I just realize I never posted the results from my first batch of homemade root beer. This batch was brewed with sassafras root, licorice root, brown sugar, and molasses, then carbonated with baker’s yeast. The roots and sugar infused in hot water for two hours to make a tea, then they were mixed with water to make 1 liter and the yeast pitched when the liquid felt room temperature. Sealed up, the bottle sat overnight in the kitchen, then I put it in the fridge for two days to chill and let the flavors mellow.
Opening the bottle, it was a light, hazy amber color, but clearly had the rich aroma of root beer. Drinking it reminded me of a herbal tonic – it wasn’t especially sweet and had a slight woodsy flavor to it. My mom really liked this fact, as she was pleased it didn’t taste too sweet. For the entire liter there’s just a ¼ cup of brown sugar and a tablespoon of molasses. One website said you can get a dark, stout color by using all molasses for the sweetener, which is something I’ll try down the line.
Although I did really enjoy this recipe, I wanted to keep experimenting and get a better understanding of the different nuances of different recipes. The magazine Saveur actually posted one, which I just tried (once I finally found some birch trees). Savuer's recipe had a lot of "extra" ingredients in it (birch bark, ginger, vanilla, etc), and I think it just tasted muddled in the end, although the vanilla definitely made the root beer taste creamier.
So now I'm trying to perfect "my" root beer recipe, although using wild ingredients does make for a certain level of uncertainty. Sometimes the roots seem thick and smell intense, while sometimes they're skinny and seem almost dried and brittle. But I suppose that's half the fun with experiments like this.