Soda Making 101

 sodas

Last updated 09/21/2018

I have been making my own soda for years.  I have worked out a system that will guarantee that you will never have exploding bottles.  Too many old soda recipes result in bottles that went boom during the night. 

Most of the old time soda recipes have you sweeten the batch with sugar.  You add yeast, and the yeast eats the sugar, producing carbon dioxide.  They theory was that as the pressure in the bottles built;t, the yeast would die off.  Sometimes that worked.  When it didn't, you'd hear the popping sound of breaking glass.

By far the worst soda recipes are those that tell you to mix up the ingredients, and allow it to ferment for two days before bottling.  Those recipes were made in the days before plastic bottles, so essentially what people made was yeast  bombs.  Exploding bottles were almost a guarantee with this method.

The basic method:

Make 5 gallons of whatever flavor suits you.  Add 1 cup of sugar (for carbonation), and sweeten with Now Better Stevia (a concentrated stevia extract).  2 teaspoons of now equals 1 cup of sugar.  For a batch of soda, you'd need 10 teaspoons of Now Better Stevia to sweeten it.  I have since found a concentrated liquid stevia, Sweet Additions.  three 1.68 oz. bottles will sweeten 5 gallons of soda.  Stir in 1 packet of ale yeast, bottle, allow to sit for 2 weeks, and you have sparkling soda.   Walmart sells an identical liquid stevia product under their Great Value label.

Soda made with yeast has a distinctive yeasty taste, which some people really like.  That yeasty taste goes better with some flavors (such as ginger beer and root beer) than others.  If trying a new flavor, I'd recommend down scaling the recipe to 1 gallon before committing to an entire 5 gallon batch.

Stevia does not ferment.  The yeast will consume the 1 cup of sugar, and with no food will stop reproducing.

Other types of sweeteners:

Look at the ingredients of any sweeteners you might consider using.  If they contain malto dextrine, do not use them.  Malto dextrine will ferment, and it can cause broken bottles.

Saccharine: This will sweeten your soda, but it will also leave a bitter aftertaste.
Equal/aspartame: This won't work at all.  For some reason the fermentation process eliminates the sweetness of aspartame.
Splenda: I have seen liquid Splenda concentrate, but I have not tried it yet. 

I use plastic bottles as an extra precaution.  They will stand a tremendous amount of pressure-- and even if they did explode, broken plastic is a lot safer to clean up than broken glass.


Recipes:

Kool Aid Soda

10 packets Kool Aid, any flavor
stevia equivalent to 10 cups sugar (for sweetening)
1 cup sugar (for carbonation)
1 packet ale yeast
5 gallons water

This is the easiest of the sodas to make.  Just stir it together, bottle it, and  after 3 weeks drink it. 


ginger root

The Great Burn Ginger Beer

This is a variation on the ginger beer recipe below.  The main difference is that the amount of ginger and lemons have increased greatly.  I've tried this: it's sweet, and gives a pleasant burn as an aftertaste.  My next attempt will double the ginger from this.

2 pounds ginger, sliced thin
20 small lemons, sliced thin
3/4 cup sugar
3 bottles liquid stevia (see above)

Follow directions as for standard ginger beer, below.



Ginger Beer

equipment you will need:
1 ale pail, or get a plastic white bucket or new white Rubbermaid waste can.  Pour 5 gallons of water in the bucket or waste can, and mark off on the outside the water's level.
long spoon
siphon hose for siphoning the liquid
measuring spoons and cups
gallon jug, for measuring
bottles for bottling your soda.  Any plastic soda bottles will do.  The best size is 1 liter.  2 liters will work, but remember that the soda would need to be drank quickly, otherwise it would go flat.  500 ml bottles, such as old A&W bottles would work well too. 
You would need the following: 2 liters: 9 bottles
1 liter: 18 bottles
500 ml: 36 bottles
Always have an extra 500 ml bottle handy.  English and metric measurements don't match precisely.

Slightly Milder Ginger Beer


1 pound fresh ginger, sliced, peel and all
10 whole lemons sliced very thinly, peel and all
1 cup sugar
1 TBS citric acid
1 tsp yeast
5 gallons water

A food processor works best for this.  Slice the ginger and lemons with the slicing disk. 

Put chopped up ginger and lemon in a hop bag, or get a piece of cheesecloth and wrap them up, making sure the bag is secure. 

Boil 1 gallon water,  Put filled hop bag in the water and let boil for a minute  Put on pot lid and let steep for an hour

Strain liquid from ginger and lemon mix.  Give the bag a good squeeze until you can't get any more liquid out.

Put the bag in a bowl.  Pour cold water over it, and then squeeze the bag again until you can;t get any more liquid out.   Do this a couple of times.  .Pour some water in your ale pail.  Add lemon and ginger extract.  Add water until you are at the 5 gallon mark.  Take one cup of this out and stir in yeast until dissolved.  Pour the yeast mixture back into the soda and stir.

Bottle, and store upright for 2 weeks before drinking.

This will produce a ginger beer with some heat to it.  If you'd like a milder ginger beer, use less ginger.

"Old Fashioned" (Wimpy) Ginger Beer

I went through a bunch of old ginger beer recipes.  They can all be summarized with this recipe.

3-8 oz. ginger root, sliced thin
4-10 lemons, sliced thin
citric acid 1 TBS
yeast 1 tsp
sugar 1 cup
liquid stevia 3 bottles
water to 5 gallons

Process as above.


Root Beer

I decided that I wanted to make root beer completely from scratch, and not from an extract.  I priced the various herbs, roots and barks I needed.  I quickly realized that was not a good idea: a 5 gallon batch would have cost me $40 or so to make.  I like root beer, but not that much.  I am putting a from scratch recipe here.  I haven't tried it.  Using an extract is simpler and cheaper


Real Root Beer

4 oz. sassafras root (can substitute 1 bottle Pappy's sassafras tea concentrate)
4  oz. sarsaparilla root
1 oz. licorice root
4 oz. wintergreen leaves
4  oz. ginger root, fresh
2 TBS vanilla
1 cup sugar
stevia to sweeten (Now or Sweet Additions)
5 gallons water
1 tsp yeast

Set 1 gallon water to boiling.  Put the roots and leaves in a hop bag.  Turn heat off of water.  Add hop bag.  Cover and steep for at least an hour.  Pour liquid into ale pail.  Add vanilla, sugar, and stevia.  Add water to 5 gallons.  Take out 1 cup of the root beer and stir in the packet of yeast until dissolved.  Stir this mix back into the soda, and bottle.  Let sit in bottles for 2 weeks before drinking.


root beer extracts           


Root Beer From Extract

1 bottle root beer extract (Zatarain's or McCormick's)
5 gallons water
1 cup sugar
stevia to sweeten (Now or Sweet Additions)
1 packet ale yeast

 Add water to 5 gallons.  Stir in extract, sugar, and stevia.  Take out 1 cup of the root beer and stir in the packet of yeast until dissolved.  Stir this mix back into the soda, and bottle.  Let sit in bottles for 2 weeks before drinking.

Update 09/02/2017

I have been thinking about some sort of forced carbonation system.  There's devices like Sodastream, but you have to buy their bottles.  I was about to consider going whole hog, and getting a CO2 tank and some regulators, when I came across two YouTube videos that showed simpler, cheaper methods.

About the only change I would make to the methods, is that in each of them, you should fill the bottles to about 3/4 or so full, and squeeze as much air as you can out of them.  Then attach the carbonation system, and add some gas.  Shake the bottles, and you will see that they collapse again as the CO2 gets infused.  In the third video below, you can see this method being used with a standard CO2 tank system.

The big advantage to this is that you can make your soda syrup in advance and store it in the refrigerator (using any sweetener you want).  You can then make individual servings of soda, rather than bottling several gallons at a time.

I am going to try both methods in the following weeks.  I like the bicycle tire valve system the best, but the vinegar and baking soda system intrigues me as well.

The bicycle tire valve carbonator




The vinegar and baking soda carbonator




Basic carbonation method for plastic bottles




I'm looking forward to trying this all out.  Eventually I will get a full blown CO2 tank system, but for now, I'll start with this.

09/06/2017

I tried the bicycle pump and CO2 cylinder carbonation system.  The tire pump works, but I found I had to apply a tremendous amount of pressure to it.  To make this work, I would have to have another pair of hands to help me.  I have ordered another pump, which is advertised as having an easier twist CO2 release.

The problem with the tire valve cap is that you have to cut the rubber around the stem one of two ways: 1) so the rubber precisely covers the cap area where it touches the bottle, forming a seal, or 2) cut it so that none of the rubber edges touch the inside of the cap, so the bottle can tight tightly against the cap.  I got the valve to seal tightly on the cap, but the bottles will not seat airtight.  I'll be monkeying with that cap for a few days, and hopefully by the time the new pump gets here I will have that part working.

In theory, this should work, and I think that with a bit of tweaking, I will (finally!) get my soda to sparkle.

bike pump 1
bike pump 2
(bike pump #1)
(bike pump #2)
                                             

Review: Homebrew Cola Flavor

cola


This comes in a 2 ounce bottle, and costs from between $8 to $9, depending on where you shop.

Mixed according to directions, this stuff is foul indeed.  It has the smell of cheap inner city supermarket cola, and it tastes terrible.  The flavor and smell linger like a bad memory, and like a bad memory, they pop back into your head at random.

But here's a funny thing: when mixed, this doesn't taste the least bit sour.  Cola is quite sour, averaging a pH of 2.53 (vinegar has a pH of 2.4).  So I  added some vinegar to the mix.  With enough vinegar, this can be made into a quite passable cola.  It will still have that supermarket cola smell, though the vinegar seems to tame that down greatly.

Let's assume that you got lucky and got a bottle of this for $8.00.  That's about eight 2 liter bottles, or $1.00 a bottle.  Walmart's Great Value cola costs $.88 for 2 liters.  Why go through the expense of making a supermarket style cola when you can get one already made for less money?

Homebrew's cola extract does have a couple of advantages over the store bought stuff, in that it doesn't have sugar, caffeine or phosphoric acid. But before you buy this stuff, here is a cola recipe hat has been making the rounds on the web.


This will make enough extract for 5-6 2 liter bottles of soda.

Spice ingredients:

2 cups vodka
zest of 2 lemons (or 2 tsp. Dried lemon peel)
zest of 2 limes (or 2 tsp. Dried lime peel)
zest of 4 oranges (or ¼ cup dried orange peel)
1 TBS cinnamon
¼ cup dried bitter orange peel
4 tsp. Coriander seeds, crushed
½ tsp. Grated nutmeg

Wet ingredients:

6 cups water
¼ cup lemon juice (juice oif 2 lemons)
¼ cup lime juice (juice of 2 limes)
1 cup orange juice (juice of 4 oranges)
½ cup caramel color
1 tsp. Vanilla

Combine spice ingredients, and put in airtight jar.  Allow to sit for 24 hours, shaking jar occasionally.

Strain vodka off of spices.  Mix spiced vodka mix with liquid mix.

This is enough extract for five 2 liter bottles of soda. Use any method of carbonation (yeast, forced carbonation, etc.)

To make a soda syrup: stir in 8 cups of sugar or stevia equivalent at boiling.

Update: 09/10/2017

I got the bike pump system up and working.  The bottle holds pressure, with no leaking.  The twist valve worked flawlessly, filling up the bottle with CO2.  I followed the instructions, and came up with... nothing.

The system, while itr is cheap and simple, plain old doesn't work.  Every step of it works the way it should: I shook the bottle, and I could feel the pressure in it decreasing, as it should when the CO2 is infused into the soda.  Taking the cap off, I could hear a hiss.  But there was no carbonation at all.  I went through an entire CO2 cartridge, and got nothing.

In theory, this should work.  The lesson here is that if I want to do forced carbonation, I should get a CO2 tank, some corny kegs, and all the other equipment I need to do it right.