Rook Root Beer
Local Couple Brews Popular Indy Soda
Writer / Megan Jefferson
Photographer / Andre Jefferson
Caitlin and Aaron Crow started dating in 2015. They had several things in common, including a love of root beer. On dates, they’d go out and order pulled pork nachos and root beer.
“I’d say that was pretty much our diet for six months,” Aaron says.
They got more and more into root beer. They started maintaining a list of different root beers they tried and noted subtleties in flavor. One night they looked up a recipe online and made it themselves. At that time, they mixed a syrup with a carbonated soda.
A year went by and Caitlin and Aaron got married. They, of course, included root beer on their wedding menu and shortly after, started playing around with making root beer on their own again.
“We started creating our own recipe just for fun,” Caitlin says. “We were brewing it from scratch. We really liked the taste of our root beer and realized we wanted to share it with the public.”
Last year they set up a booth at a farmer’s market to get feedback. Initially, the Crows created their recipe based on what they liked in a root beer. They used feedback from taste testers as a way to understand trends and help them adjust their recipe. They did not make changes based on every comment but took into account the things they kept hearing. After a season at the farmer’s market, they finalized their recipe. The Crows named their soda Rook root beer, as a Rook is a blackbird in the same family as the crow – a homage to their last name.
Traditionally, root beer is made from the sassafras root, however, sassafras contains safrole, a volatile oil which has been shown in some lab studies to cause cancer. This caused the Crows to look for alternative ingredients. They use star anise paired with wintergreen extract to get a similar flavor profile as sassafras root.
It’s important to Caitlin and Aaron that their root beer is a craft soda, natural and truly unique. Rook root beer has less than half the amount of sugar as normal sodas and contains no preservatives. To create their beverage, they put seven different spices and roots into a muslin bag and steep that in five gallons of water for 30 minutes. They then add some extracts and lime juice. It is sweetened with molasses and pure cane sugar and then carbonated over an 8-12-hour period.
“The richness of the roots and spices we use give our soda a more complex flavor profile,” Caitlin says. “It’s not just that recognizable root beer taste and then sweetness, ours stays on your tongue longer and causes you to think. It has a very complex flavor. Rook is classically sweet and curiously spicy.”
Currently, the Crows brew their root beer in the certified, teaching kitchen at Great Fermentations. They are thankful for the dry and cold storage space and are pleased with how the partnership allows them to prep in a quiet kitchen space.
Caitlin and Aaron both work full-time jobs while running their root beer business together. Every aspect of their business is handled by the two of them – brewing, bottling, delivering the soda and advertising. This can be challenging. Caitlin describes it as a rollercoaster. However, they enjoy working together.
“My favorite part is us working together,” Aaron says. “There are plenty of stressful moments where we annoy each other. There are also those really good moments where we’re working well together, we feel like a team and that’s special.”
Caitlin added that it’s fun to know that they’re building something together.
There is a lot of potential for growth at Rook. The product is unique and people get excited about it. The Crows talk about potentially making a cider and a tea with their spice blend. They are always looking for more stores to carry their product. They’d also love to form creative, successful collaborations with other businesses.
Rook root beer is available at three different farmer’s markets in the summer: Fishers, Garfield Park and Binford. They also sell through local businesses: Brics, Tiny House Treats, Brickhouse Coffee, Market Wagon and the Good Earth.
Visit Rook Root Beer on Facebook at facebook.com/rookrootbeer/.