Thursday, July 28, 2011

Homemade Root Beer from Scratch: Follow-up Numero Dos

I cracked open a bottle of my homemade root beer this morning after getting my eldest girls' breakfast- I think I've figured out the formula for Kid Beer. I took a drink-a little bitter, a little sweet, a bit yeasty. Flavorful, and has a nice head on it. I took another drink-yup, I now understand the concept of soft beer and how it eventually led to Root Beer.
I let my daughter try it(along with a bottle of cream soda from extract that has yet to carbonate), and she told me that she loved the big bottle better then the small bottle. Sure enough, the big bottle is my homemade root beer. I'm not sure how much alcohol is in it, but I'm willing to bet it's a little stronger then the 0.5% that is normally found in homemade sodas. My guess is that it's more on the 2-3% side, as it definitely has a slight alcoholic tang to it, although that could just be the full-bodied flavor of the ale yeast.
Anyways, traditional root beers call for two things in the recipe-a sweetening agent, and a bitter agent. It gives it a more complex flavor, and back in the day helped to mask the off-taste of leaky bottles which allowed some spoilage or the off-taste of bad yeast cultures. I think I used a bit much of my bittering agent(licorice root), and not enough of my sweetening agent-particularly the Sarsaparilla. I used 3 oz. of Sarsaparilla in a 1.5 gallon batch, but the recommended ratio is 3-5 oz. per gallon. I figured that it would be ok since I had a long list of ingredients. The sarsaparilla was sure to come out and enhance the other flavors-right? Wrong.
Next batch of root beer is going to use at least 5 oz. per gallon, and I'm going to exclude the licorice root. I'm also going to use star anise(instead of anise seed) next time around, as I didn't get any of the black licorice flavor I was looking for-although it was detectable when smelling the brew.
This wasn't a failure-it's a totally drinkable root beer. It's not what I was going for when I envisioned the root beer in my head though. However, I think if I allow my oldest daughter to drink this to her heart's content, she may just end up a little tipsy.

I won't do that. On a weekday anyways.

Click here for the first part of this article
Click here to read the recipe and process of making this homemade root beer

Review: Jus Cool Sugar Cane Natural Drink

Upon a recent trip to a local dollar store/smoke shop to get the coveted "Medio Litro"(half-liter)Mexican Coke, I discovered a new, interesting canned beverage from Thailand. Jus Cool brand Sugar cane Natural Drink. It wasn't carbonated, but I had to try it and review it on principal alone.
A little background, Jus Cool is a Thai manufacturer of canned juices, and apparently someone decided that it would be a good idea to can up Sugar water and call it "Sugar Cane Juice". Anyways, the ingredient list is short(as could be expected)-Sugar cane juice, water. The can features exactly what you'd expect-a logo, some writing and a picture of the source of the juice. Even if there were no English written on the can, there's a pretty good bet anyone in the world could figure out what this can contained-either cane juice or dehydrated spider legs. However, the most interesting part of the can was the expiration date(something that is always wise to check on any product at a shady-looking dollar store). The can said "good if consumed by date on bottom of the can". So, I flipped the can over-this is what I saw...
A scribbled on price-$1.49(not too bad for imported anything really). And "BCBBBB". Hmmm....I had to check the date on my phone to make sure we weren't past the date "BC/BB/BB", or even "BC/BBBB". My phone assured me that it was "07/22/2011", and not "BCBBBC" or any other date past BCBBBB. However, I'm not entirely sure if there is an alternate means of telling time that involves some kind of marriage of Greek-rooted letters and Thai numerals. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that since it's basically syrup in a can that I should be ok.
Here went nothing. I popped open the can-still a little disappointed not to have heard a "psst"-but I took a whiff-smelled deeply like a can. I tried really hard to smell something, but it just wasn't coming. So I took a drink-hmmm....that's some thick sugar water. It was very much like drink cold syrup, but with that weird gummy feeling that bottled fruit juices get, particularly orange juice. Must be something to do with the sterilization process. Either way, this tasted like very bad sugar water. My eldest was super-excited about trying this new "soda" after discovering it in the refrigerator. I put it out of her(and her sister's) view so that I could partake of this peculiar beverage before they discovered it and begged their mother for a chance to try it. She was sorely disappointed to discover this was not what she expected it to be.
I was pretty disappointed as well. I mean, I wasn't expecting anything too great, mind you, but I recently had an experience with something that was supposedly a "root beer" recently that gave me high hopes for this. I'll get to that review soon as well.
Anyways, on with the ratings...

Packaging- 6/5
Again, the packaging was everything it needed to be and more-if you consider a mysterious expiration date to be "more"-which I do.

Aroma- 0/5
Can something have negative smell? I think that after attempting to waft this for at least a minute it took me about 20 minutes to smell anything again. Also, I originally mis-typed this as "arp,a", so maybe that is a better way to describe this canned contrivance's smell- "arp <pause> ahh"

Taste- 2/7
It wasn't entirely unpleasant, but I could have done with the weird, milky pasteurized feel that also accompanies bottled orange juice(which is why I hate orange juice that isn't fresh-squeezed). Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure that the process of extracting cane sugar juice probably involves dropping large amounts of sugar cane into a big vat of hot water-which is probably sterilization enough before your machine dispenses it into a can. Whodathunk it needed more than that? Whatever, it killed the drink-ability for me. Everyone can make better sugar water in their own home with very little practice.

Overall- 8/17
Not the worst canned beverage in the world. Hell, it's probably better then their actual fruit juices, which is a very disconcerting thought. It's a good thing they had a cryptic expiration date system, otherwise they would have gotten half the score on packaging.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homemade Root Beer from Scratch: Follow-up Numero Uno

So, this morning I decided to crack open another bottle of my homemade Root Beer-my first batch from scratch... and the above picture was my result. A nice, thick foam over-running the top of the bottle. It streamed out for about a minute or so(long enough for me to get my camera and take a picture...), and left plenty in the bottle to sample.
Obviously the carbonation was good, but how was everything else?
The brew came out with a nice orangish amber color(much like a dark beer), and smelled pretty tasty. Both things were different-the color was far better, and the aroma was much less licorice rooty.
So I took a swig-not too bad at all. My eldest daughter's initial reaction was favorable, but then she slowly decided she didn't like it anymore. I suspect this was the warm yeastiness more than anything else, so I unloaded the rest from their box and put them into the fridge.
I planned on not touching them for a couple of days, but I told my neighbor that my root beer had carbonated and was cooling in the fridge. After assisting him with building a shared fence, he asked if he could have one of my root beers. I was a little reluctant, but decided to let him try it out.
After his first sip, he said it was pretty decent-then he drove off with the rest. A few hours later he came back and assured me that it was "really good, but you're right, it'll be perfect in about 3 days".
It was a nice to hear that someone outside of my household enjoyed one of my homemade sodas-especially one that wasn't even done "curing" yet.
I'll be back in a few days to let you know how it tastes after some proper aging...
Click here for part 2 of the follow-up.
Click here for the recipe and process of making this Root Beer from scratch.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Root Beer from Scratch

This past weekend I tried my hand at my first batch of root beer from scratch. I ventured to a local tea store(Wonderland Tea n Spice) to pick up my ingredients. I was a little hesitant about purchasing Sassafras to use in my batch, and the owner of the shop assured me that the quantities that would be used in my batches of soda would be small enough that there would be no harm. My concern, if you are unaware, grows from a longtime ban on Sassafras as a food ingredient by the FDA due to carcinogenic properties. Sassafras is one of the most important flavoring agents in old fashioned root beer, and for the last 40 years an artificial flavoring agent has been used in it's place. However, the FDA's testing methods were a bit extreme-they took pure essential oil of Sassafras(safrole) and injected large amounts into rats(which are naturally averse to it). Since we are not working with pure safrole, and are using a small amount of sassafras(3-6 oz./gallon), each 12 oz. bottle would contain only trace amounts of the carcinogenic component-so little so that one would have to drink 10 bottles a day, everyday for weeks to obtain an amount which would be harmful to the body. In other words, you would probably get sick from the sugar before the safrole would get to you.
However, I didn't account for sassafras in my planned ingredients list, and as such I decided to pass it up and find the ingredients I intended. Next time, however, I will buy some sassafras and try it out.
I went in there with Sarsaparilla as my intended main component-and after smelling both sarsaparilla and sassafras I determined that they don't vary too much in aroma, and as such are probably not too drastically different in flavor. However, I planned on making a root beer that was much more complex then just sarsaparilla on it's own.
So, on to the ingredient list-
3 oz. Sarsaparilla
2x 3 inch Cinnamon Sticks
1 tbsp. chopped, dried Licorice Root
2 tbsp. Anise seed
1x 6 inch Vanilla Bean
1 tbsp. dried, chopped Wintergreen Leaves
2 cups of sugar
about 1 cup of caramel color.

To make the caramel color I combined 1 cup of sugar, 4 tbsp. of brown sugar and 4 oz. of water in a one quart sauce pan, brought to a boil and allowed the syrup to burn(stirring to prevent it from caking on to the pot), and then slowly reduced the heat while stirring occasionally.

I placed my ingredients above(minus the caramel color) into a mesh bag, then combined with 1.5 gallons of water in a stock pot, brought to a boil for 20 minutes, then removed from heat and allowed to steep uncovered for 30 minutes.
I stirred in the caramel color and placed in a sink full of ice water until it cooled to 100 degrees fahrenheit, stirred in 1/4 tsp. of ale yeast and then bottled.
The taste test of what little remained in the bucket after bottling up about 11 bottles revealed too strong of a licorice root taste, so next time around I decided I would use more sarsaparilla and less licorice root(if any).

I decided to use my new bottles with swing-tops for a few reasons; larger bottles to quench thirst; tester bottle could be opened 2 or 3 times. Since the weather has been a little warmer around here(still not hot, but warmer), I decided to check for the first time after 36 hours. A little bit of a pop when opening, and some fizz rushing to the top for a bit of a foamy head. Not enough carbonation-seal it back up and wait it out. Another warm day, so I checked again about 12 hours later-still not enough fizz. I drank the rest of that tester bottle and vowed not to touch another one until tomorrow night(which will place it around 3 days to carbonate).
Also, upon 1.5 days of steeping and carbonation, the licorice root flavor is still very strong, but the other flavors are coming out slowly.
I will write a follow up post to see if allowing to sit in the refrigerator for a few days helps bring out the rest of the flavors present. I'm not ready to give up on this root beer yet-but I have some more ideas for other batches of root beer, and plan on trying every last one of them.
Making soda from scratch(as opposed to extract) is also spurring my creative juices, and I've had a few wild ideas for some other sodas. Posts documenting these weird soda experiments to follow.
Click here for the first follow-up post.
Click here for the second follow-up post

Friday, July 22, 2011

Coke vs. Pepsi: An in-depth comparison, Part 2

Coke vs. Pepsi- Which is better and why? A continuing saga.... (click here for Part 1)

Caffeine Free
Hands down, neither one is champion. It boils down to personal preference, but caffeine free Cola is like decaf coffee-you just don't drink it unless you need to for medical reasons. I'd give Coke the edge just on taste alone.

Cane Sugar(how it's meant to be).
There was a lot of speculation back in the 1980's that Coke changed to "New Coke" as a clever marketing ploy to distract people from the fact that they were going to switch from sugar to HFCS. While that is total bullshit(Coke switched to the new formula because Pepsi consistently beat it in blind taste tests(Coke almost always wins when the labels are prominently featured)), it does raise an interesting question-does Coke(or for that matter, Pepsi) taste drastically different if the sweeteners are changed? The answer? A resounding hell yes.
A few years ago Coke decided to start allowing their bottlers and retailers to import Coke from Mexico-where it has remained sweetened with sugar. I had to have some, so me and the wife went to Costco(the only source I knew of at the time), and plunked down $18 for a 12 pack(!!!) of 12 oz. glass bottles. It was totally worth it. Coke with sugar is like suckling from the teat of a coffee goddess while someone tosses bouquets of cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans about your head and shoulders. I realized at that moment that HFCS Coke tasted very much like 2 things-the burnt, slightly off sweetness of HFCS itself, and Phosphoric Acid. Coke has such a complex arrangement of flavors it's no wonder there were cook books dedicated to using it as an ingredient. Since the HFCS doesn't drown out everything else, you can actually smell the vanilla and cinnamon as you take it into your palate. You can detect the sweetness of the sugar and the sour of the citrus, and then you feel the sting of the acid on your tongue.
Pepsi(Hecho en Mexico) and Pepsi Throwback(one in the same, as far as I can tell), on the other hand, doesn't get much better in it's sugared form. Don't get me wrong, it's still decent, but I actually think it's better with HFCS. Pepsi's primary appeal over Coke is it's incredible sweetness-so adding the burnt sugar taste of HFCS is kind of like plopping a toasted marshmallow in your hot chocolate-a regular marshmallow is fine, but a toasted one just makes it that much better. If I had my choice, Coke would be sold exclusively in glass bottles made with sugar, and Pepsi would be in any bottle made with HFCS.
Fountain Drinks.
Pepsi is much better out of the fountain then the bottle, or Coke from the fountain, except in one instance. McDonald's is that exception. McDonald's Coke is the second-best Coke in the world(behind Mexican Coke), and the best fountain drink I've had in my life. The only thing that could possibly make it any better is if it were sweetened with sugar instead of HFCS. I don't know what it is about McD's Coke, but I'm almost positive they tweak it in some way to make it better. Whether it's a higher syrup to water ratio, extra sodium, or simply more cinnamon(makes it more savory), or a combination of all of the above, McD's Coke is far and away better then any other fountain Coke I've ever had. Again, people bring up the fact that Coke may have changed it's formula when switching from Coke to New Coke back to Coke Classic, but it's nothing more then speculation. However, I'll add on to that speculation and say that either McD's has either maintained original Coke formula, kept New Coke, or combined the two to make something all it's own.
New Coke lived on in many countries after the backlash-but it did eventually find new life in America-through Diet Coke. Diet Coke has always been sweetened with Aspartame, but a few short years ago, they tried something new. There was a new alternate sweetener on the market, and it didn't carry quite the same bitter aftertaste of aspartame-Splenda. Diet Coke with Splenda came out, and to make sure it was very distinct on the tongues of discerning pop-drinkers the country over, they made Diet Coke with Splenda using the "new Coke" formula. It tasted like a Coked up version of Pepsi-of you will. Imagine a flat coke with the same acidic bite as regular Coke, and you have a pretty good picture in your head.
Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi are kind of on even ground with me, but I found Diet Pepsi to have a bit more of an artificial taste to it. Diet Pepsi offered far more flavor options, and as usual Pepsi won out in the added flavors department, even in the Diet world. Diet Pepsi with a flavor would be my go to Diet Cola, but really if I needed to drink a diet soda I'd choose diet root beer or diet Dr. Pepper. Their flavors just tend to mask the bitter aftertaste of artificial sweeteners far better then a cola ever could.
Overall, I think Coke is still the clear winner, but if I could my hands on a glass bottle of Vanilla Coke made with sugar I'd be in heaven. Hopefully Pepsi's success with their throwback line will inspire Coke to do the same with theirs, but it doesn't look very likely to happen.
No matter what your preference, both will always be available-so drink up and enjoy.

Originally when I discussed added flavors, I did leave out one abomination-Coca Cola Blak. Coca Cola flavored with coffee extract was completely awful. It was like drinking a coke that someone had spilled coffee grounds into. Bleh!!! It did come in an awesome bottle though...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Cream Soda from Scratch

Last week I made another batch of soda, but I waited until the batch was nearly gone before posting on it for a few reasons.
The major one being that this is the first batch of homemade soda made from scratch that I've made in a long time, and I wanted to get through the entire process before I began talking about it. This way, I could explore any issues that may have arisen during the process. Thankfully for educational content's sake(and for my own experience), I did have a few things go wrong.
First up, let's talk about the recipe and preparation, then we'll talk about everything that could have been done differently and what may have gone wrong.
I will preface this recipe with the following-this is not entirely my recipe. It is a modified version of cream soda found in Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop by Stephen Cresswell. The most important part of this step was that I took a recipe for a 1 gallon batch(10-11 12 oz. bottles), and multiplied ingredients by 2 to make a 2 gallon batch
(which ended up being 20 bottles).
On to the recipe...

2x 6 inch Vanilla beans(blanched)
2x 3 inch Cinnamon Stick(original recipe called for 3 inches of cinnamon bark)
1/2 tsp Cream of Tartar
4 cups of Sugar(original called for 1 3/4 cups of brown sugar-I didn't have that much brown sugar available to me)
Slightly more than 1/4 cup of Raisins(o.r. called for 1/4 cup for a gallon, I used what we had-a little over 1/4cup for 2 gallons)-Coarsely chopped.
1/4 tsp. yeast
2 gallons of water

Bring 1 gallon of water, vanilla beans, and cinnamon to a boil. Stir in sugar, let simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in cream of tartar until dissolved, allow to sit for 30 minutes.(I ended up letting it sit for about an hour due to middle having a rough time going to sleep). At this time, you'll want to get another gallon of water ran into a pot. After the 30 minutes is up, strain into the other pot(I attempted to strain into my bucket, but I dropped my mesh bag and all of the ingredients ended up in the bucket anyways), stir in the yeast and bottle.
The brew tasted excellent-a bit of sweet vanilla with a touch of cinnamon spice-quite similar to a good horchata. It was magnificent. After 36 hours I checked it-no carb at all.
I checked 24 hours later-and there was a little bit of fizz. Popping the lid off gave a bit of a "psst" sound, and a nice head of fizz came to the top of the bottleneck. A drink revealed a bit of carbonation, but it still needed a little longer. I let the rest sit for another 12 hours and then stuck them all in the refrigerator.
After letting it sit for two days I cracked open a bottle and took a whiff-sweet cinnamon.
Very promising. Then I took a swig-and was very disheartened to taste that all too familiar fiberglass-like flavor I had gotten with my previous, unsuccessful cola batches.
Then I realized-it's got to be the cinnamon reacting with the yeast. Only the batches I've made using cinnamon have developed that awful aftertaste, and it only comes up with the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
This means I need to two things when working with cinnamon-cut back the amount(which I thought I solved by switching to cinnamon sticks rather then ground cinnamon), and strain it very well.
The brew was more and more drinkable as time went on-and it was always tasty until the sediment had been mixed up. My family still went through all 20 bottles in about six days' time. The flavor was overwhelmingly of cinnamon, though. Next time, I will use the same amount of vanilla, but cut it up with kitchen scissors instead of merely cutting it down the middle and spreading it open, and use half the cinnamon. That way, I can get the flavor of the cinnamon without getting too much in the brew, and hopefully strain out the rest of the stray cinnamon to prevent it from mixing with the yeast too much and getting that unsettling fiberglass taste.
The raisins will definitely stay in the recipe, and I may even add more next time around. I read that they are great for their clarifying properties, and I will admit that for all of my batches of homemade soda, this particular one was the most clear of all of them. It was a nice, clearish off-white akin to many other bottled cream sodas-almost exactly the color of Nesbitt's Honey Lemonade, but with less yellow.
As a bonus, after bottling up the brew I got an amazingly tasty treat-cinnamon vanilla raisins. I might have to make up small batches of those in a sauce pan for the kids and I as a special treat-they were just that good.
So, a few lessons learned. Next challenge to tackle-homemade root beer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: China Cola

China Cola-my first foray into weird, obscure cola-dom. I remember that fateful day three years ago when I was with the whole fam-damily at the local Food Co-op store getting some groceries when the wife decided that we should eat lunch from their deli. I agreed, and although I don't remember what food I ate(probably a bean salad of some kind...), I do remember what beverage I grabbed.
I went to their refrigerated display case and perused the shelves, looking for something that would grab my interest. They had a few "natural" soda mainstays-Blue Sky and Hansens of all varieties in individual cans(ugh). They had a few bottles of Izze-avoided that because I wasn't(and still remain) a big fan of carbonated juice drinks, and something interesting looking called Kombucha Wonder Drink. But alas, my palate craved something semi-familiar. I wanted a cola, and China Cola was sitting there in all of it's bright yellow glory, screaming at me to give it a shot.
So, I grabbed the bottle, and proceeded to pop it open. There was a moderate amount of fizz, but nothing too great. Reminded me of all those endless amounts of Faygo over the years-a decent bit of carbonation in the first drink or two, and then quickly diminishing returns every drink thereafter. My initial impression was that of sweet worcestershire sauce, but after I got over the bitter herbal aroma the rest of it went down relatively fine.
However, I felt that I hadn't given China Cola a fair go-I was still smoking regular cigarettes at the time, and I discovered that my taste buds had deceived about a lot of foods and drinks. Another factor was that in between then and now I have significantly cut back on my addition of salt to foods, which helped me better appreciate subtle flavor notes I had often drowned out with the delicious ground rocks I had been putting on my food for so many years.
Boy howdy, I was glad I decided to give it another go. Upon getting my bottle, I cracked it open, and that same familiar herb and roots aroma wafted into my nostrils, and I prepared myself for the potential horror that lay within. I brought it to my lips, poured it onto my tongue, and surprisingly, detected none of that hard-to-pronounce grog made with dissolved sardines that I was expecting.
It was rich, slightly bitter, and had a bit of tang to it. There was a bit of sweetness and the underlying burn of acid, and I was quickly reminded of something I had sampled not too long ago-Pepsi Natural.
For those of you who missed it's relatively short run, Pepsi Natural was a gimmicky attempt by Pepsi to break into the naturally-flavored, cane sugar sweetened glass bottle world. It wasn't bad, mind you, but it wasn't what one would expect from a major soda brand. It was flavored with kola nut(most colas use a combination of vanilla and cinnamon as their "cola" flavor), and it came in an interesting bottle with a clear label, a bleached-out(remember, white is a "healthy" color in corporate food packaging) Pepsi logo, and was an almost unappetizing pale brown color. It greatly resembled carbonated tea in a bottle. 
Anyways, back to China Cola. It was good, and they decided to package it in a dark amber bottle, much like beer, which made it look more appetizing, not seeing the dirty-dishwater tannish brown of brewed tea. It was everything that Pepsi Natural wanted to be(and more), and it most definitely predated by a number of years. This leads me to believe that either Pepsi-Co optioned the recipe for it's marketing campaign, or that a Pepsi-Co executive had tried China Cola and decided he needed to share it with the world, all the while lining his pockets with the profits of his plagiarism.
I shouldn't really complain though, because it's entirely possible that if Pepsi Natural had completely tanked we may not have seen the "Throwback" line of sodas hit the shelves. That would have made me a sad panda indeed-you haven't had Mountain Dew until you've had Mountain Dew Throwback.
So, in short-you should find yourself a bottle of China Cola. Gaudy packaging and all, it's an interesting soda experience. I wouldn't drink it all of the time, but it's worth tasting a relatively obscure cola that may have inspired the big guys to try their own trumped up version-and how often do you see Pepsi or Coke ripoff a "generic" brand instead of the other way around? Usually they just buy the company and fold it into their own.
Side-note. I just did a bit of research and found out that China Cola is distributed by Reed's(makers of a fine ginger ale, and distributor of Virgil's heavenly brews). However, it is only the American labeling of a product called "Future Cola"-which is based in China and has the third largest market share of sodas in the world. Not really fair to call it a "generic" brand, I suppose, but it's still of note that Pepsi copied one of their competitors so blatantly. It's like the modern day equivalent of the "New Coke" fiasco of the eighties, but Pepsi kept their original formula available the whole time.

Packaging- 4/5
Goddamn if it isn't gaudy as all hell. That's what I like about it though. Catches the eye. It looks like someone designed a logo specifically for a t-shirt, slapped it on a bright yellow field and called it a day. The source of the brew in the bottle looks like a Chinese knock-off Coke can, but Reed's went all out to make sure that didn't happen here in the States by making it look like it was designed by a fourth grader from the early nineties.

Aroma- 2/5
It doesn't smell like it would taste that good-exactly like a medicinal tea. I blame the peony root and kola nut.
Naturally caffeinated by the kola nut, but naturally a little bitter for the same reason.

Taste- 5/7
It's not sicky sweet, there isn't as much of a bite to it as one would expect from a cola, and it has a complex blend of bitter and aromatic that dances on the tongue. As stated above, I couldn't drink this bottle after bottle, but it would go quite nicely with a tomato-based dish.

Overall- 11/17
Try it out. It might not be for everyone, but I quite enjoy the change of pace every now and then. I think it would probably be good to drink flat for an upset stomach, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tutorial: Making your first batch of homemade soda from extract.

Ok, yesterday I wrote a post giving you a list of supplies to get you started on the journey of making your own homemade soda. Today, I will provide you step by step instructions on making your first batch.
First, get all of your ingredients ready. Get your bottle of extract, your sugaryeast, and water.
Then, make sure you have all of your other supplies readily available. It is of the utmost importance that your bottles and stock pot are both sterile, so clean them thoroughly in hot water and soap-might even be a good idea to give them a quick bath in a sink full of bleach water solution and a good rinse.
Fill your stock pot with a gallon of water, and set the temperature to medium heat. Since you'll be working with an extract today, you won't need to get the water much hotter then what you'd run your bath water at, so you can gauge by your finger. Once the water is warm enough(around 100 degrees), pour in 2 cups of sugar until it is dissolved.
Take your empty measuring cup, dip it into the pot and get out about 2 oz. of the mix. Measure out 1/8 tsp. of yeast and drop it in the measuring cup. Stir it in and let sit uncovered.
Once you have done that, add 1 tbsp and 1 tsp of the extract and stir in to mix the flavor in.
Now, take the yeast water from the measuring cup and pour back into the rest of the mix. Stir in well to make  sure the yeast is in the whole mix and not just sitting at the top.
Using your ladle and funnel bottle your brew. If you've chosen to use 2 liter bottles and have steady hands, you may be able to place the funnel in the bottle and slowly pour the brew into the bottle directly from the pot-which will make the process go a lot quicker. If you're using glass bottles(which I recommend), it should take you about 20-30 minutes to bottle and cap.
Find a place where you can set the bottles out of sunlight and undisturbed for the next few days. If you've chosen 2 liter bottles, you can check the carbonation by squeezing the bottle. Once it's rock hard you should put it in the refrigerator to help slow the fermentation process down.
If you have bottled in glass, check the bottles after 48 hours and then again about every 24 hours after that. IF you crack open one bottle and have a good amount of carbonation, place the remaining bottles in the refrigerator to allow to cool. Fair warning, if the bottle is particularly warm or very carbonated, it will explode out of the bottle(as has happened to me) so I would recommend opening over the sink.
Ideally, you want to store the bottles at or around 70 degrees. If you store them somewhere too cold, your yeast will not flourish. If you store it somewhere warmer, check the bottles earlier, as the yeast will work exponentially quicker the hotter it is.
Once in the refrigerator, you're going to want to let them set for a few days to get the best flavor possible. With the glass bottles I've experienced my best flavor after a week, but it should taste good 3 days afterwards. You'll be in for a pleasant surprise, however, as your bottles will get progressively more delicious as the days go on. Bottled soda will keep for about a month(possibly longer), but it's very unlikely they will last that long.
I'm not sure how long it will keep in the 2 liter bottles, but I would recommend drinking it first 2 days after refrigeration and within a week after that. Your carbonation will stay better in homemade soda then a store bought soda because of the chemical reactions involved, but the repeated exposure to oxygen will make it spoil more quickly then individual, one use bottles that you open once and consume in once sitting.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Supplies: Making homemade soda yourself-getting started.

So, ready to make your own soda? There are a few supplies you'll need, and why you'll need them. Most of these items should be pretty readily available to you in your local area, but I've provided you with links so that you may purchase those things you can't find.
1 large Stock Pot (I recommend at least an 8 qt.)-if you make gallon batches, this will give you room to stir and strain if necessary without worrying about spilling over the side. You can go bigger if you want to make larger batches, but to start off with it's a good guideline.

1 case(24x) of 12oz Amber long neck bottles. Each gallon batch you make will yield about 10 full bottles and 1 tester bottle(1 gallon=128 oz.), so you'll have enough bottles to make two separate batches. These bottles are really thick as they are intended for use in making homemade beer, so it's really unlikely you will run across exploding bottle problems. You can also use 2x 2 liter bottles that have been rinsed and sanitized beforehand for each 1 gallon batch, but if you're working with extracts they can stain the bottles and leave them with the flavor of the extract, plus you might find some of the chemicals from the bottles seeping into your brew, creating off flavors. However, these have their use if you really want to avoid exploding bottles.

Ladle to help fill your bottles. I recommend stainless steel over plastic to ensure proper sterilization-the last thing you want is a spoiled batch due to some unseen bacteria.

Funnel with Strainer for filling your bottles. The strainer will come in handy reducing the amount of unwanted material in each bottle. Remember to check and clear it after every couple of bottles.

Getting a pail with spigot, tubing and siphon(like the one from my New Toy article) make life much easier when you move into larger batches, but if you're making 1 gallon batches it's a pain in the ass because you need to lean the bucket forward to get the batch to drain through the tubing under 1 gallon. The funnel/ladle method is a little time consuming, but yields the best results for 12 oz. bottles. You can skip the ladle completely if you're just using 2 liter bottles, but you probably have a ladle in your kitchen already anyways.

1 bottle of Rainbow Soda Extracts, your preferred flavor. It's easiest to start off with an extract to give you an idea if you're going to like brewing homemade soda for yourself, and also gives you consistent results over using your own ingredients. If you're a fan of Faygo ROCK N RYE, you can mix equal parts Homebrew Cola & Homebrew Cream Soda and get a pretty good clone.

C&H Pure Cane White Sugar, 10 lb. Cane sugar gives the best flavor, and a 10 lb. bag is enough for roughly 10 gallons of homemade soda. More or less depending on your sweetness preference, but 2 cups(which is about 1 lb.) of sugar per gallon is a pretty standard amount. That'll yield about 38 g sugar/12 oz. bottle. Beet sugar will work as well, and you can always consider other flavoring alternatives-honey, brown sugar, molasses, agave nectar, stevia, equal, splenda, or sweet n low. Various amounts of these can be used or combined for different flavors. Start off with whatever is conveniently available though.

1 package of ale yeast. I have previously recommended use of champagne yeast, but have recently come to find out that ale yeast will usually shut itself down when the pressure inside the bottle becomes too high, as it is no longer a friendly environment for the yeast to multiply. This means there is almost no chance of exploding bottles.

Measuring Spoon Set. It is absolutely necessary to have 1/8 tsp. measuring spoon so that you can measure out your yeast-this is all that is required for a 1 gallon batch. It's good to have measuring spoons for a variety of reasons, but that one is a must have.

Pyrex 2-Cup Measuring Cup. Perfect size for measuring out your sugar. After using it for your sugar, you can also put 1/4 cup of bath-water warm(about 100 degrees) water in the bottom along with your yeast to kick start your yeast.

Gold Crown Bottle Caps or Black Bottle Caps to cap your bottles.
Bottle Capper - Red Baron for Homebrew You can also buy a Bench Bottle Capper, but it's three times as expensive and works just as well. The bench capper is a little easier to operate, but it's a small amount of convenience for the price-and not really recommended when you're first starting out.

That should cover everything you need to get started. Most of the supplies are probably already sitting around your house, and most of the supplies that aren't should be readily available at your local homebrew store.
Coming soon is an article walking you through the process of making your own first batch, if you haven't already done so.

Coke vs. Pepsi: An in-depth comparison, Part 1

The two major contenders in the soft drink world-Coke and Pepsi. A rivalry so deeply seated in our psyche that their modern packaging even reflects the rivalry in it's colors-red and blue. Coca Cola carries one of the most universally recognized logos, and Pepsi consistently beats Coke in taste tests.
I, personally, am a Coke fan. Always have been, always will be. However, the flagship pops in their respective corporate empires each have their own unique taste for both being colas, are hardly ever copied by the generics, and each definitely have their strong points. That's what I wish to explore.
Being such a connoisseur of sodas, I have noticed many similarities, and those things which make Coke and Pepsi quite distinct from each other, and where one is flat out better then the other in their respective categories.
Let's start with the basics-packaging. Coca-cola has a very distinct bottle shape, and it should-it was designed in such a way that a person would recognize a coke bottle from every other bottle, even amongst debris when shattered on the ground. The glass bottle also carried a quite distinct greenish color. While the green color didn't translate over to the plastic bottles, the shape certainly did, and recently the company even redesigned their 2 liter bottles to reflect that brand recognizable shape as well. Then there's the label-bright, firetruck red. It catches your eye from across the store, and the brand name is easily recognizable at a distance with it's flowing font and stark white contrast against the firetruck red field.
Flavored versions-
I love Vanilla Coke, and it's still readily available. However, as a whole, Pepsi is hands down the victor in the "added flavor department". Pepsi Vanilla was delicious, Pepsi Lime was tasty without carrying that weird, dish soap flavor that Coke Lime has, and Wild Cherry Pepsi is far superior to Cherry Coke. In addition, I've tasted better Cherry Colas from store brands(I'm looking at you, Meijer Cherry Cola) then Cherry Coke. I think the biggest reason behind this is that Coke has a very complex, rich and distinct flavor onto itself. When you start adding in other things, it tends to take away from that complexity. Pepsi, on the other hand, tastes sweet and flat. There's a lot to be desired from the vaguely citrus, cinnamon rich flavor of Pepsi-and adding flavors to that helps dial it up a few notches. They only work to enhance the sweetness of the drink, and Coke's added flavors try to distract you from it. I only wish Pepsi Vanilla were still around.
There was also an "added flavor" Pepsi that was never labelled as Pepsi, and it was a personal favorite of mine. I was such a big fan, in fact, that I will say it qualifies as my first addiction, so to speak. I'm talking of course, about Josta. That ill-fated, obscure fruity soda that tried to be an energy drink before energy drinks were on the market. It was caffeinated like the other sodas, but had a kick of guarana to push it to the levels of caffeine usually only found in coffee. What was the added flavor, you may ask? Well, besides the guarana(which is a distinct flavor in and of it's own right), it had a dragonfruit flavor as well. I didn't know what it was at the time, but everyday after school I would walk to either the local gas station or Tackacs' meat market and buy a 20 oz. It was usually chugged before I got home. Jesus christ I wish Josta were still on the market.Save Josta! <--go here to sign the petition to bring Josta back.

There's more to this comparison, and I'll get to it as soon as possible-coming up, which is better from the fountain? Which is better with cane sugar? Caffeine free? Diet?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Soda from Syrup

This past long weekend we were invited to our neighbor's house for a 4th of July BBQ, and my wife knew instantly what we were bringing-Mojitos.
It's a favorite drink of ours, as I'm a huge fan of white rum and mint, and a former neighbor of ours introduced us to the magic of mojitos around 3.5 years ago(using mint from their garden). We carried on this tradition of using our own mint in our drinks by making sure we had mint available to us at every house/apartment we've lived in since.
If you're not aware of the magical tonic that is a mojito, it is white rum with mint syrup, lime juice and topped off with club soda. So, after my wife made her homemade mint syrup(fresh mint from the front yard), we had plenty of club soda left over. What was I to do? I'll tell you what I did, I decided to make some homemade soda in the most simple of fashions-I made a syrup to add to the club soda for deliciousness.
I got out our quart saucepan, and put in 2 cups of water, 2 cups of white sugar, 1/2 cup of cane sugar, and combined them in the pan. Next, I needed flavor, so before I turned the water on I looked around the house-there was a rind from a tangerine that my lovely wife had eaten as a quick and nutritious snack on her way out the door, and as if by serendipity my still 2 year-old waltzed in the kitchen and asked for an "orange". She hates the skins/rinds of all fruits, so it gave me more raw material to work with.
So, I ended up having the rinds of two tangerines, and tossed those into the pan with the water and sugar. I turned the heat to medium-high, and began using a spoon to alternate between stirring the sugar and pressing the tangerine rinds against the bottom and sides of the pan to help get the oils out. After bringing the water to a boil, I reduced the mix to low heat and continued to stir and spoon-press the rinds. I tasted a bit of the batch, and noticed it was lacking a little in flavor. Since I was already working with citrus, and didn't want to peel another tangerine that wasn't going to be immediately eaten, I grabbed our bottle of lemon juice from the refrigerator, added a tablespoon and stirred it in a bit more. It turned out really well-slight hint of tangerine with a bit of sour bite, and super sweet.
I skimmed the tangerine rinds from the top of the pan and put them in 2 mason jars(this produced about 24 ounces of syrup). You might get a stronger flavor of tnagerine if you leave it in the syrup jars, but I didn't want to bother with fishing rinds out of any glasses-better to garnish with a fresh slice of citrus.
I played the waiting game to allow time to cool, poured the syrup into two small glasses for the girls, topped it off with club soda, and took a little sip. Quite tasty, although a bit too sweet for my liking. There ratio was about 1/3 syrup to 2/3 soda, so I made myself a glass that was about 1/4-1/5 syrup and the rest soda, turned out alot better, had more of the sour I was looking for.
The next time I work with a syrup base, I'm going to make sure to work with more fruit rinds to get a stronger flavor, but for a good, quick(about 15-20 minutes total prep and cook time, not including the cooling) sweet/sour treat, it hit the spot on one of these gloriously hot, summer days.