Home-brewed root beer

Base recipe for 1 liter of root beer: half a tablespoon of root beer extract (I use Zatarain’s) and half a cup of sugar (raw/turbinado sugar is especially nice).

For typical root beer, make half a cup of simple syrup by combining the sugar with half a cup of water and heating until the sugar is dissolved, then add it and the extract to 750mL of sparkling water.

However, for home-brewed root beer, which has a more complex flavor (and a slight amount of alcohol), combine the sugar, extract, 1 liter of water, and 1 teaspoon of yeast (baker’s yeast is fine, champagne yeast is better) into a clean 1-liter plastic bottle. Squeeze the air out and cap, and allow to sit at room temperature until the bottle has expanded and become firm to the touch, and then move it into your refrigerator to chill. This process depends on the temperature, and can be sped up or better controlled using a sous vide circulator set to around 90°F which should make the fermentation take only a few hours.

NOTE: Be absolutely careful not to let this stay out past the time it has gotten firm, or else you run the risk of the bottle exploding and making a mess! And, for that matter, only use a flexible plastic bottle (I use leftover seltzer bottles) and not a firm bottle like a SodaStream or, worse yet, a glass bottle, as those will be very difficult to use safely and are very likely to explode on you.

Anyway, the nice thing about brewed rootbeer is that the flavor will continue to develop over time in the refrigerator, and it won’t easily go flat, as the yeast will continue to ferment and carbonate it even while cold. (This will also increase the alcohol content over time.)

I highly recommend storing the bottle upright, if possible, as the yeast will form a sediment on the bottom of the bottle and this doesn’t have a very good taste or texture. Keeping it upright makes it easier to pour off the root beer without ending up with the yeast slurry.

Cold brew coffee

Ingredients:

  • 75 grams coarsely ground coffee
  • 500mL cold water

Combine the above in a large enough jar or pitcher. Allow to steep for 12-24 hours, then strain.

I use a Hario mizudashi pitcher (affiliate link) to make the process a lot easier.

This is pretty great on its own, but with my most recent batch (using the same overly-caramelly dark roast as in the coffee soda experiment), I poured it into a nitro cream whipper (affiliate link) and gave it a nitro boost. The resulting coffee was a bit foamy (I probably shook it too much and brought in too much nitrous) but it tasted way creamier and sweeter, without any need for cream or sugar. And, this has the benefit of being decaf; as far as I know none of the local or chain coffee shops offer decaf cold-brew, and certainly not nitro decaf.

Just a word of warning: decaf coffee still has some caffeine in it, and the cold-brew process is extremely efficient at extracting every last little bit. If you’re particularly caffeine-sensitive you’ll still want to limit your consumption of this.

Piña Colada mix

For a simple piña colada mix, combine two 16-ounce cans of crushed or chunk pineapple (including the juice) and one 12-ounce can of coconut cream and blend until smooth. Then add a few tablespoons of lime juice.

This can be used for a whole bunch of things:

  • Make it into an actual piña colada by combining 1 shot of rum, 1 cup of mix, and a bunch of ice in a blender and blending until smooth
  • Combine with a splash of unflavored seltzer to make a virgin colada
  • Make vegan pineapple-coconut ice cream by putting this in an ice cream maker (rum optional)
  • Freeze into popsicles using popsicle molds (don’t add rum if you do this or it’ll never set)

Coffee soda

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During the COVID-19 lockdown, my favorite local roaster had temporarily closed their retail shops, and being unwilling to spend $8 to get a bag of coffee shipped literally across the street, I decided to try to find other local roasters who made decaf that I could buy at the grocery store, with the hopes of finding something espresso-suitable. I failed.

Thankfully, Vivace reopened this week so I am now well-stocked on good coffee. But I still have a bunch of other coffee hanging around, so I decided, why not try making other things with it?

The first experiment: making cold-brew coffee soda.

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Citrus soda syrup

  • 20mL agave nectar
  • 20mL of lemon or lime juice (or a combination of them, totaling 20mL)

Combine the above, and then add to 1 liter of sparkling water.

For an extra kick, add some powdered ginger, or replace some (or all) of the agave nectar with ginger syrup. And maybe a pinch or three of cayenne pepper.

Ginger ale syrup

I just made some ginger ale syrup for making home-made ginger ale. It’s pretty easy! Just peel some ginger (use a spoon to remove the skin so you don’t waste the tasty flesh) and chop it up into thin-ish chunks, and put it into a saucepan with some water, some sugar, and other flavorings as you see fit (I used some pomegranate molasses, some coriander seed, and the peel and juice of a lemon). Then heat the water up and let the ginger steep for a while, then slowly bring it to a low boil.

Occasionally test the flavor, both to adjust the sugar level and to know when it’s gingery enough (don’t worry about extracting EVERY LAST BIT of ginger flavor, as that’s impossible and the point is to make something that tastes good, right?), and when it has a good flavor, use a wire strainer or the like to fish out as much solid stuff as you can. Then raise it to a moderate boil, and let it boil down until it’s 225-230F (don’t let it go any higher than that though, since at that point it starts to turn into candy).

Let it cool, and while it’s still warm and runny, strain it through a mesh strainer into a storage bottle of some sort.

To make the ginger ale, just mix some of the syrup with some soda water.

For bonus points, the chunks of ginger can be rolled in sugar and then put into an oven at 250F or so to dry them out a bit. And this is how you make candied ginger.

Cold-brewed tea soda

A while ago I got a SodaStream water carbonator to replace my slowly-failing iSi siphon. While I haven’t used any of SodaStream’s own flavor syrups (as I have heard they are generally nasty, and all of them use sucralose which tastes bad and gives me a headache), I have of course made several bottles of soda flavored using Torani syrups. However, I found those to be a bit sickeningly-sweet, not to mention overpriced, but after a bit of experimenting I discovered a very simple means of making soda which is quite delicious and also much healthier: herbal tea!

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Piña Colada, reconstructed

Once upon a time, cocktails were very simple, elegant things with only a couple of key flavors combined in a balanced manner. For example, the classic martini (gin, vermouth, and an olive) and the classic daíquiri (rum, lime, simple syrup) are favorites that will last forever.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, mixed drinks started to become these ridiculously cumbersome things which involved blending and puréeing and so on, and from the 60s to the 80s we started to even see classic cocktails be ruined by this trend (now “martini” seems to mean “any horrible concoction in a martini glass,” and a daíquiri might as well be a strawberry smoothie).

With that in mind, I looked at the mixed drink which probably started it all — the piña colada — and attempted to reinvent it as if it were a classic cocktail. I served several of these at a small party last night, and they were a success.

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