Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mr. Root Beer - Homemade Root Beer from a Kit

For Christmas, my wife got me a "Mr. Root Beer" kit so my son and I could make our own root beer.  There are enough ingredients to make two 1-gallon batches, so we made our first batch about 2 weeks ago, and we still have 1.5 (out of 4) bottles still in the fridge.  Here's the process shown through a bunch of photos:

Mr. Root Beer Kit
The full kit (the size of a large shoebox).  It says "naturally carbonated" because there's no carbonated water or weird
chemicals to add the carbonation/head.  The carbonation is added naturally through the yeast.

The 5 instructions.  There were "official" instructions on a pamphlet inside, but it was basically this easy.
Step 3 is the most work.

The opened kit.

The contents: four 32 oz bottles, labels, instructions, a funnel, and a bag with ingredients and caps.

The caps with the "pressure valves" installed.

Using the "no-rinse cleaner" to clean out our milk jug.  (Sorry, my son doesn't wear pants too often…)

Cleaning our utensils.  The instructions warned that any contamination will add a funky taste to our root beer.

Adding ingredients (this was the maltodextrin).  After this, we added a LOT of sugar.

It was dark and oily.  It took a lot of stirring to dissolve all the sugar and brown sugar.

The wine yeast measured out and sprinkled on top.

1 gallon of mixed root beer (totally flat - now the yeast needs to do its work).

My son and the root beer.

Helping me bottle the root beer.

Ready to sit in the back corner of our dining room for 1-3 days as it ferments and becomes carbonated.  The timing of
this is the most critical: too short and you have tasty flat root beer, and too long and you have carbonated crap.

My son licking up any reside in the bowl.  It's SUPER sweet because (my understand of this is that) a lot
of the sugar will be consumed by the yeast to make the carbonation.

The directions said to find a dark place with a consistent temp between 68-75. Our house is
cooler than that in the winter, but this location was consistently 67-68 degrees.

By the next morning (12 hours after bottling), the caps were showing signs of pressure. The "pressure valves"
are simply small dense foam disks with a little slit cut in the middle where too much pressure can escape.

The directions said to refrigerate after the bottles become hard from the carbonation, and that it could take 1-3 days. The bottles were definitely "firmer" after 12 hours, and one of the bottles seemed quite hard after 26 hours. So I put that bottle in the fridge. (I was worried about the part in the instructions that talked about having either flat but tasty root beer if you refrigerate too soon, or carbonated crappy root beer if you wait too long and refrigerate too late.) Here's video of my son and I cracking into that first bottle the next afternoon after it spent 18 hours in the fridge:

So yeah, as you could see, it was hardly carbonated. I had already put another bottle in the fridge, but I still had 2 out, and I decided I'd leave those out for the full 3 days. When we tried the first bottle, it tasted a bit like sweet, liquid root beer barrels (remember those candies?). It was too sweet, but I think the yeast just needed to do it's job longer. It seemed to change a bit as it spent more time in the fridge - it developed a "deeper" flavor even after it was opened as I kept drinking it on the 2nd and 3rd days. I think it was still fermenting a bit. It actually got better.

When I opened the 2nd bottle, it had more carbonation (still not a lot).  I was actually able to get a photo of a FEW tiny bubbles still on top of this glass after I poured:

A LITTLE more carbonation in this one!

It got MORE carbonated as it sat in the fridge. The yeast was still doing some work. Again, this got better as it spent a few days once it was opened in the fridge. The 3rd bottle has been the best so far, with a deep flavor and adequate carbonation. I think I just needed to let them all sit a bit longer (in the dining room AND in the fridge).

Well, I guess it's time for a review. This is tricky, because each bottle has tasted a little different (but that's part of the fun). Here's what I think:

Brand: Mr. Root Beer Kit.

Origin: Boxed in Tucson, AZ, and brewed in my kitchen/dining room in St. Paul, MN.

Purchase Place:

Sweetener: Sugar, Brown Sugar, and Maltodextrin.

Review: Because this is carbonated through a yeast process, the result is slightly alcoholic (around 1%). That gives this "brewed" root beer a very unique flavor that root beer "sodas" don't have. The flavor is rich and deep. Even the later bottles that I let carbonate/ferment for longer still had a little of the "root beer barrel candy" sweetness that I mentioned above, but it wasn't TOO sweet. And it was cut by a deep, vanilla root beer flavor at the end. The first bottle I had I'd probably give a 4 or a 5 because it was just too sugary. But the rest that I let sit longer were better. Still, not even close to the best root beer I've ever had, but still totally worth it because it's a fun DIY project.

Score: 6.5 out of 10.

p.s. I'd like to experiment with my final batch of root beer by adding different flavors to each bottle. I'll make sure to give an update if/when I try that.


  1. This is fantastic!

    I've never made root beer, but I've made a ton of the adult stuff. The reason you don't want to leave them out for too long before putting them in the fridge is wine yeast ferments really dry, so it will eat all of the sugar in your soda (so like they say, you'll have a really carbonated but nasty drink on your hands).

    Once you put them in the fridge, that will force the carbon dioxide into the liquid, but that process usually takes a while (at least a few days, but more like a week is better). Another thing to keep in mind is once you put the bottles into the fridge, the yeast will get cold and sleepy and go into hibernation mode, so you're stopping the fermentation at that point. That's why it's okay to let the bottles go for a week or even longer without worrying about the yeast eating the rest of the sugar.

    Good luck on your next batch! And tell Henry it's perfectly okay to brew without pants :)

    1. That part about the carbon dioxide getting forced into the liquid makes total sense, but I didn't know that. That explains why the 3rd bottle was the best after sitting in the fridge for a while. Thanks Matthew! And I'll let Henry know you approve of his methods. :)

  2. I wonder if the air lock on the top of the bottlecaps was too "loose" to obtain proper carbonation. I'm like Matthew Cook, I brew beer beer and you have to get quite a bit of pressure in the bottles to make the co2 go into solution. (for example, keg beer is ~10psi, but if I want to take flat beer and carb it over 1-2 days, pump it up to 30psi and after a day or so bleed it off).

    Next time, I wonder what would happen if you used a "normal" cap. (VERY carefully, obviously.)

    Also, the changing nature of it is part of what I like about brewing beer. The first glass out of a keg is always totally different than the last.

  3. I am in my mid 60s and can still remember our making home made root beer when I was a youngster. We used old beer bottles and it we got many laughs as kids in drinking our root beer from them. Much like your experience, each bottle and each batch tasted a bit different. Good memories.