Little known, but much appreciated, this birch beer recipe is an excellent beverage that can be made at home with few supplies. Unbeknownst to many, the sap of birch can be collected and processed in a similar fashion to the maples. Birch syrup is one of the most exclusive gourmet foods on earth!
Birch beer can be thought of similarly to root beer or sarsaparilla in that it is a sweetened, carbonated beverage with a unique herbal flavor. This beverage is particularly popular in the Midwest and Northeast.
Birch beer can be made as either an alcoholic beverage or as a non-alcoholic soda. This birch beer recipe will be for the alcoholic beverage. The process for making the soda is slightly different.
This birch beer recipe will require the following:
• Birch sap
• Cut birch twigs & bark
• Sugar – either honey, brown sugar, molasses, or corn syrup
• Brewer’s yeast
The first step is to obtain birch sap. The tapping process for birch is essentially identical to that of tapping maple trees (see our article on tapping bigleaf maple trees). Tapping will typically occur in mid-winter to early spring depending on your location. Tapping supplies, such as spiles, buckets, and tubing, are readily available online. Birch sap has a lower sugar content than maple, but the sap tends to flow heavily.
It is important to recognize that not all birch trees are created equal. The most common birch here in the Pacific Northwest is the paper birch, but some species found back east, particularly the black or sweet birch, are superior for beer making. These species have a stronger flavor, but paper birch will certainly suffice.
Trees will produce about a gallon of sap a day when sap is flowing. Tapping a single tree would be sufficient for your first birch beer recipe.
Once you have collected about four or five gallons of sap, collect some bark and fine twigs. This is going to depend on your desired strength of brew, but a few good handfuls of each should work.
You’ll want to put your sap into a large pot. Start with 4 gallons of sap. Begin heating on the stove and mix in your sugar. I suggest using brown sugar or honey. The famous forager, Euell Gibbons, suggests using a gallon of honey, which is about 12 pounds. If using brown sugar, I would recommend using less, around 8 or 10 pounds.
Another option would be to increase the sugar content and concentrate the flavor by boiling down a few batches of sap to get syrup and adding that to the mixture.
Bring the sap to a boil and stir until the sugar is fully integrated. Remove this from heat and add in your cut twigs and bark and let it steep for about an hour.
After allowing the mixture to steep, strain out all the twigs and roughage and transfer to the container you will use for fermenting. A food-safe five-gallon bucket is acceptable. Mix in a cake of yeast and cover the container. This can be covered with a cloth while it ferments.
Let the mixture sit for one to two weeks, or until the cloudiness clears. At this point the drink is ready to bottle.
Brewing is a complex art and I recommend experimentation and research to take this skill further.
Birch beer is an excellent beverage and a great way to round out your winter. The primary ingredients can be gathered from the land, and the flavor is unique. This is an old-timey beverage and information is scant, so follow this birch beer recipe to get yourself started and see where you can take it!
Resources Related to the Birch Beer Recipe:
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Learn more ethnobotany at our Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants Courses.
About the Author: Jedidiah Forsyth is an experienced outdoor educator and wildlife tracker. He is a guest instructor at Alderleaf Wilderness College. Learn more about Jedidiah Forsyth.