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I like to think of root beer as the gateway beverage into the big, bad world of booze. Even though it's a big leap from A&W to Fernet Branca, there's definitely a connection between what makes a good root beer and what makes a good alcoholic beverage. If you like that interplay of bold, funky, bitter and a sweet flavors without any alcoholic content, then you just might like it even more when there's some kick to it.
I liked the herb and root flavor combination in my root beer recipe enough to create a liqueur based on it. The funny thing is that it has more in common with an aperitif than it does with a soda, because the sugar is dialed back and the root-and-bark goodness can shine through.
What's Available to Buy?
My favorite alcoholic root beer concoction available for purchase is Root, made by Philadelphia's Art in the Age. It's not a sweet liqueur, but more like an amaro with a root beer aroma. And at 80 proof, it has the alcohol content of a spirit.
There's another root beer liqueur on the market called Blackmaker, as well as a variety of simple and sweet root beer schnapps brands which aren't going to offer the same complexity of flavor.
I adore Root, but I wanted to make something that's a little different—with a lower alcohol content and more of a root beer flavor. While this DIY root beer liqueur is a wee bit sweeter than Root, it doesn't veer into cloying syrup territory. Though it's lighter and less alcoholic than Root, you can use it in the same way. Homemade root beer liqueur is a whole lot cheaper so I don't get so precious about it. (Root beer liqueur granita floats for everyone!)
I used my own root beer recipe as inspiration, but the fun thing about this recipe is you can tweak it to taste like your ideal root beer. I like it earthy so I emphasized the "root" part, but you could also increase the vanilla, add wintergreen, or add more anise for a different experience. So if you like root beer and want an alcoholic version of your very own, go buy some bark and get crackin'.
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You can sip this chilled with a lemon twist, but it's true purpose is to add some root beer oomph to cocktails like the Medicine Lodge, made with applejack, bitters, and a little ginger beer. It's also great in lighter cocktails, like Strawberry Letter #22, made with the decidedly sweeter combination of rum and strawberries. You can skip the spirit altogether and mix your root beer liqueur with some lemon and red currant preserves in the Red Riding Hood cocktail. Root beer liqueur can even make an appearance at brunch in the sangria-meets-soda Tom Haverford Cocktail. If you're in more of a Leslie Knope mood, add some whipped cream to your Root Beer Liqueur Granita Float.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.