Homemade Root Beer


The author enjoys a glass of homemade root beer. |COURTESY OF ERIC CHANDLER

The author enjoys a glass of homemade root beer. | ERIC CHANDLER

When I was a kid, I remember walking through my grandmother’s house in Maine and hearing an explosion. I asked my dad, “What was that?”

“One of Grammie’s root beer bottles just blew up.”

This made me sad since it meant less root beer to drink. I bet it made the grownups sad too, since they had to clean up the sticky mess.

Now, as an adult, my family and I make homemade ice cream in the summer. So with this memory in mind and summer on the way, I thought it would be fun to make homemade root beer floats. Filled with enthusiasm, I took the kids to the grocery store and bought some McCormick’s Root Beer Concentrate. Then we went to Fitger’s Brewhouse and bought four big glass beer growlers to bottle our root beer.

I jumped on the internet when we got home to look for a recipe. While scouring the homebrew forums, I discovered that bottling root beer in glass was the same as making a grenade (you’d think I would’ve known that). The experts suggested that we make the homemade soda in plastic bottles. Much safer. However, procrastination took over and time passed by, leaving our project unfinished.

Making a batch the “hard” way. | ERIC CHANDLER

Making a batch the “hard” way. | ERIC CHANDLER

Later, in August, my son said, “Yesterday was National Root Beer Float Day.” I thought, you have GOT to be kidding me. There was a day built for my idea, and I missed it. Since we still had some leftover homemade ice cream in the freezer, I ran to the computer to find a recipe. There is an easy way to make root beer and a hard way. You can find both recipes via the McCormick’s website. We made it the easy way, which involves carbonated club soda. We mixed it with the homemade ice cream and, lo and behold, it tasted great. We salvaged an important national holiday.

Easy way ingredients. | ERIC CHANDLER

Easy way ingredients. | ERIC CHANDLER

Now I was still stuck with four giant glass growlers I couldn’t use and we were about to leave town to visit my parents in Maine. Another brainstorm: We’ll make homemade root beer the hard way at Grammie and Grampie’s house. And what a production it was.

First, my dad and I drove about 50 miles to three grocery stores to find the proper root beer concentrate. Then, we had to buy two-liter bottles of…wait for it…root beer so we could use the bottles. It was 69 cents per bottle; only the good stuff when all you want is the bottle itself.

When we got home and prepared to launch, we took a closer look at the recipe. “5 gallons of spring water.” Five gallons of root beer? No way. So we had to do math to make a quarter of a batch, which was funny watching the old people do fractions. Eventually, we bottled up our creation and hoped the yeast would eat the sugar to make suitable bubbles. We enclosed the two bottles in a plastic bin (to protect from any ka-boom) and put it on the porch for two days in the summer sun. This got the yeast cooking. The bottles expanded under pressure and became tight as a drum. We moved them to the fridge and waited four more days. The tension was unbearable.

Easy way float customers: Grace and Sam. | ERIC CHANDLER

Easy way float customers: Grace and Sam. | ERIC CHANDLER

Finally, with lots of family and cousins around, we opened the first bottle. My daughter sarcastically remarked that it “smelled like bread.” But, she also said it tasted good. It had a gentle carbonation, not the harsh scouring bubbles you sometimes get from the store. Success. Thirty years later, it was neat to have homemade root beer in Maine at Grammie’s house again, with 100 percent less explosions.

By Eric Chandler