store...in case I can't get the results I want from the dried leaves. That may be the missing flavor that the root beer recipe needs.

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Old 10-16-2012, 04:37 AM   #29
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I wonder if a little fresh ginger would punch it up a bit? Need to be careful with it or you'll just have weird ginger ale. But the spiciness/heat may work wonders in bringing out the other flavors if added judiciously.

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Old 10-16-2012, 05:53 AM   #30
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I just met with my brew club, and the consensus is that I got some "barn yard" wintergreen...I am going to work on procuring some fresh (dried and vacuum packed) wintergreen and see if the aroma and flavor are any better. I am NOT getting ANY "minty" flavors out of this dried wintergreen...only HAY...so I'm going to reserve judgement until I get some good stuff, then see how that incorporates with the root beer recipe that I previously did.

Also, after cooling, I would say that both the sarsaparilla and molasses contributions were less than desired. The cold root beer was considerably less flavorful than the warm version. While the anise flavor seemed like too much, I think actually it was probably about right, it was just the other flavors that were subdued.

I was unable to find wintergreen essential oil locally, so it'll probably take me a week or two to get some fresh-"ish" wintergreen leaves. I'll come back in a week or two and let you know how it worked out.

For what it's worth though, both kids gave it a thumbs up, as is...

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