Root beer slakes hot summer thirst

Posted: Sunday, July 04, 2004

AMARILLO, Texas Sometimes you have a thirst only a frosty mug can quench. But what beer can refresh without leaving you wobbly?

Root beer, of course.

"It's so good when the weather's hot," said Donna Barton, manager of Amarillo's K-N Root Beer Drive-In in Amarillo, Texas, where frosty mugs of root beer have been served since 1968. "It will quench your thirst. When you get really, really hot, soda makes you even thirstier. But root beer, it just hits the spot."

Barton manages the stand for Sue Hill, daughter of K-N founders Kenneth and Joann Hill. K-N starts with a root beer concentrate syrup, to which other ingredients are added to make the familiar fizzy fix.

"You have to serve it really cold, from a frosted mug," Barton said, guessing that the temperature K-N serves it at is about 40 to 42 degrees F, about the same chill as tap beer. Once a week, Barton mixes the concentrate in 25-gallon vats.

"And then I mix, every day, about 10 gallons to start, and I'm about to have to make more now that our lunch run is over," she said. "On a good, hot summer day, it's no big deal to go through 50 gallons, probably, or more. On a Saturday, a busy Saturday, I can go through 200 mugs."

McCormick, the company famous for spices and extracts, offers folks a chance to conjure up their own frothy elixir.

"While root beer has been an essential summer ingredient for nearly 130 years, many people are surprised to learn how easy it is to re-create this authentic fountain flavor and the nostalgia it evokes at home," a McCormick and Co. news release said. "Summer is the perfect time to give it a try. With just a few simple ingredients and McCormick Root Beer Concentrate, you can enjoy the flavor of homemade root beer anytime with or without the fizz!"

Directions for using homemade root beer in McCormick recipes seem relatively simple, but a step-by-step guide on the back of the concentrate box seems more daunting. The recipes also do not call for the specific temperatures, yeast and quantity brewed that the box instructions require.

"There are many accounts of how and where the first root beer was created," the news release said. "Whatever its official 'roots,' the beverage is believed to have evolved from small beers, which were popular during Colonial times. Small beers, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, usually consisted of fermented roots, herbs and barks. Variations were numerous and included birch, sarsaparilla, ginger and root beers."

Root beer flavors have been used to add special zip to many recipes, from baked beans to cakes, Barton said. A quick Web search yields both types of recipes from rootbeerworld. com, an aficionado site not supported by any commercial root beer maker, the site said.

Homemade Root Beer

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

11/2 teaspoons root beer concentrate

1 liter soda water, seltzer or club soda, chilled

Combine sugar and boiling water; stir until dissolved. Add root beer concentrate. Chill. When ready to serve, combine root beer mixture with soda water. Stir slowly to mix. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 cups

Root Beer Float

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

11/2 teaspoons root beer concentrate

1 liter soda water, chilled

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Combine sugar and boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Add root beer concentrate. Chill.

When ready to serve, combine root beer mixture with soda water. Stir slowly to mix.

Place 2 scoops ice cream in a tall glass. Slowly pour root beer between ice cream and side of glass. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 floats

Root Beer Ice

1 cup sugar

4 cups water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon root beer concentrate

Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in root beer concentrate.

Refrigerate 2 to 4 hours to chill. Place in ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's directions.

Makes 8, 1/2-cup servings

Root Beer Ice Pops

3 cups hot water

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon root beer concentrate

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Stir together sugar and hot water in a medium bowl until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Stir in root beer concentrate, vanilla and lemon juice.

Pour 1/2 cup of mixture into each ice pop mold and place in freezer for about 2 hours, or until mixture is firm enough to support wooden sticks. Insert wooden sticks into each mold and freeze until thoroughly set.

You can also use small disposable plastic cups and plastic spoons instead of ice pop molds and wooden sticks.

Note: Freezing time may vary according to the size of the ice pop mold.

Makes 6, 1/2-cup servings

Root Beer Cake

( from Arielle's Recipe Archives)

11/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

pinch salt

2 eggs

1 cup root beer (do not use diet)

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan.

For cake, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. Put 1 cup root beer in a small saucepan; boil, uncovered, until it is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Cool to lukewarm.

Beat brown sugar and butter in large bowl of an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stop the mixer and add the reduced root beer and vanilla. Mix just to combine. Fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Poke holes all over top with a toothpick. Brush with about 3 tablespoons of the root beer. Remove the sides from the pan and cool cake completely.

For frosting, mix 6 tablespoons root beer, confectioners' sugar, butter and vanilla in a small bowl to make a thin frosting. Spread over top of cooled cake, letting it drip down the sides.

Serves 10

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