Monday, January 2, 2012

Sassafras Recipe - Sassafras Root Beer

This was the second time we tried to make sassafras beer, and the result was outstanding. I accidentally left one bottle in the fridge while on vacation, but it actually kept its fizz and tasted even better than it did three weeks ago. The beer was bottled in 4 quart sized hinge-lock bottles. The flavor was spicy and earthy, and the color was an odd orange. Adding in a few spicebush berries (Lindera benzoin) to the brew really added some character, and the lime juice added a good acidic taste. We used a commercial beer yeast, Munton's, available at the local brewing supply store. The roots are boiled to make a decoction, rather than steeped to make a tisane.

We gathered many sassafras roots (Sassafras albidum) during our mild autumn. This small tree grows in Connecticut abundantly, and gathering the roots, bark and leaves is relatively easy. It is easily identified in the summer by looking for its 3 different leaves: a mitten shaped leaf, an egg shaped leaf, and a 3-lobed leaf. The bark is green on the small saplings, but as the tree gets larger you can see a reddish-orange coloring in between the furrows of the grey bark. Small saplings for pulling roots will grow in dense clusters next to the mother tree. We grab the sapling and give it a slow, steady pull until about 12"-24" of root will come up before breaking. It's the roots that you will need for this recipe, and you can pull them fresh until the ground freezes.

This recipe will be available in our book, due Spring 2016.

Sassafras Root Beer                      makes about 4- 1 quart bottles

1/4 lb. fresh sassafras root
1 gallon water
22 oz. sugar
1/2 oz fresh or frozen spicebush berries (optional)
2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 1/4 tsp. beer yeast

for the bottling:
4 tsp. raw turbinado sugar

1.Boil the fresh sassafras roots with the water for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the sugar, spicebush berries, and lime juice. Allow the mixture to cool to 90°F.
2. Remove a cup of the lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast over the top, allowing it to dissolve and become a bit foamy. Pour the yeast mixture and the remaining decoction into a 1 gallon glass jar fitted with an airlock. Ferment for 3 days.
3. Strain the roots and berries from the beer. To the bottom of each sanitized bottle, add one tsp. of raw turbinado sugar. Pour in 4 c. of the beer, and close the hinge-lock top.
4. Refrigerate the bottles, checking for fizz in about 5 days. You may have to release some fizz if you store it for more than 2 weeks. Serve chilled.


Danielle said...

Does the finished brew contain any alcohol or is it more like "brewing" root beer? What is the taste of the final product?

The 3 Foragers said...

Because we ferment the beer for a few days with additional sugar, it is alcoholic. Using beer yeast will only yield a low alcohol content, maybe 5-6%, depending on the brand of yeast and how much sugar you add. It tastes similar to a mildly medicinal root beer, and you can tell it is sassafras. Karen

Decembermouse said...

It should take longer than 3 days to reach 5-6% alcohol, though. Typically, batches of beer, mead, etc., ferment for up to 3-4 weeks in a primary fermenter before reaching this level of alcohol content. I'm guessing the yeast has time to produce some quantity of CO2, hence the fizziness, but there shouldn't be much alcohol by 3 days.

Can you taste the alcohol in this recipe above, or feel it after drinking a couple bottles of the stuff? This sounds really tasty, and I'd like to try it, but I'd prefer to know that if it's intended to be alcoholic, that it will have time to get there. If I misunderstood this and the yeast is just meant to give it fizziness though, rather than actual alcohol content, sorry!

The 3 Foragers said...

I am not sure of the exact alcohol content, we really are just experimenting. There is definite fizziness, and I would not serve it to a kid! It will not get you drunk, but you can taste the alcoholic aspects. Our goal was to get some bubbles, and the mild alcohol was an added bonus.