Friday, 28 February 2014

Epic Meal Time: Witch's Brew

                  The mythology of my life includes sarsaparilla. It just does. We use to go to this theme park called Rawhide, and I used to drink it in huge amounts. Sarspaholic. I just looked the place up online, and they’re still operational. In fact, their dining room hasn’t changed even a little bit, and they’re still serving Sioux City Sarsparilla! So let’s have some fun and do a little throwback. 

Big project here, y’all. But lots of fun at the same time. You already learned how to make tonic from Bailey, and that’s jazzy, but maybe you drink rum instead of gin (shout-out, Auntie Jo!). You certainly can’t drink rum with tonic, so what’s a girl to do? Make sarsaparilla at home, that’s what. Budget about five days for this.

                  The first most important thing to do is a find a witchy apothecary shop. Good thing I work in Toronto now, because Kingston just doesn’t have much in the way of witchery. I found my necessary roots and leaves at Herbie’s Herbs on Queen West. Wonderful little shop, and they carry anything and everything. A Chinese herb shop would also be helpful, I think. Here’s what to buy:
  • ·       1/4 cup sarsaparilla root bark

  • ·       1/8 cup spearmint leaf

  • ·       1 Tbsp. licorice root
 (this is about 1 five-inch root).
  • ·       1 Tbsp. ginger root

  • ·       8 star anise pods

  • ·       1/2 Tbsp. lemon grass
  • ·       1 tsp. juniper berries

  • ·       2 vanilla beans, sliced long.
  • ·       1/2 crushed cinnamon stick
  • ·       About a tablespoon of cardamom, if you can find it, which my father couldn’t. So no cardamom for me.

Steeping herbs
Fill a large pot with one and a half gallons of water, dump in all your roots, and bring it up to a boil. No need to peel anything. Boil for about five minutes and then reduce to a simmer for a half hour. Remove from heat. Let your roots steep if you like a strong flavour, or you can now strain it into a large vessel. If I had my way, it would be into a large empty culligan. But daddy didn’t have that so I used a stockpot. The thing is, avoid metal because it can disrupt fermentation and give it that weird aluminum flavour. Now add two cups of unrefined sugar plus three tablespoons of dark molasses to dissolve.

This is blooming yeast 
When the liquid is room temperature, add 4 tablespoons of vanilla extract and your carbonating agent. Some people say use a ginger bug, but I didn’t have patience to make that as well. So I used brewer’s yeast, which is actually more fun because now what we’re really making here is beer. A quarter of a teaspoon is about right for two gallons or less (bloom it first in six ounces of warm water). Cover with cheesecloth at room temp for about 12 hours, and then bottle. NOW START TO BE VERY CAREFUL. As yeast ferments, it creates CO2 (obvs, this is what is going to create carbonation). But as the gas expands, it can explode. So, when you bottle your soda, you have to make sure of the following:

  • Don’t let it overheat. Keep it at room temperature or cooler. (But don’t too cold or you’ll kill the yeast).
  • Don’t overfill the bottles. Leave at least an inch of space beneath the seal.
  •  Don’t let them sit for too long before you move them to the fridge. Once in the fridge, carbonating slows down but doesn’t completely stop, so drink them in a timely manner so they don’t explode inside your fridge.
  • Some folks say to use plastic bottles because they’re more flexible, plus you can squeeze them to see how carbonated they are. But plastic bottles are ugly. I used mason jars and I’m just being cautious and it’s working.
Once bottled and sealed (also, I shouldn’t need to say this, but sterilize your jars first), let the jars sit at room temperature for anywhere from 3-7 days. The variability is due to how much sugar there is for the yeast to eat, how carbonated you want it to be, how sweet you want it to be, and if your yeast is active. You’ll start to see bubbles forming at the surface. The longer you let it ferment, the more alcoholic it will be, and the more bitter and “yeasty” as opposed to sweet. Do with that what you will.

When you think all of those factors are where you want it, move the bottles to the fridge. But not before you label them because you’re so jazzy.

Serve over ice, or with some sort of dark liquor.


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