© Another Day in the Country
When my mother was growing up in Ramona, the Schubert family made beer. They’d put it in the cellar, either for storage or for brewing — maybe both. When a celebration came along, the kids would be sent to the cellar to bring up pitchers of beer. “We didn’t really drink any of the beer,” my mother would say, “we’d just taste the foam.” However, as my uncle Hank told the story, Martha, as a child, ingested enough foam on at least one occasion to make her a little tipsy.
As an adult, Mom never drank alcohol, but when I was a kid, she did suggest that maybe it would be fun to make Root beer. Since this naturally brewed root beer is made with yeast, it becomes carbonated as the yeast and the sugar devour each other. You have to put the bottles in a warm place for a few days — of course, within a day or so we’d start sampling to see if the balance was right — and then you can refrigerate your root beer and enjoy! Making root beer became a family tradition. I’ve never enjoyed the taste of beer, but I grew up loving the flavor of homemade root beer. My dad said it was the yeasty flavor that he liked. Me, too.
One year, when my daughter was about 10, I suggested to her and her playmates that we should make root beer. They were excited, and they all volunteered to help, but like most kids, they soon wearied with the tedium of stirring, cooling, and filling bottles for capping. Our 7-year-old friend, Cody, was all that remained. He was helping me fill the bottles. “Cody, those are too full,” I said. “There needs to be about two inches of room in each bottle.” I busied myself getting the caps and capper in place. When I turned around, I saw him fixing the situation by studiously taking a drink out of each of the bottles down the line. We had exceptionally good root beer that year.
In 1990, we started making root beer for family reunions here in Ramona. By this time, it was more difficult to find extract. One year Cousin Becky brought some from a brewery supply in Wichita. When we poured it into the water, we realized that while it smelled and tasted like root beer, it had no caramel color. Our root beer that year was a rather murky looking brew that the kids called “Herington Lake Water.”
This year when Jana came for vacation in August, I said, “Let’s make root beer.” We still had a couple of bottles of extract from Mom’s stash. We oiled up the capper, washed my bottle hoard and mixed up five gallons of root beer, carefully following the instructions: “Put in warm place, 80-85 degrees, for two days, laying bottles on their side, and then refrigerate for two more days with the bottles upright, and then it is ready.” Luckily, we’d hit a cooling day or two in the weather!
“Hmmmm,” I said to myself, “Only two days? I thought it took longer, but then again this is not Oregon or Northern California.” So you can understand that on the morning of the beginning of the third day, it did cross my mind that I should check that root beer. But we were busy messing around after breakfast, cleaning up, when I heard a BANG! “Did you drop something?” I asked Jana. No? The root beer!
I cautiously opened the door to the back porch to discover that three bottles of root beer had broken — evidently one exploding and hitting the other two. (No, the cap did not come off.) EXPLODED! “Whew” We’ve got to get this stuff into the refrigerator,” I hollered. “Quick!”
Carefully, OH SO CAREFULLY, we put as many bottles as we could into the refrigerator at my house. Then we got the wagon, padded with rugs, and carefully, oh, so carefully, laid the bottles in the wagon — padding in between — for the trip across the street to another refrigerator. It was like handling TNT. We were so careful, we found ourselves whispering, picking up the wagon if there was a bump in the road, carrying the wagon up the porch steps into the Ramona House, stacking the bottles in the empty fridge, heaving a sigh of relief, and cautiously closing the door.
After I cleaned up the mess on the porch, we tasted our root beer. It was darn good — maybe a little yeastier tasting than I remember, maybe we’d let it brew a little long, but good. Jana thinks it might have a little alcohol content, but I poo-poo the idea. I do admit it acts more like champagne than soda pop when you open a bottle. “Another day (in the country) and it would have been beer,” my friend Don said. “You oughta try this again. Ramona Root beer has a nice ring to it.”