A glass of crisp and cold root beer can be a tasty and refreshing treat any day of the week. Cracking open a glass bottle of this beloved soft drink, made famous by commercial root beer brands like Barq’s and A&W, is a quintessential childhood memory for many Americans.
An American Classic…
When I was a kid, I remember the excitement I felt walking down the grocery store aisle with my dad, hoping when we had passed all the big two-liter bottles of traditional sodas, he’d stop and grab one of those 4-packs of my favorite IBC brand. The clink of that pack as he set it into the cart promised a happy memory, making something fancy out of a cheap lunch when we paired it with hot dogs or a bowl of ramen.
This dark brown bubbly drink is a total crowd-pleaser for all ages with its complex set of unique flavors. Licorice, vanilla, birch, star anise, and sarsaparilla are some of the well-known spices and ingredients that give root beer its kick. Some recipes even incorporate wintergreen or molasses, giving this timeless drink a surprisingly old-school tang.
…With a Twist!
Now, let’s take that classic and bring it up a notch. Thanks to adult brands of hard root beer such as Not Your Grandfather’s, Coney Island Hard Root Beer, and Root Sellers Brewing Co., many are familiar with this concept. But for the homebrewer, making a fun drink like this at home to share with friends and family can be a satisfying point of pride.
With the addition of alcohol, this fan-favorite version of root beer can become your new go-to drink. Use this recipe to impress when hosting parties, having a fun date night at home, or making a special weeknight dessert–complete with a scoop of creamy vanilla bean ice cream.
Hard root beer is no more difficult to craft than any other normal beer. Follow the basic brewing process below to discover for yourself just how easy and satisfying it can be to make hard root beer at home!
First, we’ll share a beloved recipe by the homebrewer and beer writer David Ackley. He founded the Local Beer Blog and has a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Please note, this recipe requires some prior knowledge and experience brewing beer.
Ackley’s “Hard” Root Beer Recipe
This recipe is for a 5-gallon batch with “partial mash.” Here are the specs to consider!
Original Gravity: 1.068
Final Gravity: 1.023
Alcohol By Volume: 5.9%
Standard Reference Method: 28
What You’ll Need
6.6 lbs. Dark Liquid Malt Extract
1 lb. Dark Dried Malt Extract
1 lb. Caramel 90 Malt
1 lb. Carapils Malt
1 lb. Lactose Sugar
4 oz. Dried Sarsaparilla Root
2 oz. Dried Burdock Root
2 oz. Dried Spikenard Root
1 oz. Dried Wintergreen Leaves
1 oz. Vanilla Extract
0.5 oz. Dried Licorice Root
1 oz. Hops (any variety)
1 pack Neutral Ale Yeast
Kit for homebrewing 5 gallons (a stockpot that can hold between 8-10 gallons of liquid, something to stir with, a funnel, thermometer, capping kit, and bottles)
You can find these ingredients at your local home brewing store or online. Many of the spices are also available at specialty grocery stores.
You will begin by steeping the crushed grains in a gallon of water at 155˚F. Do this for an hour.
After steeping, strain out the grain from the wort, and then you’ll mix in the malt extracts plus enough water to make 2.5 to 5 gallons of wort, depending somewhat on the size of your brew kettle.
Now you will add whatever herbs, hops, and spices that you’re going to incorporate. Once they’re mixed in, go ahead and boil for 30 minutes.
After boiling, strain out the herbs and spices you’ve just added. Next, you’ll mix in the lactose sugar. Be sure to top it off with more water if needed, so you’re making five gallons.
Alright! Now it’s time to allow your homemade root beer to cool, and then you’ll transfer it to a clean, sanitized fermenter. Now you’ll just ferment until the brew is complete!
Bottle or keg this beer as you would any other beer recipe. Ensure that the bottles you use have caps made to withstand the pressure from the building carbonation. Make sure to refrigerate these bottles once you’re ready to store them, which will prevent the carbonation from turning them into potential bottle bombs!
How Long Should You Ferment This?
Keep track of your specific gravity reading with a hydrometer. It should come out to be around 1.023. Also, note that if you are hoping to add carbonation, you will use priming sugar.
Here is another take on making hard root beer by Glenn BurnSilver with Brew Your Own, the How-To Homebrew Beer Magazine.
BYO’s “Hard” Root Beer Recipe
This recipe is also for a 5-gallon batch, just like the last recipe. Here are the specs for this version.
Original Gravity: 1.038
Final Gravity: 0.995
Alcohol By Volume: 5.5%
Note that Kit Harrington of Root Sellers’ advises using baking soda to reduce the acidity. You can add one teaspoon at a time, adjusting carefully for the right amount of pH.
What You’ll Need
4 lbs. Pure Cane Table Sugar
1 tablespoon Dark Molasses
½ tsp. Yeast Nutrient
Root Beer Extract (quantities vary based on extract)
2-4 tsp. Baking Soda (added to taste as mentioned above)
Clean Fermenting Ale Yeast (Champagne also works!)
2 lbs. (0.91 kg) Cane Sugar to back sweeten, added to the cold keg
Kit for homebrewing 5 gallons (a stockpot that can hold between 8-10 gallons of liquid, something to stir with, a funnel, thermometer, keg, and kit)
You’ll begin by bringing your sugar, molasses, and water to a boil. Let it roll for 15 minutes.
Next, you will add your yeast nutrient to the wort (the mixture you’ve just boiled).
Allow the mixture to cool to yeast pitching temperature, and then it’s time to add the yeast. The ideal temperature here is below 80°F, but it can vary. Sometimes it should be closer to 68°F. Consult your favorite fermentation guide if you are unsure. You’ll then let the temperature naturally get to the upper limit of the yeast’s range, which should be relatively quick. You will then begin the long fermentation process, so hook up your mix in the container where you will store it now.
Alright, once ten days have passed, you will want to cool the mixture to near-freezing so you can slow and nearly stop the yeast fermentation as much as possible.
You’ll then move the strained (if necessary) finished beer into the empty keg you’ve selected and add in the root beer extract as well as the baking soda.
The last step is to add the sugar to backsweeten (dissolve the sugar in 1 quart of boiling water). Mix well, or else the dense, sugary syrup will drop into the bottom of the mixture, making for a bitter initial pint! 2.4-2.7 volume carbonation is ideal, and this drink stays great in a kegerator.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Make Hard Root Beer at Home Without Homebrewing?
Don’t have the time to get into a new hobby of homebrewing? Not to worry! You can still enjoy a delicious grown-up take on the classic American beverage we all know and love: the traditional root beer float!
What You’ll Need
2-4 shots of Spiced Rum
2-4 shots of Fireball liquor
1 pint of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
2 shots of Rum Chata
1 cup Heaving Whipping Cream
2 12 oz bottles of Root Beer
Cherries and chocolate sprinkles for garnish
2 pint glasses
First, you will measure out 1-2 shots of spiced rum and Fireball each into the base of the pint glasses.
Add 2-3 scoops of vanilla ice cream until about half-full.
Slowly pour root beer over the top of the ice cream, allowing time for the bubbly foam to dissipate.
Whisk the whipped cream and Rum Chata until firm, then top the glasses with this cream.
Decorate with chocolate sprinkles as desired and a cherry on top. Find someone you love to share with, and enjoy!
How Do You Make Hard Ginger Beer?
The process for making hard ginger beer is similar to making hard root beer. The biggest difference is how to add the ginger flavor. Some folks recommend using fresh ginger, which can be done by grating or slicing thinly, but you can also substitute powdered ginger for a gentler flavor. We don’t recommend using the grated ginger in a jar sold in grocery and specialty stores. Be cautious with the amount of ginger used, as the “kick” can be very intense when not correctly measured out!