It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and the only thing to mention, unfortunately, is that I made some sarsaparilla.

Disaster struck.

There are many reasons it could have gone south and I think I’ve identified them, but it is still disappointing.

Two weekends ago I went home, home to Chicago to be with my lady, and was excited to use the new 5 gallon stock pot and buckets and other paraphernalia I had purchased for us to use. I also bought a pound of sarsaparilla root and half a pound of sassafras root.

Arriving home I immediately went to work. Filled up my pot with about two gallons of water and started a boil. I put about 7 to 8 tablespoons of sarsaparilla, 3 to 4 tablespoons of sasafras, maybe a cup and a half of sugar, and half a cup of chopped raisins into the pot. Brought the potion to a boil and let it simmer for about half an hour. After only 5 minutes it was filling the kitchen with the sweet aroma of sassafras.

I let the mixture return to room temperature and added another 2 gallons or so of water. I strained out the roots and raisins and proofed the yeast. I was very excited because this was the first time I purchased real ale yeast. Before I had used bread yeast and while this works fine, the tonic you are left with smells very yeasty.

I think what happened is I either added too little yeast, or did not let it sit long enough. Perhaps the potency of bread yeast and ale yeast are different as well. Also, the last time I made my ginger ale and sarsaparilla it was so deathly hot out that the fermentation time was much shorter.

In short, the “tea” that came from boiling the roots and sugar was very tasty, but it never reached a soda because it didn’t ferment at all. Next time I plan on using a small plastic soda bottle and waiting until it is hardened by the carbonation before I discontinue the fermentation.


This is how we all felt after sampling it.



On Friday night Gemma’s train arrived 10 minutes late, and due to this delay we were both ravenous by the time we dropped her stuff off and headed out to dinner. I had noticed a few weeks before that there is a Mexican restaurant only a few blocks from my house. With little debate, we walked over.

The restaurant, Dos Reales, is on University Ave., in Urbana. We were greeted with a friendly staff and a very young waiter who was ridiculously pleasant. A slight man of probably only eighteen. We decided it was worth going if only to make the acquaintance of the young man. Our feelings of fondness, thought to be at their peak, increased drastically when he walked over with two enormous mugs overflowing with horchata. Usually you get a small glass full of ice. But here we had Imperial Pints worth of horchata, and at only 1.50!

For those of you who do not know, horchata, also know as aguas frescas, is a drink usually made with rice and flavored with cinnamon, sugar, and/or vanilla. It is smooth and thin like rice milk with a perfect balance of sweetness and cinnamon. It is the perfect drink to go with Mexican food.

Gemma and I have been wanting to try to make horchata from scratch for quite some time and when we do I will certainly post what recipe we used and how it turned out.

Homemade Chocolate Soda

This past summer I began brewing my own soda, in the traditional sense. Using roots from the earth, sugar or molasses, and yeast. The results were better than I could have expected and I encourage anyone who wants to attempt homemade beverages themselves to do so. Great information can be found in the book Homemade Root Beer and Soda Pop. I originally had the desire after seeing a recipe in Saveur magazine. After my first batch of root beer I brewed ginger ale and sarsaparilla. All three attempts were fairly to moderately successful; winning me the respect and admiration of my friends and girlfriend.

Then I got cocky.

When I was a child I fell in love with a soda called Kayo. It came in six packs. For some reason I remember cans always had dust on the tops. After blowing the dust off, I enjoyed the elixir made from cocoa and sugar and probably countless additives and preservatives. It is no longer available. There are other chocolate sodas but they don’t compare.

I attempted my own chocolate soda about a month ago. I combined water, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon sticks and some vanilla beans in a large stock pot. I boiled for about fifteen minutes, stirring constantly. I let it steep. Since cocoa has a chalky quality I stirred the mixture occasionally, making sure it was mixing appropriately.

After I removed it from the heat I added another 2 to 2 1/2 quarts of water to dilute the mixture. I strained out the vanilla beans and cinnamon sticks. Once it cooled to room temperature I added my yeast, then bottled. The next day, about 12 to 16 hours later, I put the bottles in the fridge to stop fermentation. Once cooled, I tried it.

It was not quite what I was expecting. It wasn’t awful, but not good. It certainly smelled chocolaty. The cinnamon was much more powerful than I would have thought. The vanilla was hardly noticeable. It was sweet and cold, so in that respect a success.

My brother and girlfriend and other friends who were the guinea pigs claimed it was all right, but I have a sneaking suspicion they were just trying to save my feelings, and am sure their respect and admiration for me dropped considerably.

I’m going to keep an ongoing tab on my attempts at successfully brewing chocolate soda. My goal is to brew something as sublime as Kayo soda is in my memory. This may not be a possibility, but I will toil on nonetheless.

Wychwood Hobgoblin


I’ve been very unfair to England. I have an obsession with beer and soda and unfortunately have been consistently disappointed with all the offerings from across the Atlantic. Guiness is fine, I guess, and has a beautiful pour, but if that’s all a country can deliver it is a sad state of affairs indeed.

The Wychwood Hobgoblin, which I first tried on draft at The Blind Pig in Champaign, has quickly become one of my favorite beers. It pours a dark caramel color with a nice head that dissipates quickly. It is a fairly typical dark ale with a nice sweetness in the middle and the end. It is a very drinkable beer best enjoyed on a cool evening around a fire.


*images courtesy of probonobaker

**I may have taken them, but it was with Probonobaker’s camera¬†

Canaster Winter Scotch Ale


For those drinkers interested in having a nice Scotch-Style ale, and who may be tired of drinking Robert the Bruce all the time, I’d definitely suggest picking up the Canaster WinterScotch-Style Ale.

The first thing one will probably notice is the heavy alcohol taste, followed by a middle that has hints of malt and a mild sourness. The ale finishes sweet with a bit of a caramel flavor. The sweetness of the aftertaste leaves your tongue wanting more.

I personally love scotch style ales and am always anxious to try a new kind. This Scotch Ale was suggested to Gemma and me by our friend Parker. I know it is available at Sams in Chicago because that is where I purchased it. As far as I know it is only available in a 1 pint 9.4 fl. oz. bottle. And at a whopping 9.5% alcohol, this is a beer best shared with a friend or a girlfriend on a cool autumn night.


Homemade Root Beer

I’m going to link to probonobaker.com because this was something I made, but Gemma already wrote about it and the pictures are very nice on her site, so we’ll leave it at that.¬† Go here.

Great Taste of the Midwest


I promise I will focus on single beverages and keep the tired blathering to a minimum in the future.

That said, Gemma, her brother Evan, her father, and myself recently went on a road trip to Madison for the annual beer festival, The Great Taste of the Midwest.

It is a day long festival starting at 1 and ending at 6. The festival is put on by the Madison Home Brewers and Tasters Guild. This was the 21st year that they have hosted the festival. It takes place in a beautiful park overlooking lake Monona and the Capitol.

The event brings together over 100 breweries from the Midwest who bring over 500 different varieties of beer, including a great selection of cask beers.


In short, I tried more beers than I can remember. Some great, some good, some not so good.

Here’s a short list:

  1. Bent River Brewing Company: Coriander and Orange
  2. Flatlanders: 80 Schilling Scotch Ale*
  3. Flossmoor Station: Hoppy Little Gnome, X-IPA, Rot Geist* and Ellas Reserve which was an exceptionally good Belgian aged in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels
  4. Two Brothers: Victor’s Memoriale Alt, Heliocentric Braggot
  5. Shoreline Brewery: Big Bella Heavy Scotch Ale
  6. Three Floyds: Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout*, Hellis*
  7. Dragonmead Microbrewery: Dragon Daze
  8. Kuhnhenn Brewing Company: Creme Brulee Java Stout*
  9. New Holland: Mad Hatter* (Cask)
  10. Old Hat Brewery and Grill: Alt
  11. Short’s Brewing Company: Bloody Beer
  12. Flat Earth Brewing Company: Bermuda Triangle Belgian Tripel*
  13. Brew Kettle Taproom: Old 21 Double IPA
  14. Great Lakes Brewing Company: Commodore Perry IPA
  15. Ale Asylum: Hath-Weizen Hefe Weizen*
  16. Angry Minnow Brewpub: Honey Wheat
  17. Central Waters Brewing Company: Bourbon Barrel Stout
  18. Green Bay/Hinterland Brewing Company: Oak aged IPA*
  19. Barley Island: Sinister Minister Belgian Black*

Exceptional beer denoted by asterisk.

Unfortunately this list isn’t exhaustive and I can only recall some of the beers my cohorts and myself drank. I’m not going to comment on any at the moment. I will post on many individually in the future.


This is a photo of Dark Lord, by Three Floyds. I include the picture only to show how beautiful a glass of beer can look. And, if you can find it, or if you have a friend who has a bottle and you think really loves you, ask to share it and find out if that friend does in fact love you.

*Photos courtesy of probonobaker

September 2018
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