Is Root Beer Alcoholic?

Is Root Beer Alcoholic?

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Root beer is a sweet, caffeine-free, and carbonated drink. There are many varieties of root beer, and most of them are made using traditional processes. Despite being made from the vine of Smilax ornata or root bark of the sassafras tree, is root beer alcoholic?

Is Root Beer Alcoholic or Non-alcoholic?

Traditional root beer is non-alcoholic as it doesn’t follow the processes of fermentation that make a beverage alcoholic. That means that the yeast and the sugar do not generate sufficient ethanol. As a result, the alcohol content in a root beer is equivalent to the alcohol content in a piece of bread.

So, is root beer alcoholic? Although the traditional version of root beer is non-alcoholic, some homebrewers modify the recipe and produce an alcoholic version of root beer. This article will detail how root beer is made and whether it is alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

A can of root beer

How Root Beer Is Made

There are many varieties and versions of root beers, and all come with different recipes. Although the different recipes result in different tastes, the most common root beer tastes are anise, coffee, molasses, and vanilla.

The main ingredients included in the traditional root beer recipe are:

  • Foam ingredients such as soap bark and Sarsaparilla
  • Aroma obtained from wintergreen, licorice, and sassafras
  • Coloring additives or the color of caramel
  • Spices such as cinnamon, burdock, and dandelion
  • Artificial or natural sweeteners

Remember that manufacturing processes can lead to different flavors and tastes.

Some commercial root beer producers might add chemicals to make the produced foam last longer. Fortunately, you can make your traditional root beer at home using the following methods:

Root Beer Extract

The first and most straightforward way to make a root beer is to use the root beer extract. With this method, you will not be looking for a recipe or chopping berries, roots, or herbs. Instead, you can purchase a root beer extract that comes with vanilla, licorice, wintergreen, and sarsaparilla.

Put it in a vessel and then add one cup of yeast, one cup of sugar, and two cups of water. Once you seal the container tightly, the chemical reaction between the yeast and the sugar will generate carbon dioxide, which will help to carbonize the water. You can also enhance the flavor by adding some spices and herbs.

Root beer in a big mug

Old-Fashioned Home Brewing

If you plan to use this old-fashioned homebrewing technique to make your root beer, you will require a starter such as ginger bug, fermented soda, or kombucha. Here is the procedure:

  1. Put the simmered berries, spices, and herbs you need in your liquid into a vessel, and then let the mixture rest for around 12 hours to release the aroma.
  2. You can then add your preferred sweetener, brown, yellow, or white sugar.
  3. After the sugar has finished melting, pour the liquid into bottles and then allow it to ferment before use.

Keep in mind that a root beer will ferment faster when kept in a warm environment, and so it is advisable to check the kitchen temperature. It helps if you know how to tell when beer is fermenting.

Alcoholic Root Beer

Some homebrewers make an alcoholic root beer with an alcohol volume of 5.9% to 19.5%. Even with such high alcohol by volume, the appearance, smell, and taste of this alcoholic root beer are almost the same as the non-alcoholic version.

Therefore, it is advisable to care when brewing the alcoholic version of root beer, as children might confuse it with the non-alcoholic version, resulting in severe health complications. It is also good to know if beer can get you drunk.

Health Benefits of Root Beer Ingredients

Different spices and ingredients used to prepare root beer have some health benefits as follows:

  • Sassafras root helps in gout, rheumatism, and fighting skin problems.
  • Sarsaparilla root helps control and reduce the side effects of menopause and premenstrual syndrome in women.
  • Wintergreen leaves help to relieve sore throat, colds, pain, and fight bacterial infections.
  • Licorice root is beneficial to the skin and helps fight arthritis, heartburns, and stomach ulcers.
  • Ginger root helps relieve muscle pain, common cold, fighting nausea, digestion problems, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Cinnamon helps regulate insulin functions and reduce high blood pressure. It also contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
A photo of a root beer

Side Effects of Root Beer

Despite root beer having a light and crisp taste, it contains numerous ingredients that are not healthy if consumed in excess. The ingredients of root beer that may cause health side effects if taken in excess include:

Caramel

It is used to give root beer its brown color. However, it is among the chemicals listed in California’s compounds that cause cancer.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

If consumed in high quantities, it causes weight gain and chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes as it is high in sugars.

The high sugar content weakens the teeth, erodes the teeth’ enamel, and causes decay. Some HFCS contains mercury which damages the body’s vital organs, brain, and immune system.

Caffeine

Caffeinated root beer causes insomnia and lack of sleep. Failure to sleep well causes other issues such as feeling stressed, nervous, and overreacting. It also discolors the teeth if taken regularly in large quantities.

Artificial Sweeteners

Adding artificial sweeteners in root beers helps in improving the existing taste. They contain an artificial ingredient known as Aspartame which causes depression, anxiety, abdominal pain, allergic reactions, diarrhea, asthma, vomiting, and irritability.

Artificial sweeteners also increase the chances of getting cancer-related diseases such as bladder cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. One can of root beer contains many sweeteners, which exceeds the daily consumption limit. This can lead to obesity, diabetes, and increased blood sugar.

Benzene

The reactions between ascorbic acid and benzoic acid result in benzene, which is known to cause cancer.

Cooking With Root Beer

The non-alcoholic and alcoholic versions of root beer can make different cocktails such as royal hard root beer, Rocky Mountain, and White Russian. When preparing muffins, pancakes, pies, and cakes, you can also use them.

Although few people use it to add to cooked food, you can add it to pasta, chicken, and beans. You can also use it to prepare root beer macarons or unusual BBQ marinades. A more straightforward dessert to prepare with root beer is root beer popsicles. 

Start by cooling it down, mixing it with vanilla ice cream, and adding chopped fruits such as strawberries or cherries. Freeze the molds for several hours and only remove them around 5 minutes before serving. 

An image of a root beer float

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Can Make Root Beer Illegal?

Both the sarsaparilla and sassafras are the main ingredients in root beer. They both contain safrole, which is a compound that causes carcinogenic effects. 

Safrole is believed to be a significant cause of liver cancer when consumed in high doses, and so the FDA banned all products that use sarsaparilla and sassafras as the main ingredients.

Can I Bottle Root Beer in Glass Bottles?

Yes, you can bottle your root beer in glass bottles to create the carbon fizz familiar in commercial root beers. 

Typically, a glass bottle is sturdy enough to hold the bubbles of your root beer until it is ready to drink. When bottling your root beer, you can use both the crimp bottle caps and the swing-top bottles.

Should I Refrigerate My Root Beer?

Yes, you can refrigerate your root beer once the bottles become firm to the touch. Your root beer will be ready for serving once it is cold. You can also improve the flavor of the root beer by leaving it in the fridge for a full day. 

What Can Happen if I Mix Root Beer With Ice Cream?

When you mix a carbonated root beer with ice cream, the carbon dioxide in the root beer will be released, and the fat from the ice cream will cover these bubbles. 

The ice cream fat will prevent these carbon dioxide bubbles from escaping, but instead, the bubbles will expand to create the famous root beer floats.

How Long Is Root Beer Good for Consumption?

If properly stored, unopened root beer can last up to around six to nine months after the date of manufacture and when stored at room temperature. If opened and stored in the fridge, it lasts for 2-4 days.

Final Thoughts 

So, is root beer alcoholic? The traditional root beer has less than 0.5% alcohol content and is categorized as non-alcoholic. However, some brewers make complex root beer, an alcoholic version of root beer.

The complex root beer might have more than 4% alcohol content. With the above guide, you can prepare your preferred version of root beer at home.