As the craze of homebrewing continues, homebrewers are continuously looking for new ways to express their artisan spirit. Already carrying the supplies to make wine, many homebrew shops are also starting to carry the necessary ingredients to make other fermentables like cheese and yogurt. Though not typically a fermented beverage, another trend that’s been quickly on the rise is craft soda.
A trip to any better deli or market will be proof of the blossoming craft soda scene. Brands like Sprecher, Appalachian, and Fentimans are now lining the shelves with their original take on sodas. Even some of the local breweries such as Victory and Yards are offering root beers that you can find on draft. (If you’ve never had draft root beer, you don’t know what you’re missing.) With this growth, the movement has logically progressed into the homebrew world. You can even find a number of local restaurants that are creating their own takes on soda.
Similar to how one can choose among extract, all-grain brewing, or a combination of the two when brewing beer, soda provides a similar option (minus actual grain, of course). For those who just want to make a simple soda they can keg, that tastes better and is a fraction of the cost of store-brought, there are a number of soda extracts on the market. A basic blending of these extracts with water and then force-carbonating in a keg, and you’ll have your very own soda on tap in just a short time. For those who want to get a bit more creative, you can always put your own twist on the extracts and add some of your own ingredients. Some fresh vanilla beans or your favorite local honey would add a new dimension to a root beer extract. Some soda makers such as Sprecher even offer up their sodas in extract form so you can make them at home, which is a lot easier than getting a keg home from the store. All of these extracts come with simple instructions to walk you through the process.
For those that want to take the more adventurous, yet still simple process, of more of an all-grain type soda, you really have endless options on what kind of sodas you can end up with. The first option you must decide though is if you want to naturally or force-carbonate your soda. Many soda makers prefer force-carbonation for the cleaner soda flavor it provides, but natural carbonation is more of a traditional old-fashioned method, commonly used with such sodas as root beer. When using natural fermentation, you have to be very careful to stop the fermentation early to avoid giving the soda any alcohol content. Having more sugar than beer, the yeast will eat up the sugars quickly, creating a highly-carbonated beverage that will rapidly rise in ABV.
Whichever method of carbonation you choose, you will need to create a base for your soda. A base is simply a combination of water, sweetener and acid. For the sweetener you could use a natural cane sugar or honey. You could use a regular white sugar, but a natural sweetener like cane sugar or a quality honey will add a further depth of complexity to your final product. The acid is used just to balance out the sweetness of the sugar. Something as simple as lemon can be used for this and it is used in a much more minimal quantity than the sugar component.
These ingredients are simply boiled together until the sugar or honey is dissolved. The acid component is typically added at the end of the boil. For more unique flavors, all you have to do is add to this base; for a ginger ale, you would add a form of ginger to the boil. You’ll want to play with how much of each ingredient you use, when you add it to the soda, and how long you leave it in there. Similar to brewing beer, you’ll learn a lot through experimentation. For instance, if you wanted to make a coffee soda, you have multiple options of how you can add your coffee. You can brew your coffee numerous ways and add it to the boil or you could steep your coffee directly in the boil. Each method could drastically alter your final product. For those desiring to make a fruit soda, using some fresh fruits can add pectin to your
soda, which will result in a cloudier soda. You could either use pectase at the same time to breakdown the pectin or you can use one of many fruit extracts on the market, which will avoid the cloudy result. Thankfully, making soda is significantly cheaper than brewing beer, so you can be more lax about your experimentation and have fun with it.
For those that want to use yeast, ideally you will want to use a wine or champagne yeast which will add the minimal amount of yeast flavor to the soda. Beer yeast could be used as well, but it will impart more flavor, which may or may not work for your desired product. If you do choose the route of beer yeast, be sure to use an ale yeast as you don’t want a yeast that will work in cold temperatures. You will want to use plastic soda bottles when using yeast. This is to ensure if they are over-carbonated, there are no worries of broken glass and it’s easier to gauge the level of carbonation. Add the yeast when the soda is at about room temperature. Once the bottles are filled, you want to leave them at room temperature. You will be able to tell when they are properly carbonated by squeezing the bottle. As soon as they become near rock hard, you know that they are fully carbonated and that fermentation needs to be stopped before they turn into alcohol or explode. Refrigeration will stop fermentation.
Simply using kegs and force carbonating your soda makes things significantly easier and allows you to put it on draft in your home kegerator. The yeast method though, obviously adds to the homebrew spirit. Either way, in the end you will have creative, flavorful sodas to fill the void in times when you can’t get away with drinking beer. Get creative and see what kind of imaginative sodas you can come up with.