Monday, January 10, 2011

The Birch Beer Experiment

When Zach and I were on our honeymoon out east, there is a soda pop that they serve. I've never seen it in Michigan, and it seemed to be most popular in Pennsylvania. It's called Birch Beer. It's delicious pink pop that tastes like wintergreen. (Think those little pink chalky candies, the ones that look like Pepto Bismol tabs.) It's made from birch trees and wintergreen. Birch bark has a natural mint scent and flavor, sort of like creme d' menth. For Christmas this year I got Zach a tin pail full of spices, roots and herbs, with the mind to make Birch Beer, Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Cream Soda, without using store bought extracts. We searched and searched for an actual recipe for birch beer and, let me tell you, they are far and few between. So we improvised. We found a home made root beer recipe and improvised, removing the sarsaparilla and sassafras root, and added Birch Bark instead. I give our try a B-. It definitely has a Birch Beer flavor, sweet wintergreen, and it turned red like the birch bark should, but it has a bitterness, like when you leave a tea bag in hot water too long. It's also very dry on the tongue. For any of you home brewers out there, or even tea drinking experts, because in actuality, the whole process is a lot like brewing a big batch of tea, then carbonating it, anyway, if you have any suggestions, feel free to share. Here's what we did.

  • 1 oz dried wintergreen, (if we can get this to work, I've got wintergreen growing out in the garden)
  • 1 oz birch bark, (the bag we got is responsibly wild crafted)
  • 11.5 oz sugar
  • 1/2 gallon water
*I found this great website that sells all sorts of roots, herbs and spices. 

We started by measuring the ingredients out on the scale. Then added them to the pot of boiling water.

We let it boil for 30 minutes. (that's what the root beer recipe said to do) Then steep until cool.

We strained out the bark and leaves, re-heated the mixture and added the sugar, stirring until dissolved.

We poured it into our recycled plastic container, and let it cool in the refrigerator.

The next day we carbonated it. Cold liquids carbonate better than warm or room temperature. (see tomorrow's post on how to carbonate using CO2.) I'm thinking next time we will boil the water and steep the bark, like you do tea, but I'm not sure if that will extract enough of the flavor. I've been reading about tapping birch trees, then boiling it to create a birch oil. The recipes seem to be dissected between using the oil vs. steeping the bark. Perhaps the oil is the better way to go? Like I said, I'm open for suggestions.


Camille said...

I remember drinking this when we visited our PA relatives as kids. this is so cool!

Jennifer Sartell said...

We're finding that we need to tap a tree and use the sap, rather than the bark, and that should eliminate the bitterness. Know of anyone who has a birch tree?

Anonymous said...

This is good to know! I have about 25 gallons of sugar birch sap collected and I will be boiling it down soon. Ill let ya know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Just finished a can of birch beer we brought back from Philly to South Carolina. I grew up in Philly so I know the drink very well; just not the recipe.

Vickie @ said...

Ooooo... Could you ferment this to get natural carbonation like they did a hundred years ago? I have recently been making ginger ale, fermenting it and getting a really good carbonated beverage out of it!

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