Most grocery stores carry some sort of root beer extract. Most homebrew shops have a slightly larger selection. They all have very basic instructions along with a small bottle of very potent liquid. The instructions usually involve adding somewhere around ten cups of sugar to five gallons of water and some baker’s yeast along with the contents of the bottle, stirring it up and bottling it, then moving it to the fridge when the bottles become hard.
That will work but, as is always the case with homebrewing, there are more options. I already discussed my opinion about using Splenda in place of sugar for sweetening, then adding just enough sugar to carbonate. A general opinion seems to be that this soda will not have a strong enough flavor. You can simply use less water to make it work for your palate. Four gallons is a good starting point. You can taste it before bottling to make adjustments. Remember, with less water, there is a good chance you may want to scale down the sweetener, too.
I sometimes do this, but with the ubiquitous root beer extract, I have a different procedure update. I keep the batch size at five gallons, but I add three teaspoons of vanilla extract (or whatever vanilla flavoring you use) to give it a creamier flavor and aroma. This is quite a bit, you may want to start with less. It will also change whether you’re using authentic vanilla extract, imitation vanilla or my favorite in-between, “compound flavorings of vanilla beans.”
You can try other combinations, as well. I’ve never made it, but I would think that some almond extract added to cola should imitate cherry cola pretty well. I can’t explain why almond extract tastes like cherries, but from baking experience, I know that it does. I’m going to give this a try some day. Some coffee, chocolate or fruit extract could enhance a lot of soda extracts. I hope to experiment a lot more with this in the future.
Shank’s is a local extract manufacturer here in Lancaster, Pa. They have a wide range of stuff that sounds fun. For now, though, my recipe for vanilla root beer is below. I use Shank’s because it’s local, good and cheap, you can try whatever brand you want, though.
Vanilla Root Beer
1 container of Shank’s Root Beer Extract
3 tsp Shank’s Compound Flavorings of Vanilla Beans
10 cups Splenda
1 cup Cane Sugar
1 packet Champagne Yeast
5 gallons water
Mix extract, vanilla and Splenda in a bottling bucket, or whatever you use. Taste some to make sure you’re happy with the flavor and adjust accordingly. When you’re happy, add the sugar and yeast and stir it up some more to make sure it’s all dissolved and mixed well. After that, bottle it in plastic soda bottles and store them at room temperature for at least a week, preferably two or three, then refrigerate and enjoy. They do not need to be refrigerated, the Splenda will not ferment and it will store well for quite a while.