Make Soda at Home

Soda in the FridgeI think Will and I got into soda-making last year when we read “The Tightwad Gazette” and started thinking about the myriad ways we could save money if we just put some energy into it.  Or perhaps it was when we started paying attention to the amount of corn syrup contained in the food we eat and looking for an alternative.  Well, mostly I think it just sounded fun.  We started with a Mr. Root Beer kit from Bloomington Hardware.  I’m not much of a soda drinker but I do enjoy a good root beer and was intrigued by the idea of brewing my own.  Alas, that first batch tasted like the fake flabor in root beer hard candies.  Yuck.  We tried a couple other recipes and had some successes but then got involved in other projects and the soda-making supplies were ignored for awhile.

Lia Cuts GingerI decided this weekend I was ready to try again and invited my cousin Lia to come and help out.  (Little did she know it was an invitation to do all the work.  Mwa ha ha ha.)  We decided to make a gallon of ginger beer and a half gallon of root beer.  To make any sort of soda, the basic idea is to make a sweet herbal tea or juice mixture and then add a little yeast and let it ferment for a few days to create the carbonation.  Technically, the carbonation means that it’s very mildly alcoholic but I think we’re talking something like 0.01%.  Once it’s fizzy enough, you put the soda in the fridge to stop the fermentation.  Actually, the soda will keep fermenting in the fridge but at a much slower rate.  You do have to drink it within a couple of weeks or it’s liable to fizz all over the place.

Boiling gingerOur first step for the ginger beer was to cut up a bunch of ginger.  (I let Lia do the dirty work).  Our recipe said to combine 1.25 oz grated ginger, 1/2 gallon water, 1.75 C sugar, and  the juice from half a lemon and to simmer for 25 minutes.  The next step was letting it cool so we got started with the root beer.  I decided to try using Pappy’s sassafras tea concentrate this time.  It’s a greenish brown syrup sold at the grocery store for people who are too lazy to dig up sassafras root.  (Actually, there’s some big hooplah about how sassafras contains a carcinogen so there are lots of “safrole-free” products available at grocery stores but I read through the study they did on rats and a person would have to drink hundreds of cups of tea a day to get the same dosage so I don’t worry too much.)  We mixed the concentrate with water and sugar and heated it up to dissolve the sugar.  Then we had to wait for it to cool too.

Lia ladles soda into bottlesFor the ginger beer, the next step was to mix our ginger “tea” with half a gallon of cooler water to get the final mix around 75 degrees F to make the yeast happy.  We mixed 1/8 teaspoon of yeast with 1/4C of water and let it proof for a few minutes before mixing it all in.  The recipe book “Homemade Root Beer, Soda, and Pop” generally calls for ale yeast but the author says you can also use bread yeast, which is what we use.  After mixing the ginger beer, we added yeast to the sassafras tea to make root beer.  Then we poured each batch into bottles.  Will and I have been using two types of bottles.  There are four 1-Liter plastic bottles that came from our original Mr. Root Beer Kit.  They have special lids with little pressure release vents so if there’s too much pressure, they will fountain rather than explode.  The plastic bottles are also nice because you can squeeze them to judge the amount of carbonation (the bottles get firmer as the soda ferments).  Our other bottles are 1-pint (I think) brown glass swing-top bottles from Butler Winery, a local supplier of homebrew equipment (and also tasty wine).  The swingtops lids also provide emergency pressure venting and the bottles look super cool.

Due to warm August weather, our soda was ready in two days.  My verdict?  The ginger beer is quite tasty although it definitely has a strong bite.  The root beer is a bit disappointing, with a mild sassafras flavor and a very strong yeasty flavor.  Maybe I’ll try again using more sassafras concentrate and less yeast or perhaps I’ll go old school and try with real sassafras root.  We’ll see if Lia is up for some more hard labor. this!

9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    lia said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 10:07 am

    it’s lia! sweet blog by the way- all green and cool, and look there’s you guys in the top corner! i’m in here too… classy 🙂 I just wanted to comment, because i’m a pretty bad commentary. I liked ginger beer! I went through a whole squishy bottle in a night! It helped ease my sore throat. ( and then i got a fever from having a cold and lalala, but back to my point) We’ll try to get the bottles back to you- more people should make soda at home- it tastes less artificial, and way more… natural, maybe? not NEARLY as much sweeteners. Yum yum. Support! whee! happy labor day to all, and thanks so much for the soda making experience!

  2. 2

    Maggie said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 9:17 pm

    Ginger is actually a pretty reputable medicinal herb and is definitely a good thing to take when you’re feeling sickly. It is antiseptic and also helps you cough up phlegm. In Chinese traditional medicine it’s consider warming and drying so it’s good when you feel cold and wet (which often goes along with a bad cold).

    Thanks for making soda with me! Soon it will be time for us to go apple picking! 🙂

  3. 3

    Student Doctor Green said,

    August 28, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

    MAN! I’ve been wanting to try this for FOREVER! I’m going to have to get some bottles and go for it. Thx for the inspiration.

  4. 4

    Will said,

    August 29, 2008 @ 2:07 am

    You definitely should, SDG! When Maggie came up with the topic for the post, we both had to look through the archives because we couldn’t believe that we hadn’t written about soda before. We’ve had a lot of fun with it and come up with some pretty memorable concontions!

  5. 5

    Dana said,

    September 4, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

    I can’t wait until we have a kitchen again, because I MUST try this! When you’re down in NC later this month, I hope I can remember to pick your brain about the best working recipe you’ve found so far.

    Also, since Mark is diabetic and his mom keeps giving us Splenda, do you think that would work to make a diet version? He drinks a ton of soda, so it’d be nice to be able to make it at home, but I have no idea if Splenda would affect the reactions needed to make the carbonation. Thoughts?

  6. 6

    Will said,

    September 4, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

    The sugar in homemade soda servers two purposes. One is just as a sweetener, which is where Splenda shines. The other is as food for the yeast so that they’ll produce carbonation.

    I did some reading on Splenda to see if it’d work for yeast and came up with conflicting results. Sucralose (the sweet part of Splenda) can’t be used by yeast (if it could, you could break it down as well and it’d be just like sugar). However, Splenda uses maltodextrin as a “bulking agent” since it’s 600 times sweeter than sugar. The maltodextrin makes it so that you can use about the same amount of Splenda as you would of sugar and get similar sweetnesses. Yeast can break down maltodextrin.

    However, the Splenda website says that the maltodextrin doesn’t contain enough calories to get yeast started (they didn’t put it like that, of course). For breads, they suggest using 2T of sugar to get the yeast started and replacing the rest with Splenda. For the ginger beer, that’d be 1 and 5/8 cups of Splenda and 2T of sugar.

    And remember, the yeast breaks down the sugar as it produces the carbonation, so you’re not actually drinking all of the sugar. If you got the mixture right, the yeast would eat through all of the sugar and leave just the Splenda for sweetening. That would have the added benefit of making sure that your bottles never explode (since the yeast would die out before producing enough CO2 to do damage). The only way to know how much sugar will give you the right amount of carbonation is to try it.

    Currently, the recipe uses 1260 calories of sugar for 1 gallon (or about 10 12-oz sodas). The yeast probably eats through about 300 calories-worth, making each soda less than 90 calories (significantly less than a normal soda, which is around 125-145).

  7. 7

    Dana said,

    September 5, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

    Thanks for looking into that for me, Will! As I said before, I can’t wait to try this.

    It’s also pretty awesome that each regular soda would only have 90 calories, because one of our other health-professional friends made a point a while ago that people who are not diabetic shouldn’t really drink diet drinks on a regular basis, because it will screw up the pancreas’s natural ability to regulate insulin production. The way she explained it was that it initially reads artificial sweeteners as sugar and wants to make insulin, but then realizes that there’s no glucose to counteract, so it stops itself, and if it does that often enough, it stops reacting properly to real sugar. Type 1 diabetics don’t have to worry, though, because their pancreas already quit producing insulin anyway.

    (I admit that I then did not do any later checking into this, because I hate the aftertaste of pretty much all artificial sweeteners, and any reason that I “have” to drink regular is fine with me. Mostly, the end result is that I don’t drink much at all. Boo, corn syrup.)

  8. 8

    margie said,

    February 24, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    I also drink a huge amount of soda. I looked at the sodamaker but it was really expensive. I thought there has got to be a cheaper way. Finally I found plans to make a home made system that is WAY cheaper than the sodamaker — I can make seltzer for less than 2 cents a liter! Here is where I found the plans to build your own soda and seltzer system in about 10 minutes for less than $100 bucks.

    It’s serving me well and I am making some delicious sodas! And I don’t end up using all that plastic, or even worse, shipping all that water!

  9. 9

    Maggie said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

    Margie –
    That’s an intriguing idea although I’m not sure I totally get it from your link – guess I’m not quite mechanically inclined enough? We also don’t drink nearly that much soda although since our last batch turned alcoholic before we finished it, maybe a seltzer option would be useful…

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