If you’re a homebrewer and you want to make soda, you should. I have a few basic guidelines for making soda that will help point you in the right direction. Beyond that, you can find hundreds of recipes online, and I’ll be posting some of my own the rest of this week. If you’re a homebrewer and you want to make soda, though you probably want to try your own ideas. Hopefully this will get you started.
I don’t know the actual definition of soda and I’m not going to check. For the purposes of this week’s posts, I’m going to assume that a carbonated soft drink is close enough. So how do you make a carbonated drink without making it alcoholic? If you are kegging, you can simply force carbonate basically whatever you want and things are a lot simpler.
You can carbonate through fermentation of course, but the tricky part is to ferment only enough to make it bubbly and not add any significant alcohol. A lot of recipes online tell you to simple move the drinks into the fridge after they’ve carbonated. I like to make five gallon batches of most of my sodas, though and putting them all in the fridgeis not realistic. Most soda is very sweet and all that sugar will could turn to alcohol without close attention. It’s hard to determine when the put them in. The solution that I have come up with will also help you cut out all lose nasty old calories in your soda.
Splenda. This stuff tastes, to me, very close to real sugar. It can, conveniently, be swapped for sugar in a one to one ratio (for volume, not weight). Most importantly, in this case, it is not fermentable by normal yeast. It’s also available in giant bags at Costco at a very reasonable price. Just sweeten your soda with Splenda, then add enough corn sugar, or whatever you normally use for bottle conditioning along with some yeast. Your soda will be properly carbonated without needing to be refrigerated. As a general rule, two cups of Splenda per gallon of soda will get you close to what you want for most sodas. Start with less than that and experiment until you like it, though.
I like my soda a bit more carbonated than my beer, in general, so I normally scale up the conditioning sugar by about twenty percent. That is a lot of pressure though, you need to be very careful with what you’re putting your soda in. The obvious choice is, of course old soda bottles. Reusing bottles is great, but be sure to never use a container that didn’t originally carry a carbonated beverage. It WILL break. It WILL be a huge mess. It MIGHT seriously injure you.
In my experience, Champagne yeast is your best option for carbonating soda. Almost anything will work, from ale to baker’s yeast, but Champagne is about as neutral as you can get, it’s cheap and it works in a good range of temperatures and conditions. You probably don’t want any fermentation character in your soda, so this is perfect.
What kind of ingredients and flavors can you use? Whatever you want. There are a wide range of soda extracts available. I will post more about them tomorrow, but you can pick them up at the homebrew shop or some specialty grocery stores and then you basically just add water, sugar (Splenda) and yeast.
Beyond these, though, I like using other flavor extracts. Those same specialty grocery stores often have a wide range of extracts. Obvious choices for soda are the various fruit extracts, but they also have things like maple, chocolate, caramel and even marshmallow. I have just started toying with these but I hope to experiment a lot more in the future.
You can, of course use fresh ingredients, as well. I will give my recipe for ginger beer, with fresh ginger root later this week. I’ve also made sodas with fresh pureed strawberries, orange zest, mint leaves and there are recipes online with just about anything you can find in the produce aisle.
Juice the other big option for making sodas, though it throws a kink in my normal plans. Fruit juice has a lot of sugar, so sweetening with Splenda to keep alcoholic fermentation at bay is not an option. Some fruit juices come from the store with added ingredients to keep them from fermenting, so you can run into the opposite problem of not even getting carbonation, as well. The nutrition facts label will tell you about these ingredients though, so at least you don’t have to guess. Potassium sorbate, or some other chemical ending in “sorbate” are the usual suspects. Anything in the ingredients list that is followed by “to preserve freshness” or something similar in parenthesis is probably going prevent fermentation.
For the fermentation reasons above, I usually stick to much smaller batches of sodas made with fruit juice. I actually don’t do very many of them for this reason, with the exception of Apfelschorle. I will post my recipe for that German apple soda later this week, as well.
One final note on acidity. Soda is usually very sweet. To keep it from being too off balance and sickening, you need some extra acidity. The usual way to achieve this is with a bit of lemon juice. Just about every soda recipe should include an ounce or two of lemon juice per gallon to keep it refreshing.
Keeping these guidelines on fermentation, sweetening, ingredients and acidity in mind, you can make any kind of soda you like. If you need some inspiration, check back here for a new recipe every day for the rest of the week. Please share your own recipes in the comments as well. I’m always excited to try a new carbonated soft drink.