Real (or as real as it’s going to get) Root Beer

I’ve been making my own sodas for a while now. I started off cheating, which, by the way, I hear is all the rage right now. It seems like a lot of people are buying those SodaStreams and mixing the soda water they make with different flavorings. I have nothing against that, in fact, I’m planning to one day get my own CO2 tank and rig up my own version of a SodaStream so I can make seltzer. But ever since I perfected my real ginger ale recipe, I’ve been hooked on really making soda. In addition to ginger ale, I liked making root beer and birch beer, but I was daunted by the prospect of looking for roots and for a long time stuck to using extracts. The sodas I made from the extracts tasted fine, but I knew that couldn’t go on forever. I’m just not an extract kinda gal.

So I bought Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop by Stephen Cresswell. Now, I really like this book and it has a lot of great recipes I’m looking forward to trying, but nearly all of the root (and birch) beer recipes call for, well, roots. And while I’m not an extract kinda gal, I’m also not the gal who knows where to go to find these roots, how to identify them, and how to dig them up unobstrusively, and the book doesn’t go into that. One day I fully intend to make root beer from roots I have dug up, and birch beer from birch trees I have accosted (the latter seems easier, frankly), but in the meantime, I turned to my friend the internet and ordered myself some roots. The main root you need is sassafras. I bought it from Amazon, but that is way, way, way more sassafras than you need. Later I found it in smaller quantities at American Spice Company and Mountain Rose Herbs, the latter from whom I have ordered before (get the bark, not the bark powder). Sassafras is slightly hard to find, I think because the FDA thinks it’s a carcinogen or something. Don’t be alarmed: a glass of root beer every now and then is not going to give you cancer. Maybe don’t drink a gallon of it a day, but then again, don’t drink a gallon of anything a day, other than water.

I also call for sarsaparilla, though you can omit it (I made my first batch without it and it was very good). Sarsaparilla is actually a little easier to find than sassafras. I bought my sarsaparilla from Jay’s Brewing Supplies, because they are a local business, but you may find it in your own local brewing store, where you may also want to purchase bottles. (Jay’s does mail order, and I’ve ordered from them back before they had a storefront, and I can recommend them for that.)

You need champagne yeast. Stephen Creswell of Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop prefers ale yeast, but I haven’t tried that yet. Technically you can even use bread yeast, but I absolutely do NOT recommend it. I tried it ONCE the first time I made soda and it was nasty, nasty, nasty. I’m sure I did something wrong, but I’ll always use a beer or champagne yeast from now on. It’s sold in packets just like bread yeast, and you won’t need a whole packet. Just store the unused portion in the refrigerator and it will be good for a while.

Finally, you need bottles. The recipe makes about a gallon, which is 8 16-oz bottles. I strongly recommend you use swing-top (aka EZ cap or Grolsch-type) bottles. You can drink Golsch and save the bottles, or buy them. Jay’s has them. They actually hold more than 16 oz, so I always end up filling fewer bottles than I expect to. You can also buy or save non-twist-off-cap bottles and buy caps and a capper, but the reason I strongly recommend the EZ caps is I have found root beer in particular to be unpredictable in the amount of time it requires for carbonation and I like to be able to close bottles that aren’t ready yet and reseal them. I also don’t always drink 16 oz+ of soda at a time and like to be able to reseal them for that reason too.

This recipe was lightly adapted from Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop, and I’ve more or less used his technique. The author calls for mixing the sodas in a one-gallon glass carboy. I have three of these: I have two from beer brewing kits, and one that is from a gallon of apple cider. They are the exact same thing; I can’t tell them apart. Jay’s sells them too, but I paid less for the apple cider than they charge, so if you want a jug, just buy some cider. You don’t need a jug though. The jug makes it easy to shake the soda really well, but before I had jugs, I just whisked everything together in a pot.

OK, FINALLY, here’s the recipe!

Real Root Beer

1/4 oz dried sassafras root bark
2 tsp dried sarsaparilla (optional)
scant 2 cups sugar
1/8 tsp champagne yeast
about a gallon of water, divided

This is my measured sassafras and sarsaparilla.

Put the dried roots, sugar, and two quarts of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes.

Then remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for another 25 minutes.

Strain the liquid. This is only half of it – I wanted to decant it into a clear container so you could see the color. You might be able to make a second batch from the roots – I haven’t tried that.

If you have a gallon jug, pour the liquid into the jug through a funnel. If you don’t have a jug, skip this step and just put the liquid in a 6-quart pot.

Add two more quarts of cold water, cap jug, and shake. (Or whisk well in a pot.) You want to cool the overall temperature of the soda to 70 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. You can do this by just letting it come down to room temperature naturally (if you are patient), by putting it in the refrigerator, or by setting it in an ice bath. Whatever floats your jug. Just make sure it cools down to room temperature (you don’t even really need a thermometer) so you don’t kill the yeast when you add it.

Add the yeast to 1/4 cup lukewarm water (about room temperature) and whisk. Let sit for a couple of minutes.

Add the yeast to the soda, cap the jug, and shake vigorously for a minute or two (or add to pot and whisk very well).

Use a funnel to pour the soda into the bottles and close or cap the bottles. Leave about 1″ head space at the top of the bottles.

Put the bottles in a cool, dark place – not a refrigerator, but maybe a basement. I’m not going to lie to you: explosions are possible and I’ve had root beer explode, so what I do is put the bottles in my laundry room and cover them up with a giant trash bag so I can contain the mess if disaster strikes. I haven’t had one explode since I’ve been doing that, so I think maybe it subdues them into submission. After 48 hours (maybe sooner if it’s really hot in your house), check the carbonation by opening one of the bottles. You can generally tell by how fizzy it seems when you open it, but you’ll also want to take a sip to judge it. If it’s as fizzy as you want it, move the bottles to the refrigerator. If it’s not, keep testing it every 12 to 24 hours. Every recipe I’ve ever read has made it seem as if it’s usually ready right around 48 hours, but I’ve had some sodas that have taken up to a week to be fully carbonated. If it takes that long, I usually put it in the refrigerator anyway and let it finish carbonating slowly.

Refrigerate the bottles for at least 24 hours. I’ve found that sodas really taste best after about a week of refrigeration, but bear in mind, although refrigeration greatly slows down the fermentation, it does not stop it, and your sodas will build up more and more carbonation if you leave them in the fridge. If you aren’t drinking them fast enough, open them periodically to release the pressure…although I wouldn’t keep doing that or you’ll have the reverse problem and they’ll go flat. You’d be wise to open your bottles over the sink regardless how long you’ve had them. I don’t know what it is about root beer, but some bottles in the same batch just seem to have different levels of carbonation, so I don’t trust any of them to not geyser all over me.

After it’s chilled for at least 24 hours, it’s time to drink! This is a little 8-oz bottle I saved from some commercial soda that I bought just for the bottles. I had a hard time choking down that soda, I’ll have you know. But I like to make a few small bottles to use when checking the carbonation, and also 8 ounces is about how much soda I really want to drink at a time.

Pour into an icy mug and enjoy!

Root beers and other sodas were originally created as health tonics. I’m not going to tell you that something with this much sugar is a health drink. I don’t drink that much of even my homemade soda, although it’s far less sweet than commercial soda (and the yeast consumes a lot of the sugar; it’s not as sugary as it sounds). But there is something about this homemade root beer that makes me consider it a restorative. I like to drink a bottle after a long, hard morning of working with raccoons. I come home exhausted and make a quick meal that I serve with my homemade root beer and suddenly I feel refreshed. And I came home tonight with a headache but a glass of root beer has given me the strength to go put together this baker’s rack that arrived today…which I’d better get working on!

This post is dedicated to my paternal grandfather, who I remember making root beer in his basement when I was a kid. He died years ago and unfortunately my father doesn’t know how he made his root beer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he used an extract, as I don’t recall him tramping around the woods collecting roots, but making root beer reminds me of him and I think that’s nice. Wish you were here to share a mug, Granddaddy!


  1. Jes Said,

    June 29, 2011 @ 8:47 am

    Wow, it’s a lot easier to make root beer than I thought–easier than beer at least! And too cool that your grandfather made his own root beer too. Carrying it on 🙂

    Thanks for the kind words about Mistoffelees. Miss that boy.

  2. Danielle Said,

    June 29, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    Is that the lowest you’ve gone on the sugar amount? I always decrease the sugar in baked goods (just personal preference, not health) and while I understand logically that the yeast eats the sugar it’s hard to tamp down the urge to reflexively cut a quarter-cup of sugar from ANY recipe.

  3. renae Said,

    June 29, 2011 @ 10:48 am

    Danielle, I am the exact same way – I always decrease the sugar in any recipe I make. The “scant” two cups is actually my slight reduction from the “2 cups” you’ll almost always see in recipes scaled to a gallon of soda. Unfortunately I haven’t had great success going much lower than that. I’ve made sodas that didn’t have enough sugar and they tasted…not good. I do have instructions at home for making diet sodas, which I won’t make because I don’t like chemical sweeteners, and I think they require 1 cup of real sugar for the yeast to consume, and then the addition of artificial sweeteners. I keep meaning to try using stevia for some of the sugar, but I haven’t gotten around to it, partially because I’m convinced it just won’t be as good. Maybe next time I’ll set aside just a bottle or two that I use stevia in, with the rest made with all-sugar as a control group. For now, I’ve just been figuring that since I only drink a bottle or two a week (and that’s only when I’ve made my own, which isn’t all the time), this amount of sugar won’t kill me. If you cut back on sugar just out of personal preference, your sweetness tolerance is probably similar to mine, so if you wanted to make this recipe, I’d start using the amount I’ve called for – just use your own judgment for what a “scant” two cups of sugar is. If you generally like soda (the less-sweet ones anyway), I wouldn’t go any lower than 1 3/4 cup of sugar, at least at first. Possibly you could wean yourself down a bit, but it just tastes weird if you don’t use enough. Believe me – I don’t want to use any more than I have to either! I’d be interested to hear about any tweaking you do to the recipe if you make it, especially with the sugar.

  4. Josiane Said,

    June 29, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

    I love that making your root beer acts as a connection to your grandfather. I easily imagine how awesome it would have been for you to be able to sit down with him, do a taste test to compare your latest batches and exchange tips. 🙂

    Though I’m not a fan of sodas and my brother is the one who got the root-beer-loving gene in my family, I’m intrigued and might try a homemade version one day. I’m sure it’d taste way better than any commercial soda I’ve had.

  5. FoodFeud Said,

    June 29, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

    Oh this is so exciting to see! My old roommate made homemade ginger ale that was AMAZING but root beer always used to be my favorite. I’m glad you figured out a way to make it more natural.

  6. AikoVenus Said,

    July 2, 2011 @ 1:29 am

    Those look so awesome and the fact that you made them on your own is even more awesome! I planned on making my own sodas after watching an episode on “Food Jammers” but I never got around to it.

  7. AikoVenus Said,

    July 2, 2011 @ 1:30 am

    – and it’s a great homage to your grandfather too. 🙂


    October 29, 2012 @ 11:37 am

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  9. PaulineS Said,

    October 29, 2012 @ 11:56 am

    Thank you so much for this great tutorial. My grandfather owned a soda company and I have wanted to make my own homemade for years. I’ve read the book (I wasn’t sure either how to gather the roots) and a lot of recipes I looked up were very complicated. So this helps a lot. Looking forward to trying it.

  10. Barb Melrose Said,

    October 29, 2012 @ 3:09 pm

    Hi…..Is the amount correct as listed: 1/4 oz dried sassafras root bark. Seems like 1/4 ounce is NOT very much. Just checking since you had listed buying a whole pound. Thanks for your reply. Barb

  11. renae Said,

    October 29, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

    Hi Barb, yes it’s 1/4 oz dried sassafras root, which is about 3 tablespoons. I bought a whole pound of the stuff because that’s the only quantity I could find it in at the time.

  12. Barb Melrose Said,

    October 29, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

    Thank you for your reply. I found it at our health food store here in town by the weight. They have tons of spices, dried herbs, etc. You bag it yourself. $45.60 lb. for the Sassafras and $14.50 lb. for the sarsaparilla. I’m gonna try adding some vanilla extract too and a tiny tad of wintergreen. I had just bought the 16 ounce grolsch type bottles before I found your site!! Perfect timing. I have some dried yeast I use for making wine….it is really great stuff, comes from Canada. I have 5 gallons of grapefruit wine aging right now. I’ll let you know how this turns out!! THANKS AGAIN!!!

  13. Amber DeGrace Said,

    October 30, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

    Nice recipe, I’ll be sure to give this a try. The only change I’ll make is to use a small carboy or brew bucket and use an airlock after adding the yeast, so the bottles don’t explode. You can then make a sugar syrup and add when bottling. I assume it’ll be the same as brewing beer. Sounds delicious and I’ve been looking for a good, non-extract root beer recipe. Will let you know how it turns out!

  14. Paula Said,

    December 16, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

    Awesome. Used to make this every summer to be ready for 4th of July.
    We used to put a golden raisin in each bottle! Somewhere around here I bet I still have the bottle capper. We used old glass soda bottles. Nice post!

  15. Bonnie Hedrick Said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your recipe and memories.

  16. Molly Said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

    Hi! I am excited to try this, but the reading I am doing on sassafrass root is kind of worrying. Do you have a recommendation for replacing the actual root with the extract which, from what I read, does not have the cancer causing compound? (Also, it’s apparently kind of illegal! Who knew?!)

  17. renae Said,

    May 5, 2013 @ 6:22 pm

    Hi Molly, sorry, I haven’t used the extract.

  18. Linda Heuitt Said,

    May 6, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

    Enjoyed the recipe! I have sassafras trees all over my property so I will be trying it out. My grandmother always made us sassafras tea. I make it for me and my grandchildren sometimes. My grandmother thought it useful to settle the stomach. We drank it a lot and it never hurt us. 🙂

  19. Gloria Said,

    May 14, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    I remember my mom making root beer when I was a teen ager I do not recall anything of the roots so it may had to of been a extract etc. but she had glass bottle’s and a hand levered gadget ( can’t recall what it was called ) it would push the metal cap’s on the bottles to seal them . Well I’m almost 76 now so it’s been a long time ago . Do remember we used to love it . lol

  20. Renaissance Ronin Said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 3:08 am

    You guys are doing it the hard way;

    You take a hand full of roots. Crabgrass works best.

    You take a pitcher of old stale beer left over from a weekend backyard BBQ.

    Drop roots in beer. Cover loosely and let sit in the garage for a week or more, hidden in some secret place among all those boxes just close enough to the garage door to guarantee that anyone opening that door gets a good blast of the horror happening in that pitcher.

    When your parents complain about the smell emanating from the garage, you offer to go find it and sort it out, for a case of Virgil’s Root beer, the absolute best root beer in the world (and I know what I’m talking about because I’ve sampled root beer on five continents over half a century).

    Problem solved.

    Seriously, though, GREAT article! I can’t wait to try this myself. 🙂

  21. Uncle Tom Said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    Sassafras is easy to identify once it’s pointed to you. It’s the only tree that I know of the has three different patterns of leaves on the same tree. If the leaves have not been eaten by bugs or what not AND they do not look the same even though they are on the same branch, chances are it’s Sassafras. Now that you know what sassafras smells like, look for one of these trees and take a sample branch home to test, taste, whatever. Good luck.

  22. david Said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    sassafras grows wild in mass.

  23. Bryan Bredhold Said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

    If you want to get Sassafras roots cheaply go to a farmer with a lot of fence rows. Sassafras grows quickly and is easily identified by the mitten shaped leaves. This is the only tree in the U.S. that has three differently shaped leaves on the same tree. Usually the farmers are happy to let you dig up some roots from a Sassafras tree, just don’t mess up their fields.
    I have harvested roots by the pound and the trees will not suffer, they are a soft wood tree. We teach Boy scouts to use the roots to make hot tea in the Winter while on camp outs, it is great!
    Good Luck and thanks for the great recipe!

  24. Dan Said,

    May 19, 2013 @ 11:11 pm

    How about just the recipe? I do not need all of the pictures, just need to know how and have it so that I can copy and paste it to a document on my desk top.

  25. Keith Said,

    May 20, 2013 @ 12:39 am

    When I was a kid my Grandmother made sassafras tea to settle an upset tummy or help us sleep. Just don’t drink to much of it at any one time or you’ll have trouble getting out of the bathroom.

  26. stephanie north Said,

    May 24, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

    My grandmother used to make this too but for that special taste she added a little vanilla extract. Yummy!

  27. Leslie Said,

    May 24, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

    Thanks so much for this. My family reunion is coming up and my grandmother used to make their own beer and root beer. My family tells me stories of going to the camp *in hot Louisiana* and listening to the root beer exploding in the back of the car.

  28. RoyalPresence Said,

    May 26, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

    So cool. I remember making root beer with my Mom. We also stored in the basement. We saved old glass bottle and had a bottle capper, got new caps from somewhere. One thing they used to do, was add a golden raisin in each bottle, not sure what that did, but we had some explode too. Best root beer ever and they timed it so it would be ‘ready’ for 4th of July.
    Glad to see someone renewing the tradition. You inspired me.

  29. Shari Said,

    May 27, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    Hi, Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipe !!! I was wondering can I use the Sassafras bark from one of my trees in my pasture ?? I have hundreds of them !!

  30. Lonnie Said,

    June 2, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

    I like sassafras tee made simply by boiling the roots and adding sugar to taste. It’s a great hot tea.
    The roots used to be sold in stores but it was pulled from the market when it was discovered to cause cancer.

  31. ZacM Said,

    June 4, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    Awesome post! I LOVE rootbeer. Does anyone know how much raw honey I would use as a substitute for the sugar?

  32. Kori Said,

    June 7, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    my best friends birthday is coming up and he loves Root beer! This looks easy but I have a few questions…

    1. How much soda does this recipe produce?

    2. What size bottles did you use?

    3. Have you ever considered adding vanilla?


  33. renae Said,

    June 8, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

    Hi Kori,

    This recipe makes one gallon of soda. I used 16-oz bottles, but you can use any size at all for bottling. I don’t think I’ve ever added vanilla to the recipe during the brewing process, but my husband frequently adds vanilla to his sodas when he’s drinking them.

  34. Cathy Said,

    June 12, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

    Looks great, I will try this soon. Would also love to get your recipe for ginger ale if you have time to share!
    Thank you!

  35. Adam Said,

    June 24, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

    I’m looking forward to trying this! Have you experimented with adding other flavors? I think i’d like to throw some chocolate mint and vanilla bean in there…

  36. How To Make Root Beer | Eco Snippets Said,

    August 3, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

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  37. john knapp Said,

    September 14, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

    sounds very good, I going to try it but where can you buy the stuff to make it. John

  38. Dennis Hayes Said,

    June 23, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

    I’m feeling a little stupid right now… doesn’t fermentation lead to alcohol? There is no mention of alcohol in this whole post that I can find.

  39. renae Said,

    June 24, 2014 @ 8:49 am

    Hi Dennis, technically, yes, a minute amount of alcohol will be created, however, it’s so small as to be practically non-existent. You could serve this soda to children.

  40. Dee Said,

    October 3, 2014 @ 11:28 pm

    How funny. I have had a wild sassafras tree in my yard for over 3 decades. It smells so great to dig up the roots but my attempt at making root beer many, many years ago was awful. My mother said they drank sassafras tea in the springtime to thin their blood to tolerate the summer heat better. I just might try it again, correctly this time. Thanks for the instructions.

  41. Cheryl Graeve Said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 7:24 pm

    Just curious about why you took the root beer from the bottles and put them in another bottle. Could you just leave them in the bottles you put them in originally?

  42. renae Said,

    February 26, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

    Hi Cheryl, good question. I don’t store the root beer in the jug I used for mixing because a) it’s heavy and unwieldy (difficult to pour into serving glasses) and b) should an explosion happen, I’d rather clean 16 ounces of root beer off my ceiling than a gallon (and I speak from experience). However, you certainly could allow the soda to carbonate in one big vessel instead of individual bottles. A great idea would be to use empty, very clean 2-liter commercial soda bottles for this – because they are plastic instead of glass.

  43. Kim Said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

    Our dad use to make his own beer. And then he’d make a batch of root beer for us. He’d bottle both brews in recycled champaign bottles. I remember those dozen or so bottles sitting in a dark cupboard in the utility room for 2 weeks while we waited patiently. I think his root beer spoiled me cause no other even compares. My husband loves root beer—maybe I’ll try making him some. Might be nice to share a root beer float together. 🙂

  44. renae Said,

    December 11, 2015 @ 1:32 am

    What a lovely memory, Kim. 🙂

  45. Ricky Leiderman Said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 11:43 pm

    Can I use stevia instead of sugar?

  46. renae Said,

    December 11, 2015 @ 1:31 am

    Hi Ricky, not for all of it – the yeast needs to eat the sugar as food. You can try at most halving the sugar and making up the difference with the equivalent amount of stevia, although I find stevia in high doses to be quite bitter, so you may need to play around with the amounts.

  47. Camel Cordova Said,

    August 27, 2017 @ 7:42 am

    Thank you for the wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it.❤️

  48. Alicia Said,

    August 27, 2019 @ 4:08 pm

    Do you have to poor it into smaller bottles or would it work keeping it in the gallon jar?

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