Classic Root Beer Float from Scratch

May 27, 2011
0 Ratings
  • Makes 4
Author Notes

I love making soda. This takes a little longer than plopping a scoop of ice cream into a glass of soda, but it's worth it! And since you made the root beer all by yourself, don't feel bad about using store-bought vanilla ice cream.

The root beer is based on Jessica Prentice's "Full Moon Feast." —linzarella

What You'll Need
  • Root Beer Float
  • 2 tablespoons dried sassafrass
  • 1 tablespoon dried licorice root
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • vanilla ice cream, for serving
  • Ginger Bug
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger, with skin, plus more as needed
  1. First, make your ginger bug, which will serve as the starter culture for the root beer. Put 1 teaspoon grated ginger and 1 teaspoon sugar into 1 cup of water, stir, cover, and leave in a warm place. Add the same amount of ginger and sugar every day or two until the mixture becomes bubbly. This should take 3-7 days.
  2. When your ginger bug is ready, start making your soda. Put the sassafras and licorice in a pot with 1 quart water and bring to a boi. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave covered for a half hour.
  3. Pour maple syrup and sugar into a large glass bowl or 2-quart mason jar and strain the sassafras-licorice infusion over it. Stir to dissolve. Add the remaining quart of water and stir to combine.
  4. When the liquid has cooled to about 100 degrees, or when it feels warm, but not hot, add the ginger bug (This is the optimal temperature to introduce the living ginger bug into the soda). Cover loosely with a cloth. If using a glass bowl, make an "x" over the bowl with masking tape to prevent the cloth from falling in. Leave in a warm place for 2-4 days.
  5. Strain into glass bottles - they should be filled all the way to the top. Seal tightly and return to the warm spot for another 2-3 days. See my kombucha float recipe for more details about bottling methods. After bottling, transfer to the fridge. They're ready to drink when they're cold. Be careful when opening in case a lot of carbonation has built up.
  6. To make the float, plop a scoop or two of store-bought vanilla ice cream (or ginger ice cream!) into your root beer.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sadassa_Ulna
  • AntoniaJames
  • Lizthechef
  • linzarella

13 Reviews

geraldine September 20, 2011
I have tried making the ginger bug twice now, and each time it will bubble slightly after two days and then the next day it ends up with a thick white crust and no bubbles. If I let it sit for one more day, the crust gets worse. Assuming it's molding?
I sanitized everything carefully before I began, used distilled water, kept the bug at around 75 degrees, and sloshed it back and forth a little a couple of times a day.
Any ideas what would be causing this?
linzarella September 20, 2011
Hmm, no idea, that's never happened to me before. I'm really at a loss. Maybe it has something to do with what kind of ginger you're using? Maybe 75 degrees is too warm? I've never been very exact about the process, and I've never even sanitized before beginning, but it always seem to work just fine. Sorry I can't be more helpful, but please keep me posted on your efforts!
geraldine September 20, 2011
I have tried making the ginger bug twice now, and each time it will bubble slightly after two days, and then the next day it will end up with a thick white crust and no bubbles. I let it sit for another day and it just got worse.
I sanitized everything carefully before I began, used distilled water, and shook it carefully a couple of times a day. Any ideas what would be causing this?
Sadassa_Ulna June 10, 2011
Success! I am hoping I have the same luck on my second batch. I will post my ginger ale recipe separately, but following your ginger bug method worked really well. The heating pad definitely speeded things up. THANK YOU FOR POSTING SUCH A GREAT RECIPE AND CONCEPT!
Sadassa_Ulna May 31, 2011
How warm should the warm spot be for the ginger bug? I assume you use all of the bug? I started my ginger bug per your recipe. I was thinking of bottling into plastic bottles for my first try with home fermentation. Have you ever used plastic?
Are you familiar with this method: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/Cheese/Ginger_Ale_Ag0.htm ?
linzarella May 31, 2011
It doesn't have to be super warm, but it will just go a little faster if it's warmer. If your kitchen is particularly cold, you can put it in the oven with your pilot light on, or on top of one of those cheap electric heating pads from the drugstore.

I've never used plastic for bottling but I think it would probably work fine.

I am familiar with the Fankhauser method. It's different from this method in that it uses commercial yeast. The ginger bug step is a way to harvest wild yeast - kind of like a sourdough starter. With commercial yeast, the process is more certain, predictable, and uniform. With the ginger bug method, results will vary depending on where you live, what time of year it is, what kind of mood the little yeasties floating in the air are in that particular day... and the results will be subtler and more nuanced.
Sadassa_Ulna May 31, 2011
Thanks Linzarella, I like the idea of wild yeast and [eventually] glass bottles. So I will follow your recipe and borrow the bottling method from Dr. Fankhauser for my first attempt. Thanks again for posting this!
linzarella May 31, 2011
thanks, and let me know how it turns out!
Sadassa_Ulna May 27, 2011
This is so cool, I love the idea of a ginger "bug." I don't love root beer, do you have a ginger ale recipe that uses a ginger bug (instead of yeast granules?)
linzarella May 27, 2011
Yes, I've made ginger ale with this technique many times and it's great. Instead of licorice and sassafrass, you flavor the water with a 2" piece of grated ginger. You can really use this method with any flavor that would be complementary with the ginger bug. And if you want to go a different flavor direction, you can use whey as a more neutral-flavored starter culture.
AntoniaJames May 27, 2011
Mmmmm. What a great recipe! I'm thrilled that you shared this method. Thinking I might play around with it, using anise seed instead of licorice, for a somewhat milder flavor. We had fresh sassafras growing up in the country. I can smell it now. Where do you get it dried? I'm thinking perhaps the Food Mill would have it . . . . . Thank you so much for posting this. ;o)
linzarella May 27, 2011
Thanks AJ! When I lived in the East Bay, I got the ingredients for this recipe from Lhasa Kharnak in Berkeley. Now that I live in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery has every spice I could ever want, and more. Please let me know how it turns out with anise!
Lizthechef May 27, 2011
We used to call these "black cows" - love the root beer recipe!