Friday, February 17, 2012

Booze of the Week: Homemade Sarsaparilla Cooler

It wouldn't be summer unless I came to the root beer stand. – Caitlin Ryan

The finished product. I had no ice...
Well, how about if the "root beer cooler" stand came to you?

This one’s a recipe that I never thought I would have the "need" to make. I could go buy it – already chilled – far easier. It was (is?) a summertime favourite of mine. But time’s change...

This is  the colour when it starts.
I'm speaking of a product recently discontinued at our local liquor distributor (for manufacturer quality control issues). I won’t divulge the name. The NSLC were right to do so to protect their consumers, but that action left a hole where my Friday night libations used to be.

The product was a sarsaparilla vodka cooler, priced at about $3.00+ for 330 ml. There are many “flavoured" vodka coolers on the market but I find all but my no-longer-available one very acidic. 

After more than a couple (yeah, I know you should only have a couple) I used to get indigestion. Not good when you’re trying to have some fun at week’s end…

Sarsaparilla is close kin to root beer. I found a recipe for a self-carbonating root beer that develops its own alcohol content via yeast. It sounds like something I will try later, but at the time I was missing my vodka-based cooler. 

The herbs and botanicals in the original certainly sounded like a great combination. So I thought (with some tinkering) I could turn it into a cooler. I was right.

Some of the botanicals may sound unattainable, but they all can be purchased here in Halifax at Planet Organic, or probably where you live at any good health food store that also sells spices and herbs.

The strained out botanicals. The infusion is right behind it.
The recipe takes 3 weeks to steep, but it’s well worth the wait. The end result tastes like a true sarsaparilla should, in all it’s glory. The final result is a 20% alc. vol. dangerous substance!

The vodka cooler used to come in at 5% with some sparkle, so my fix is to cut it in your glass 1 vodka-to-2 soda (more or less…) with soda water. That still has more kick than the original I’m imitating. It’s a good feeling to know that I can now have this any time I want (if I plan ahead).

This recipe made 5 cups, so if you cut it at 1 to 2 that’s 15 cups of cooler for little more than the price of a 750 ml of vodka. That's 3,550 ml for all you metric folks. 

The total cost for everything including the soda was about $27 CAN. Instead of paying $3 per bottle, you’re paying $2.50 and it tastes every bit as good…if not better.

This really is one you should try. I know. I’m enjoying one now. I believe this may become a fixture in my kitchen.

Multiply this volume by 3 (or 4)  for what you get from
infusing 750 ml of vodka.
Homemade Sarsaparilla Cooler
Time: 3 weeks to steep  | Yield: 5+ cups
1⁄4 oz. dried sassafras
1⁄4 oz. dried birch bark
1⁄4 oz. dried sarsaparilla
1⁄8 oz. dried liquorice root
1" piece sliced fresh ginger
1 split vanilla bean
750 ml vodka
1/4 cup molasses
3 cups simple syrup (see below)
soda water to serve

Combine all the ingredients down to the molasses in a 1 L Mason jar. Seal and let steep for 3 weeks. Shake occasionally during the steeping.

For the first week it will smell strongly of molasses but that dissipates over the steeping period.

Strain out the botanicals from the infusion. Make a simple syrup of 1-1/2 cups each sugar and water. Let cool slightly and combine with the vodka.

To serve, use 1/3 infused vodka/syrup with 2/3 club soda, or however you feel like it. 1/4 to 3/4 soda might be a bit safer...

Serve over ice.  But beware, it has a kick.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?


  1. Now that's an interesting question. I purchased mine dried at an organic food store. They're both members of the Betula. Native Americans have used both for sap and survival food, so I would imagine either would be fine. I would imagine I used white, because it didn't specifically say "black." Perhaps err on the side of caution and use common white. Hope you like the result!

  2. Reason I ask is I'm over in Europe and (don't ask me how I know this...) the taste of black birch is much more "minty" than the regular white birch. I've seen other recepies use white birch bark, so I'll give that a try. Thanks for the quick response!