Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sorry for the lack of updates, I will be back soon for more soda-crafting goodness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Sarsaparilla Soda from Scratch

Ever wondered what a "sarsaparilla" is while watching classic cartoons/westerns?
Well, I wanted to know myself. I did manage to try one from a local grocery store(which I will review in the future), but I wasn't satisfied. Why? It tasted too much like root beer to me, and so i decided to make my own Sarsaparilla without using the same ingredients that would be used for root beer(sassafras, licorice root, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, wintergreen, clove, etc.).
It turned out really well, and this, along with my cream soda, has been my tastiest soda to date.
It's a short list of ingredients, and I'm finding with certain things this is best.

3 tbsp. Sarsaparilla(about 1 oz.)
1x 6 in. Vanilla bean-cut into many small segments
3 Cardamom seed pods
2 cups of sugar
1 tbsp. honey
1/8 tsp. Ale Yeast
1 gallon of water.

Bring 1/2 gallon of water to a boil in a stock pot with Sarsaparilla, vanilla bean and cardamom.
Let simmer about 20 minutes. Stir in the honey, and then remove from heat. Let steep another 20 minutes, covered. Stir in 2 cups of sugar until dissolved, then add 1/2 gallon of water to the brew. Let cool to 90 degrees.
Scoop about a little bit of brew water out into a small glass or coffee mug, add yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes.
While letting the yeast get to work, strain the brew into another vessel. Add yeast, stir well, and bottle.
Remember to stir your brew as you bottle to ensure the most even distribution of yeast.
Bottle and let sit for about 36 hours(more time for cooler climates, less time for hotter climates).

The resulting brew was sweet, herbal, slightly spiced(from the cardamom), and very refreshing.
My daughters enjoyed the soda quite a bit, and a friend's children also each drank a bottle with no complaints. I didn't strain my batch incredibly well, so I got a few swigs that resulted in root pieces in the mouth, but it's not unlike getting some "tea shake" in your mouth if you're a loose-leaf tea brewer.
Sarsaparilla is entirely different than any root beer you've ever had before, and making it for yourself will allow you to experience it as an entirely new entity separate from it's more popular cousin.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ingredients: Making your own homemade soda

So, I recently had a comment on a post requesting tips for someone new to home brewing root beer. This got me to thinking-there aren't too many easily found resources giving you information on levels of ingredients to  add to your brews. There are quite a few recipes out there-but they don't explain why certain ingredients are there most of the time, and they definitely don't go into detail as to what levels of certain ingredients you need to use when trying to come up with your own sodas.
I thought I would make a list, and will add to it and modify over time as I do more and more experimenting over time.
Here we go.

Root Beer
Sassafras- 1 oz./ gallon(about 1 tbsp. if just used for a little flavor/color). There are about 3 tbsp. of chopped, dried sassafras root in every ounce, so every gallon batch is going to be about 3 tbsp. I learned the hard way that you'll still get a good flavor, but it'll be far too strong to be continually enjoyable. Too much sassafras results in a cloudy-feeling, over-steeped tea kind of bitterness in the final batch.
Sassafras is the traditional main component to old-fashioned root beers. It imparts a pleasant, familiar taste; it has a good aroma; and it imparts an appetizing and quite beautiful reddish-gold color to the brew. When you think of what root beer tastes like, you're generally picturing sassafras(or, rather, it's artificial facsimile).
Examples: Dad's Old Fashion Root Beer, A&W, Stewart's, Barq's.

Wintergreen- 1 tbsp./gallon(as a main ingredient)(1 tsp. when used as a component). Wintergreen leaves are an odd thing. When you smell them, crush them up, and put them in the brew, they taste nothing like you'd expect. Most of you know wintergreen's signature flavor profile through either Wint-O-Green Lifesavers, Winterfresh gum, or Pepsodent toothpaste. Wait...toothpaste? Yes, toothpaste. I know it seems weird to include an ingredient in your homemade soda that tastes like toothpaste, but there is one specific major-label root beer that utilizes wintergreen's savory goodness-Mug. If you're not a fan of Mug root beer, you shouldn't worry too much about including it.
Examples: Mug(with a bit of cinnamon too)

Sarsaparilla- Same as Sassafras. Sarsaparilla has an entirely different flavor profile. It's bitter but slightly sweet. I would actually put this in the same category as having the same levels of each as raw vanilla-sweet aroma, bitter taste. It is excellent when combined with other things, but is definitely an acquired taste compared to Sassafras and Wintergreen.
Sarsaparilla is almost always specifically called "Sarsaparilla", and as of yet I can't think of any major-brands of root beer that include it as part of a regular root beer's ingredients.

Orange oil, Cinnamon, Vanilla, and clove
I haven't really experimented with cloves or orange oil as of yet, but most root beers that aren't majorly influenced by any of the previous three are usually some variant level of each of these. A lot of store brands use this weird amalgam(sometimes with wintergreen included), and I equate these root beers as having a very earthy, almost dirty taste. I will talk more about
Examples: Big K, Shasta, Faygo

Licorice Root- 2-4 tbsp. for a licorice root beer, 1-3 tsp. as a component. Licorice root is probably not what you're thinking. It's more of a bitter, aromatically sweet tea flavor. Anise provides the flavor most people associate with "licorice"(such as black jelly beans). However, Licorice root is the primary flavoring component of Virgil's, and a small hint can be detected in Barq's.
Example: Virgil's Root Beer.

The rest
You can really make soda out of anything if you try hard enough, but the following is a list of common(and a few not so common ingredients), and the amounts needed to attain the flavor you are looking for.

Vanilla- 12-16 inches(usually 2 beans) vanilla bean/gallon(cream soda); 3-6 in. vanilla bean/gallon(to add a "creamy" sweet finish to other brews. Note, when you are working with vanilla bean, you must cut or split the vanilla bean open and expose the inner part of the plant to actually get any flavor out of it. The longer you steep the bean, the more vanilla is going to come through. I like a nice bite to my cream soda, so I use 2 whole vanilla beans for that purpose. With root beers and anything else I decide to make I only add a little bit.
Example: A&W sparkling vanilla(with 12-16 inches of bean), Thomas Kemper's(with about 8-12 inches and a little bit of honey). Store brands and other cream sodas use varying amounts of extract-which gives an entirely different flavor profile. It's a bit closer to white vanilla ice cream, whereas the vanilla bean is a little closer to the rich, almost buttery cream you get from a french vanilla. I prefer the bean, but extract will work in a pinch-1-3 tsp./gallon should do just fine for those purposes.

Cinnamon- 3-4 inch stick/gallon. This is even a bit too much for a standalone batch, but cinnamon is a great way to enhance a variety of things-from root beer to cola.  Actually, the generic cola flavor we are all too familiar with comes from combining cinnamon and vanilla. Note that cinnamon interacts with yeast in a very weird way when it doesn't have other things to offset the bite.
Example- Mug is a very cinnamon heavy root beer.

Raisins- These give a nice fruity kick to whatever it is that you're making, and also are invaluable for bringing clarity to your brew. 1/4 cup per gallon gives a very strong fruity flavor, but I've found for clarity and a little kick you wanna use about 4-8 raisins(chopped) per gallon.

Dried Cranberries- Same as raisins, but it gives a different kick.

Nutmeg- spicy, aromatic, complex. Slice a  small sliver from a whole nutmeg or use 1/8tsp. of ground nutmeg per gallon batch and you get a bit of a spicy kick. Great for Root Beer and colas.

Anise- This is the real source of the black jellybean flavor people picture when they hear "licorice" It's also the source of Barq's bite. I love anise, but haven't got to work with star anise yet-but I will be soon. I can, however, tell you that 1 tbsp. of crushed anise seed will give your drink a bit of it's signature flavor and the same bite you'd get in Barq's or Virgil's.

Cardamom- Aromatic and sweet cousin to ginger itself. I have brewed two batches using cardamom and I've learned the hard way that you don't need very much to get it's flavor in your drink. I made a batch with 20 pods, and that was far too spicy. I also made a batch of sarsaparilla containing 3 seed pods, and it was delectable. 3 seed pods/gallon is more then enough, but 1 or 2 for a little spice and up to 5 or 6 if you're a particularly big fan of spicy sodas(like Dr. Pepper or Ginger Brews). This works to flavor cream sodas, colas, ginger ales, and would probably add a nice touch to root beers as well.

Fruit Juices. Fruit juices can give some great flavors and provide a nice bit of acid to your brew. Really the amounts you use are going to vary on what you're looking to make. Do you want a juice-based soda? Minimum is a quart, all the way up to just throwing any extra sugar and spices into a gallon of the juice.
Are you working with lemon and lime juices? 2/3 of a cup for either or both will work just fine. Much more then that and you're looking at incredibly long carbonation times-the acidity level will slow the yeast's progress.

Dried fruits-1/4 cup on up to 1 cup depending on your desired level of flavor from that particular fruit.

Cane Sugar is the best all-around sweetener. 1.75-2 cups per gallon batch. It's subtle warm hints and overt sweetness will please most imbibers, but too much compared to the strength of the ingredients will overpower their natural flavors. This isn't as big of a problem as it would be with other sweeteners, but it can still happen.

Brown Sugar. About 1.5 cups per gallon. Thick, syrupy molasses-like flavor. Great for root beers and spiced seasonal brews.

Honey. I feel this is best used as an added bonus. It imparts it's own sweetness, flavor and mouth feel to the drink. I would say 1 tbsp. is a great addition to brews with many ingredients, but 1 tsp. should suffice in lighter-flavored brews. If you add honey to a brew, you should reduce the other sugars by an appropriate amount(1/4-1/3 cup less, depending on how much honey). Some people choose to sweeten their soda with only honey. If that happens to be the case, 1 lb. of honey for a varied batch(like root beer), or 3/4 lb. for lighter brews.

I have many more sodas planned for the coming months, and in that time I will work with more and more ingredients, and will have more things to add to this list. Until that time...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Cream Soda from Scratch -Batch 2

My wife recently requested I make her a soda that she'd actually like. Knowing that she loves cream soda, I made a batch-and it turned out tasting really good. The last batch I made was too much cinnamon, and ended up with a weird off-taste that most batches with cinnamon tend to develop.
I excluded the cinnamon from this recipe and added something else for a little bit of complexity beyond the vanilla alone.

2x 6 inch vanilla beans(cut into many pieces with kitchen shears)
1 pinch of raisins(about 6)-each cut in half by kitchen scissors
1 pinch of dried cranberries(about 6)-each cut in half by kitchen scissors
1 tbsp. honey
2 cups sugar
1 gallon of water
1 dash of ale yeast

Fill a stock pot with 2 quarts of water, place vanilla beans, raisins and dried cranberries into the stock pot. Bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Let simmer 20 minutes, stirring on occasion.
Add 1 quart of cold water to the brew, letting steep about 10 minutes.
Stir in 1 tbsp of honey, add last quart of water and remove from heat. Let steep another 15 minutes. While steeping for 15 minutes, get your bottles and caps ready. Fill sink with cold water and ice. Not too full, as you'll be placing your stockpot in there to cool the brew.
After the brew has cooled to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, scoop some into a coffee cup and add the yeast.
Strain the brew into your bottling bucket(or another stock pot). Stir in your yeast and bottle!
I got about ten 12 oz. bottles.
The sample taste I tried before bottling reminded me alot of Thomas Kemper's. It was double-vanilla strength with slight fruitiness. It had a beautiful golden-yellow color-much like honey or ginger ale.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Working on root beer and planning out my clone...

Making a second batch of root beer using the leftover ingredients from the first batch. Once Sassafras has dried out, it can be re-used. This batch promises to be a bit better, as I recently discovered that I used enough sassafras to make a 3.5-4 gallon batch! That explains the too-strong sassafras flavor I was getting with the last batch, so I dried it out and am  in the process of making a second batch that is 2 gallons.
I also made a better caramel color to be added to this batch-it's 1 cup of water and 1 3/4 cups of brown sugar. Brought the mix to a boil and let it go until it started to smell burnt, then reduced heat, constantly stirring to prevent the sugar from baking on to the sauce pan.
Anyways, I've been thinking about what I need to do to make my clone, and think I've got it worked out pretty well. What mass market root beer am I planning on cloning, you ask? The best of the best(in my opinion)-Virgil's. I will also be reviewing Virgil's Root Beer very soon.
Expect that review and the Sarsaparilla recipe shortly-the clone brew will come after I polish off this batch of root beer and the sarsaparilla.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Homemade Old Fashioned Root Beer from Scratch Follow Up

This has been one of my best brews yet. It carbonated within 24 hours, provided a tasty, refreshing beverage with an excellent head, and it has gone rather quickly.
I will say that the amount of Sassafras is a little excessive-imparted a bit too much of that for the first day of drinking. It's improved with age, but I imagine cutting down the 7 tbsp. to 4 will be more then sufficient. The 7 tbsp. was about 3 oz. I believe, and most "old fashion" recipes only call for an ounce per gallon. Oh well, I wanted a strong sassafras flavor and got it.
In addition to the sassafras, however, I also detect hints of molasses, cinnamon and a slight bit of black licorice. It has a bit of a bite to it-much like Barq's.
Another excellent side effect of this homemade root beer from scratch? The wort left over has made quite the nice potpourri. The mixing cup full of the strained wort still sits in our window sill, and every breeze sends subtle hints of root beer tones floating through our nostrils.
Next up-Sarsaparilla and my attempt to clone an excellent store-bought Root Beer.
Click here for the recipe to this homemade root beer...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Old Fashioned Root Beer From Scratch

After one root beer experiment, I decided I needed to try to make an old-fashioned style Root Beer. It doesn't use some of the more traditional ingredients(like burdock, or dandelion root, or hops), but it is made with sassafras for that distinct root beer flavor that everyone associates specifically with root beer.
Here goes.

7 tbsp. Sassafras root(chopped and dried)
1 tbsp. wintergreen leaves
1 tbsp. anise seed(crushed)
1 tsp licorice root
1 3 in. Cinnamon stick
1 6 in. vanilla bean
2 cups of cane sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
1.5 gallons of water
1/4 tsp. ale yeast

Fill a stock pot with 1 gallon of water, and a jar(or bottle) with 1/2 gallon of water. Place the 1/2 gallon of water in the refrigerator, and combine all the herbs and spices above in the stock pot. Bring to a simmer, and after about 25 minutes(10 minutes of getting up to heat, 15 minutes to steep). Stir in both sugars, add cold water from the refrigerator, and let cool to under 100 degrees Fahrenheit.(I allowed mine to go to about 85).
Scoop a cup full of brew into a small container, add 1/4 tsp. of yeast, and allow it to work for 5-10 minutes. Strain the brew into another container(brew bucket), then mix in the yeast water. It's ready to bottle.
It's only been about 24 hours since I've made my brew and it's already carbonated-this could be due to the larger amount of yeast or the warmer weather, but fair caution, this might carb up a little more quickly then the other batches have.
There will be a follow up soon enough.

Recipe: Cardamom Cream Soda

I first tried Cardamom a few years ago in the form of cardamom ice cream, made locally at an ice cream shop in downtown Bellingham, Washington known as "Mallards". It's a rich, aromatic spice that lends itself well to many dishes-meat, stews, sweets and treats. It's also most widely recognized as one of the components in chai tea.
I decided I wanted to try a cardamom-flavored soda, but I think I may have been overly ambitious with the large amount of ingredients. It produced a very good flavor, but I may have let the yeast work a little too long and ended up with a less then sweet, spicy concoction. Flavorful, to be sure, but not at all what it should have been.

20 cardamom seed pods
1/4 cup of raisins(coarsely chopped)
1 6 inch vanilla bean(cut)
1 sliver of nutmeg(probably too much nutmeg)
1 3 inch cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 cups of brown sugar
1 gallon of water
1/8 tsp. yeast

Combine all ingredients besides the cream of tartar and sugar(and yeast) in a large stock pot, and let it steep as it comes to a simmer. Let simmer on heat for 10-15 minutes, then remove from heat, stir in sugar and cream of tartar, and let steep for 20 minutes.  Add 1/2 gallon of cold water(I've found that making the water cold helps quicken the cooling time), strain the mixture into bottling bucket(or strain into a different large stock pot), and let cool to about 90 degrees.
Meanwhile, activate yeast in a cup of brew that is also around 90 degrees, let sit for 5 minutes, and then stir into brew.
Bottle and let sit for 2-3 days until carbonated.
My first and only tester bottle came open after about 2.5 days, and was sufficiently carbonated-it didn't fizz over the top, and had a nice amount of carbonation to go with the flavor. I detected far too much nutmeg in the initial brew, and it kind of overpowers the rest of the flavors besides the cardamom and raisins.
The flavor is very akin to a hard apple cider without the apples or alcohol. It's very crisp, but spicy at the same time. The raisins added a bit of a fruity tang to the mix, but I think less nutmeg would have done the brew well to help bring out the subtle notes of vanilla that were on the lips afterwards.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Homemade Cinnamon-Cherry Fizz Follow Up the Second.

After a few days in the fridge I can give an honest assessment of my latest odd experiment. It's very cinnamony. It's really delicious, but it feels like it's missing something. It's completely absent of cherry flavor-I was a little surprised by this as it was quite strong in the initial brew before bottling, but it faded after the yeast took hold. Which is a bit odd, because usually aging helps bring out all the flavors of the ingredients.
Next time around I will need to use cherry juice. Failing that I'll be using a lot more almond extract, and I think some raisins and citric acid will add a nice touch to final product.
There is one thing I believe this soda will excel in, however, and that's when it's mixed with a scoop or two of ice cream-vanilla might be best, but I'm sure it would give a nice flavor with chocolate for all of you chocolate lovers out there.
The fun thing about experimenting with your own homemade soda is learning about new flavor possibilities you would have otherwise never discovered. I was hoping for a very sweet and spicy soda here, and what I got ended up tasting much like cinnamon toast. It's good, mind you, but it's not what I expected. Maybe I should go back and label this as "Cinnamon Fizz", but I think in the interest of consistency I should just leave well enough alone and revisit the idea with the added ingredients.
I have another couple of projects lined up, and look forward to making them this weekend. I should have plenty of time as the fam-damily is heading out on a camping trip sans me.
Click here for the recipe behind this drink
Click here for the first part of the follow up.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Memory Lane- Planting the seeds.

It's 1992, summertime. I'm eight years old, on break from school, and thirsty. I'd been running around outside with the other neighborhood kids, playing sports and climbing trees. My father, on the other hand, had been at the grocery store, picking up some refreshing treats-popsicles, ice cream bars-and something new.
What's this? A dark brown glass bottle with a green label? That's weird. Pappy's Old Fashioned Sassafras Tea? Huh. Interesting. I'd never heard of sassafras tea before. I'd heard the weird sassafras before-it was something to call smart-mouthed kids, maybe even something from Looney Toons...but I'd never heard of it being a tea (the following is a rough approximation of how it went down).
"What's this dad?"
"Well, you love root beer, so I thought I'd get you some tea made from sassafras-sassafras is what Root Beer was originally made from.
Sounded tasty to me. We poured some in a glass, filled it with water and ice and I took a sip...interesting. It tasted mostly like root beer...but different. Of course, the difference was mainly due to the lack of carbonation, but at 8, I didn't think of such things. I added more tea concentrate. It definitely satisfied my sweet tooth a lot better-so sweet in fact that it made my mouth pucker.
Anyways, I did eventually find the right mix of tea concentrate and water, and it was a very enjoyable substitute for regular ol' root beer.
It also inspired me to start trying to create my own sodas for the first time. I didn't know anything about home carbonation or yeast or anything like that. I don't remember my specific recipes, but I do recall the process was taking an empty 2-liter bottle, rinsing out the leftover soda, and combining all kinds of thins from around the house-any kind of liquid(besides milk) that I could find was combined with other things. Most of the time it was hot water, sugar, and some kind of juice-but I do recall one batch had a cap full of Scope mouthwash poured into it. I would then walk around the house trying to convince people to try my homemade "soda."  This worked pretty well for a little while-my parents or aunts/uncles would try my concoctions-usually grimacing from all of the sugar or the weird combination of apple juice, sunny delight and vinegar. However, once the bottle with mouthwash in it was sampled, word spread around and people started refusing to try my mixtures. I understand why, of course, but that discouraged me and quickly lead to me discontinuing my soda experiments. At least for a little while...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homemade Cinnamon-Cherry Fizz Follow Up The First

After 4 days I've finally gotten a bit of carbonation out of the batch of Cinnamon-Cherry Fizz I made.
The first two tester bottles I opened(the first after 48 hours, the second after 72) had no fizz and slight fizz(respectively), and excellent cinnamon flavor-but no cherry flavor that I could detect. That might come out in the refrigeration though, so we'll see.
This morning, however, I checked a third bottle and was greeted with a slight bubble-rush to hint towards the slight bit of carbonation that was already present. Last time this happened I waited 12 hours and popped the bottles in the fridge to be met with a perfect amount of fizz upon letting it stand.
This will be another two part follow-up, as I will definitely revisit, review and add my thoughts about improving the batch if necessary. However, this batch has given me some new information. I have previously made mention of fiberglass-flavors in sodas. I always thought the culprit was too much cinnamon, or it's chemical reaction with the yeast, however, I'm now thinking it is almost exclusively the fault of the yeast.
I made my cream soda from scratch and ended up with that funky fiberglass taste, although in smaller doses then my first attempt. I also used my champagne yeast for that. Lo and behold, I made a quickie batch of cream soda from extract for my wife(whom didn't care for my homemade root beer at all), and used the rest of the champagne yeast. It never carbonated. Which leads me to believe that the fiberglass flavor in my homemade sodas of the past has come from "spoiled" yeast. If it's at the end of it's shelf life, it may produce some weird flavors in combination with it's ingredients. Considering I used the same exact yeast a mere week after the previous batch(which carbonated just fine, but with weird off-flavors), I'm thinking the yeast was at the end of it's viability-it may have been expired(I cut the expiration date off opening the package).
The first cause of off-tasting beverage is generally spoilage brought on by bacteria from improperly sanitized bottles/equipment. However, I did a thorough job of that on my cream soda, and had on the 3 previous batches I had made that I recalled getting the off-flavor with.
Long story short-make sure your yeast is fresh and used within a month of opening it.
Considering I had no off-flavors with this batch(which consists mainly of cinnamon-and lots of it), I can safely say that cinnamon is not the culprit-and thank goodness for that-cinnamon is tasty.

Recipe: Homemade Cinnamon-Cherry Fizz

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Cinnamon-Cherry Fizz

I got the idea for this soda when trying to figure out a use for the Almond extract I originally picked up with the intention of using it in my cream soda. I never used it for my cream soda, but alas, I found another ingredient I thought would pair well with it-cinnamon. The spiciness of the cinnamon paired with the sweetness of the almond extract sounded quite delightful to me. Anyone who has ever used almond extract for any reason, however, knows that almond extract smells much like maraschino cherries. This is understandable, as almond trees belong to the prunus species-which includes peaches, prunes, plums, and cherries. Fun fact-almonds are not actually nuts-they are seeds. They're an edible cousin to the notorious peach pit. Another fun fact-Coca Cola company uses almond extract to flavor their Cherry Coke.
Anyways, I decided I wanted to make a cinnamon-cherry soda, but I didn't have any cherry juice available to me(maybe next time), so I proceeded with cinnamon sticks and almond extract.
The important thing to keep in mind about extracts is that they will lose their potency if put in too hot of water, so you will not be using the extract during the brewing process-it'll come later. On to the recipe...

4 x 3 inch Cinnamon Sticks
1/2 tsp. Almond extract
2 cups Sugar
1 gallon water
1/8 tsp. Ale yeast

Fill a stock pot with about 2 quarts of water and the cinnamon sticks. Put the water on med-high heat, bring to a simmer and let simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in the sugar, cover and let steep for another 20 minutes.
Pour in the other 2 quarts of water, mix in and check the temperature. If it's around 100 degrees fahrenheit, stir in your almond extract 1/4 tsp. at a time.
Put 1/8 tsp. of yeast in a coffee cup(or measuring cup you used for sugar) with 2 oz. warm water, stir and let sit for 5 minutes.
Ideally, you'll want your brew water to be between 80-90 degrees. Stir in your yeast water and bottle.
This ended up being my first batch of homemade soda that a gallon batch actually filled 11 12 oz. bottles-and 8 oz. leftover to sample the brew. Usually I get about 10 12 oz. bottles with an 8 oz. tester bottle leftover. I think dividing the water in half in the brew process helps retain more of the water as not as much gets lost due to evaporation.
The tester glass tasted amazing-it was sweet, slightly tart and a but spicy. It reminded me of a cherry crisp. I'm anticipating popping open a bottle in 2 days to check out how it's coming along. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Supplies and Ingredients!

Sorry for the lack of updates the last few days. My wife just brought me home some fresh ingredients and more bottle caps, so expect a couple of recipes over the next week. Yeah, my wife is awesome.

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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weird Soda Endorsement...

I went to my local Fred Meyer(Pacific Northwest's regional Kroger) earlier tonight to pick up some tasty beverages(Virgil's Root Beer, and Virgil's Real Cola) and happened upon something that seemed utterly ridiculous-Captain America on a 2 liter bottle of Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
What exactly were they thinking here? Apparently it is a tie-in with 7-Up's full lineup, but don't you think it's a little odd that they would include a ginger ale that originated in a country that is...not the United States of America? While Canada might be a large portion of the North American continent, "Captain America" is, was, and always will be a symbolically patriotic comic book/television/movie character representative of the good ol'(snicker) U. S. of A. Even so close to Independence Day as well.
Next thing you know we're going to have Alpha Flight on cans of least then the colors would match.
So, in short, Captain America is iconic, not ironic, eh?
Say no to hipster ginger ale.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Oogave Cola

Oogave Cola. Where do I start? an awful soda. Through and through. I couldn't find one redeeming quality beyond the labeling. I love the minimalist design. It's simple, effective and eye-catching. You've got your brand name, your ingredients list, your flavor, and the requisite color to coincide with the flavor.
Opening the bottle, I took a whiff-sweetness. That was about it. Tasting it was something I would regret, and for some reason I continued to take sip after sip, even stomaching a mouthful, in a vain effort to convince myself it wasn't as bad as I thought. It never got any better, only much, much worse.
What did it taste like you ask? Well, it sure as hell didn't taste like agave nectar(which has a sweet, burnt taste), and it certainly did not taste like cola(at least, nothing you should market). I can pinpoint exactly what it tasted like-it was like drinking sugar water that had been poured from the inside of a hot, inflatable pool toy. It was incredibly off-putting how much this soda tasted like cheap plastic/rubber. I also detected a little hint of something I had noticed myself in my first attempt-that strange chemically flavor that happened when I fermented my ingredients. I don't know what it is about colas, but it seems to be a recurring theme that one of the ingredients "spoils" in the fermentation process and turns the whole batch completely awful. Hell, it even happened when I was working with a cola-flavored extract. My guess would be that the lemon and/or lime juice "sour" the yeast...but that's a risk you take when you make a homemade cola(I've made a few successful batches of cola from extract). Difference is, there's a chemical reaction in the mix with a homemade soda-the yeast, heat, sugar, spices, yada yada yada. You don't have any of that coming into play with a store-bought soda. Store-bought sodas are mixed up and false-carbonated with co2, yeast isn't involved at all-so what gives? I don't know, and I don't really want to know. What I do know, is that I will never even look at an Oogave Cola bottle if I can help it. The memory of that awful taste would just drive me to madness.

Packaging- 3/5
It was clean and effective. It looked like a cola, and I could clearly read the brand from across the store. Points for the company distributing in a glass bottle, although I can only imagine that a plastic bottle would merely enhance the awful flavor they were clearly shooting for.

Taste- 0/7
Did I mention the inflatable pool toy juice? Blech!

Aroma- 2/5
Sweet, slightly burnt. Much like agave nectar(the sweetener used in the bottle), but lacking some of the quality, probably due to the dilution I'm sure. Very deceptive, actually made me think this wouldn't be so bad.

Overall- 5/17
Not only do I recommend not buying or consuming this swill, I actively discourage you from even mentioning it lest it fly into your unsuspecting taste receptacle and pollute your flavor receptors with it's ungodly plastic juice-ity.

Buy Oogave Cola

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sorry for the delay...

There's been a lot going on this last week with moving, family visiting and work. I will be making a proper post later tonight. A review is on the way, along with another possible batch of soda. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Finishing the latest batch-a few tips.

So, all 28 bottles of the most recent batch of root beer are gone.
The soda was incredibly tasty and a huge hit with the family. It can really be best described as a sweet beer with the slight hint of root beer barrels at the end. I suspect that if my sinuses had not been congested for the majority of the 8 days we were drinking the batch I would have been able to taste more of the root beer flavor.
Then again, there are several things that could have gone wrong, based on my previous experiences.
The first(and usually the most likely culprit) possibility is that the bottles sat at a warmer temperature than I expected and the yeast was over-active. I assumed my apartment was averaging at the mid-high sixties range, but in reality could have been closer to the mid-seventies. In this case(if you know for sure the temperature of your soda), the easiest solution is to transfer your batch from the "warm" location to the fridge. "Over-active" yeast carbonates more quickly then "regular" yeast, and as such it tends to consume more sugar, produce more carbonation, and more alcohol(usually homemade soda comes out with a 0.5 % alcohol yield, and over-active yeast will bring it closer to 2-3%, not yet the same level as beer by any means, but if it's that high of a content you've lost most of your sugar and have very little flavor remaining(beyond the yeast's flavor itself). Since the batch this time turned out very sweet and still carried a little bit of the flavor extract with it, I'd guess I could have done two things to remedy the problem.
First of all, I could have transferred up to half a day sooner-I waited from Friday night around 9 p.m. until Monday morning around 11:30 a.m. If I had put it in the fridge at 2 a.m. or even as earlier as 9 p.m. the previous night, I could have still a had a tasty soda with sufficient carbonation. You can avoid exploding bottles by arresting the process sooner, but you can also arrest the process TOO soon and end up with flat soda.
Secondly, I could have waited the right amount of time(about 2.5 days(62.5 hours)), but having left most of the batch in the cardboard box it was stored in may have taken too long to cool down enough to arrest the yeast-which of course would mean it actually continued to carbonate for up to 12 hours longer than I had originally intended.
When I first started making my own homemade soda a few years back, someone asked me why I wasn't just brewing beer. Well, there's two reasons behind that. Most importantly, I'm not really a beer drinker. There's a few select beers I thoroughly enjoy, and a few that I can drink in the right circumstances, but for the most part I just don't enjoy it at all. I enjoy all kinds of soda, and am constantly seeking out new ones to try out.
Second of all, after beginning my journey through the process of making a homemade soda, I discovered that it's much more difficult. There are tons of resources available for the homemade beer brewer. There are dozens(or even hundreds) of kits on the market, libraries of books dedicated to every aspect of getting a good beer, and there's a very large community out there to support you if you need the help. When it comes to making soda, however, there are only a few specialty books that I have run across. In addition, most books that have homemade soda recipes act as guidelines. They tell you how to make everything as long as all conditions are normal and run nearly perfect. There's no support for how to deal with any variables during the process. Making a homemade soda is much like perfecting a dish, it takes time, and practice. There are a lot of tweaks to be made, and a lot of things to be considered. It's a chemical reaction, and not a very easily controlled one at that. Since I found there to be a lacking support channel for homemade soda makers, I figured another thing I should focus on with this blog is discussing the potential downfalls and how to avoid them, or at least how to make them work for you.
On a parting note, I will also bring up that homemade soda produces a much more solid level of carbonation in your soda that I had forgotten about until recently. Because the carbonation is throughout the soda in a "natural" fashion, the carbonation holds for a long while. How long? Well, while we were in the process of moving my wife opened a bottle of soda on Sunday evening. She took a few drinks and forgot about it. We went about our moving routine, and upon returning to the house Tuesday afternoon, I picked up the unfinished bottle, took a sip and was amazed at the level of carbonation still left. It had the same "sting" of a freshly opened bottle, and when I poured out another bottle that only had a sip or two left in it from elsewhere in the house it fizzed the whole way out and left a streak of bubbles lingering towards the drain in the sink. So, an opened, uncapped bottle of homemade soda left in a 65-75 degree house for nearly 2 days was still kicking ass in the carbonation department. Try getting that from a store-bought soda!