It’s so much fun to make beer and wine, and of course I love to enjoy the final product even more. I also have kids who are old enough to understand that I’m making an “adult beverage” but they aren’t old enough to enjoy it. That’s kind of a bummer, because there’s lots of cool, sciencey stuff going on during the homebrewing process.
Soda to the rescue! We often forget that just because a beverage is fermented doesn’t mean that it has to be alcoholic. Back in the colonial and pioneer days, almost all drinks were “brewed” because it purified the water that was essential for survival. Kids drank “root beer” which was brewed but only had trace amounts of alcohol in it. Today, water purifucation isn’t much of an issue, but we still love our soda!
Remember a time that you thought that Bud, Miller or Coors was good beer? Most of us did, until we were introduced to better craft beer. The same is true in sodas. Today’s sodas are made with high fructose corn syrup and chemicals, which we’ve gotten used to as normal soda. However, if you’ve even had soda made with cane sugar, like Boylan Sodas, you’d know that there’s a whole world of “craft soda” just like there is in the beer world. And it’s awesome!
The best part is it’s easy to make on your own! Even better, you can make it with your kids, get them involved in the process and they can enjoy the delicious drink they made themselves. Just like homebrewing, if you can dream it, you can ferment it. Ever tried pineapple soda? Probably not, but you can make it yourself! How about black berry soda, maple soda or cinnamon soda? You can even make the famous Butter Beer from the Harry Potter series.
It’s also easy to do. When I make a typical batch, I make 2 liters at a time, which fits perfectly into a reused commercial soda bottle. At the store, we have lots of flavor extracts to get you started quickly. Each of these contains an instruction sheet on how to make it. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can pick up this book which shows you how to make lots of cool recipes from scratch without extracts.
If you’ve never made soda before, here’s what you need to get started:
- A few cleaned out 2L soda bottles
- A packet of dry yeast (S-04 or S-05)
- Flavor extract (if you aren’t using a recipe for flavor)
- Sanitizer (we recommend StarSan)
- A funnel that fits the soda bottle neck
The process is very similar to making beer. You make a very sweet solution with sugar and flavor (from extract or natural ingredients) and add yeast to it. When you make beer, you ferment it with an airlock to relieve the internal pressure and allow the fermentation to complete. When you make soda, you bottle it up right after adding the yeast. If your first thought is bottle bombs, then you are correct. The fermentation in soda must be stopped naturally after a period of time by putting it in the refrigerator.
You can make soda in glass, but it’s much better to make it in plastic. That’s because you’ll need to be able to gauge the internal pressure of the bottle, and that’s impossible with glass. A simple squeeze will do with plastic though. You also need bottles that can withstand a lot of internal pressure, which plastic bottles do extremely well.
It’s also important to remember that if you use an extract, you’ll want to give your soda some time to “smooth out”. Just like with extract beer, young soda can taste… young. The flavors take some time to blend together, and letting your soda sit in the refrigerator for a few weeks will make it taste much, much better. Of course, sometimes it’s difficult to wait that long, and it has to be kept in the fridge where space is usually tight.
Remember that moment when you realized that you could make craft beer yourself, and it was actually good? Your kids probably don’t realize they can even make soda themselves. Not only is it educational, but it feels great to make something yourself. Ice cream floats taste amazing with homemade root beer or cream soda. Give it a try!