Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm actually back this time.

Ok, so...what have I been up to? Well, as I may or may not have mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I bought a house for our family about eighteen months ago(April of 2012, to be exact). As such, we(she, mostly), spent a lot of time converting our overgrown, suburban-y boring lot into a mini-homestead.
We have a small flock of laying hens(ten in number for the time being), two goats for companionship/milk(one a show goat for my eldest daughter), three french Angora rabbits for fiber, three meat rabbits(two creme d'argents, one silver fox), fourteen meat chickens(mixed heritage breed roosters), and about 50,000 bees I caught (with assistance) after they swarmed my neighbor's chimney.
We also have a vegetable patch, an herb garden, and scattered offerings of fruit (multiple apple trees, a pear tree, a plum tree, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry). We even have a bed of flowers somewhere around here-even those are used to some extent.
So, in summary, the biggest reason I haven't been updating my blog(or making much, if any, soda), is simply because I have devoted so much time to ensuring our home is what we want it to be. I am looking forward to the day down the road in which I will be able to pick apples from my own front yard to be used for making apple syrup for homemade sodas. Until then, however, I will have to tide myself over with honey harvested from my backyard top-bar hive.

Another reason I put off updating the blog is that when I said I would make more soda is that my youngest child has celiac disease, and it occured to me that my ale yeast might contain barley malt-which would make any resultant soda unsafe for my daughter's consumption. I have yet to figure out whether or not my specific brand is safe, but it is worth noting to any of my gluten-free readers out there that you may have to take that into consideration. I will do my best to ascertain which brands are definitively gluten-free and post a list in the coming future.

Also, I have a tendency to obsess on specific subjects for varying amounts of time. This past April I became very involved in collecting retro video games-specifically seeking out those games which I enjoyed in my childhood and many of the games I missed out on for various reasons growing up. That pursuit took quite a bit of my time as well. However, my loving wife has been chiding me into getting back to making homemade soda knowing the joy it brings me, our children, and my readers. I would like to thank everyone who has hung around and happened upon my site, especially those of you that have left so many encouraging comments. You guys are awesome, and even in spite of my absence the blog has continued to grow in readership, garnering nearly twice as many hits per month as I was receiving when I was fervently updating.

I have some other projects in the works that may or may not come to fruition, but I plan on getting a couple of reviews and at least one recipe up here before I seriously start working on anything else.
I believe I will be relating my honey-harvesting in an upcoming post as well.

Until next time, happy soda-making!

Eos Rising Farm By the way, if you'd like to keep up on the other aspects of my lovely household, my wife's blog can be found there.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I'm back!

I'm back. My wife has finally motivated me to start blogging and making soda again. She recently bought me plenty of ginger root for me to grate up for both ginger ale and to try out using a ginger-bug to carbonate my sodas instead of yeast. More posts to follow, along with my Sarsaparilla recipe from last year that I never got to...if I can find it again. Cheers!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Memory Lane- Almost Fictional Brands and Tie-ins

When I was growing up, I remember hearing of two things in passing through mass media, and always thinking that they were fictional products used to avoid copyright/trademark issues(having already asked my parents why there were no brand name products in TV shows/movies). One of those things was Wal-Mart. There wasn't a Wal-Mart for hundreds of miles around me while I was growing up, and it wasn't until I was 17 and Wal-Mart started trying to build inside Toledo city limits that I found out that it was a real, actual store-not just some catch-all generic superstore used for entertainment purposes(like ACME brand everything...).
As hard as it may be to believe for most of you out there that I had never heard of Wal-Mart-consider that I was quite familiar with the Meijer chain of stores, but most of the country has no idea what I'm talking about, unless they're in the midwest.
Anyways, the second brand was Shasta. I had seen and heard about Shasta for years before I finally saw my first can of it. Understand that growing up in Ohio, we didn't need Shasta to step in as the cheap alternative to the major soda cans-our shelves were stocked to the gills with glorious, precious Faygo.
Anyways, what brought Shasta to my market and into my grubby little hands was the Shasta/Nintendo tie-in to go along with the release of Super Mario World. I ended up getting a four pack of 8 oz. cans in Green Apple Yoshi. I really wanted Mario Punch or Princess Cherry, but decided I had already had those sodas and needed to try something new-so I went with green apple and couldn't wait to get home.
Anyways, I remember getting home and cracking open a warm can, and pouring the super-sweet, syrupy goodness into my gaping maw to realize that somehow captured the essence of a jolly rancher in soda form. It was delicious, and a very short lived product, so I was excited when I moved here to Washington state to find Shasta in stores. Of course, my tastes have evolved and I no longer prefer the fake-apple flavor of most mass market sodas, but it was still nice to be taken back to that amazing summer of childhood with that one sip of soda.

Review: Apple Beer

A few years ago on my ride to work, I stopped into a convenience store to pick up a soda, and seeing as it was a hot summer's day, I wanted something fruity and refreshing instead of a syrupy, caffeine-laden cola. I found Sidral Mundet-a Mexican apple soda. It was crisp, delicious and very refreshing.
This set me off on a whirlwind of seeking out apple sodas. Sadly, I found very few-the aforementioned Sidral Mundet, Jones/Shasta Green Apple, and a little while later Manzanita Sol. While Manzanita Sol is a little more prevalent(being owned by Pepsi), Sidral Mundet was always my favorite. I would drink the occasional Manzanita Sol, especially since the others I found were carbonated versions of Apple candy. Sidral and Manzanita tasted very much like apple cider with fizz. Then, just a scant two weeks ago my amazing wife brought me home das Apple Beer...

...and it was good. Really good. Like, if I took a bottle of apple cider and ran it through a sodastream I'd get Apple Beer. It's light, sweet, tart, crisp and very complex. I imagine that it is brewed using a few different varieties of apples to capture the essence and range of complexity that only befits the source material. Another advantage over Manzanita Sol? Sugar instead of HFCS. I'm sold.

Packaging- 5/5
Come on-look at that bottle. That looks downright delicious. If you were walking through the soda aisle and saw that label, you'd grab that bottle and never think twice about the fact that you're not an apple soda drinker.

Aroma- 5/5
The initial uncapping brings about an aerosolized tart smell-like cutting into a perfectly ripe granny apple.

Taste- 6/7
It tastes exactly like a carbonated version of two or more varieties of apple mixed together. It's oh so subtle, but it's incredibly potent. They didn't allow the sugar/sweet to drown out everything else, and that's what makes this so damn perfect

Overall- 16/17
Great packaging, great smell, fantastic taste. I would highly recommend to everyone-even if you've had a bad experience with apple soda in the past-trust me, you'll like this.

Review: Mason's Root Beer

My wife was recently on a grocery excursion when this particular bottle of root beer caught her eye, so she purchased aforementioned beverage and brought it home to me.
On the bottle, Mason's proclaims they have a "Keg Brewed Flavor"-which might be true. It is a good root beer, very root beer-esque, if you will, but it seems the keg it was brewed in was mostly already filled with Hires anyways, so they just put that in their own bottle and called it a day.
I don't really think I need to say anything else.

Packaging- 4/5 caught my wife's eye for some reason-yellow label and kegs maybe? I like the vintage look of the non-color Kegs and the basic brown/red on yellow.

Aroma- 4/5
Smells like Hires.

Taste- 5/7
Tastes exactly like Hires. Fake sassafras, a little wintergreen and a smidge of vanilla for creaminess. There's nothing wrong with tasting like Hires, it's one of the best and oldest out there. Nearly every company has made a Hires clone, so it's not really a wonder I stumbled across yet another one. If you've never had Hires and aren't exactly sure what it tastes like, go to the store and buy a bottle of root beer extract-nearly every brand is just a Hires clone. Root beer barrels are also Hires-flavored, even the A&W brand.

Overall- 13/17
It'd rate higher if it were Hire's, but incidentally it's not.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Recipe: Homemade Virgil's Root Beer Clone From Scratch

I'm going to start off by saying this-I'm quite aware that Virgil's lists the spices they use to flavor the root beer on the packaging, however, they do not list amounts. I decided to give it a try, excluding those spices I find either undesirable(cloves), or those things which I did not have in my ingredients vault(birch of any kind).
I combined all of the below together, and came up with a very close approximation of a tasty bottle of Virgil's.

1 tbsp. Licorice Root
4 crushed Star Anise Pods
1 Cinnamon stick(approx. 4 inches)
1 Vanilla Bean(approx. 6 inches)
1tbsp. dried Wintergreen Leaves
1/4 tsp. ground Nutmeg
5 pieces of whole Allspice
2 cups of Cane Sugar
2 tbsp. Blackstrap Molasses
1/8 tsp. yeast
4.5 qts. of Water

Start off filling your stockpot with 4.5 quarts of water, place all ingredients(minus sugar + yeast) into pot, turn to med-hi heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer with the lid on for approximately 20-30 minutes. Stir in your 2 cups of sugar and molasses, place in ice-water bath to allow to cool.
When the mixture gets down to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, scoop a little bit into a coffee cup and add yeast to the coffee cup. After allowing yeast to culture for about 5 minutes, dump contents of coffee cup back into pot and stir in well. Bottle and wait 3-4 days(dependent on temperature), then move bottles to the fridge. You'll have a nice, homemade version of Virgil's Root Beer waiting for you. I'd say your best flavor comes about 3 days after placing it in the fridge. The amount of molasses can be modified to taste.
Try it for yourself and let me know in the comments how much/little you think it tastes like Virgil's.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Dad's Blue Cream Soda

Dad's Blue Cream Soda is the first Dad's product I've tried that was made with (inverted) sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and I can honestly say that I am not completely impressed or disappointed. Anything blue automatically tastes better then if it were any other color-which makes me grateful Dad's didn't make a clear cream soda...
This soda has blue in spades. If I left a puddle of it on the sidewalk next to windshield wiper fluid, my toddler wouldn't know the difference until the vomiting started. Moving on, however, I will say that this iteration of cream soda isn't bad-it's just completely mediocre. When I was a kid growing up on the wooly streets of the East Side of Toledo, we had a discount grocery story known as Aldi that was frequented by the denizens of my neighborhood. In this particular grocer's stock was a bevvy of generic-brand sodas(some of which I would love to revisit and review), and Dad's Blue Cream Soda tastes exactly like their version of cream soda-which I believe was called Swiss Creme and featured a blue can with white mountains and red writing-which is a strikingly similar design style that you see above. 

Taste- 3/7
It's exactly what you expect to find in a cream soda. It's funny that a national brand(that used to be second only to A&W for root beer) seems to have taken a generic formula and added blue food coloring to market a different version of cream soda.

Aroma- 5/5
It smells exactly like fizzy vanilla ice cream.

Packaging- 2/5
Dad's has always had this dated look(it's packaging hasn't changed much since it's inception), and the stark comparisons to be drawn with it's virtual clone leave a bit to be desired. It's exactly like how all Dr. Pepper imitators use the same brick reddish-brown color on their packaging.

Overall- 10/17
I'm surprised at how disappointing Dad's brands have been for me in my adulthood, but maybe that's why it's called Dad's-because it sounds like a special treat from the male parent to his expecting children-Mom's Apple Pie and Dad's Root Beer. Children love it, adults-not so much.