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!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tasting the new batch...

So, officially my wife tried the first bottle of cold soda. Problem was, she tried it only 2 days(Wednesday) after we first refrigerated, and minimum is 4 days. It opened with a bit of an overflow from all the carbonation, tasted sweet, yeasty(as homemade sodas tend to do), and very little like Root Beer. There was a hint of the flavor in the aftertaste, but merely a hint.
My wife's reaction? "This tastes like beer, but a lot better. If this is what beer tasted like, I'd drink it all of the time. So I guess it's a good thing that beer doesn't taste like this."
Oh, and yes, she did make some root beer bread. It was incredibly tasty, and maybe I can talk her into relating her experience on her own blog.
So, after telling her that it needs to age a little more, I went back to ignoring the soda for a few days. On Friday(the first day we should have opened it...), I pop open a bottle, and take a whiff...
It's...yeasty. That's the best way to describe it. It's tangy, sweet and slightly sourish. I take a drink-much like it was on the first try, but a little less yeasty then before. My wife has continued drinking it, and the girls have even shared a bottle or two. From our initial 28, I believe we are down to 15. My wife doesn't think it tastes as good now as it did the first few times she tried it, but I only detect more and more of the extract. I know from previous experience with other batches of homemade soda using extract that the longer the bottles sit, the better they are going to taste(up to a point), so the extract will just come out more and more. I just hope that it actually lasts long enough to get to that point.
So, let this be a lesson for all of you potential homemade soda makers out there...the longer you let a soda "age" in the refrigerator, the better it will taste when you get to it(at least a week is best). There's also no accounting for personal taste, however, so if you're more of a yeasty kind of person(as my wife is), you may enjoy it from an earlier point on.
I must go now, my oldest kitchen assistant has just requested breakfast and one of our sodas. I will keep you posted on this batch if it matures a little more. I'll do that if the soda does too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Testing the most recent batch...

Let me start off by accounting for the length of the last post. Since I originally promised pictures, and provided none, I wanted to be as descriptive of the process as possible. 
With that being said...
This morning my two apprentice soda-makers accompanied on a car trip to a closed destination. Upon returning home, I was faced with a regular conflict in our household-Biggle had gone inside peacefully, but Middle was insistent upon staying in the car. So insistent, in fact, that she brought her knees to her chest and locked her arms around her legs to prevent me from even unbuckling her from her car seat. I left her door opened and went inside the house, explaining to my wife what was going on. She rolled her eyes and went about her business, and I returned to the vehicle.
I had an ace up my sleeve today(I usually don't-which results in me hanging out around the car out of her view, sporadically checking up on her to see if she's ready to come inside yet).
"Middle, do you want to come inside and test our soda? We'll see if it's ready to go in the fridge yet..."
She looked at me, slowly allowing a smile to creep across her face, and then said "Okay daddy". She dropped her legs and allowed me access to the buckles, freeing her from her self-sentenced, plastic-formed prison. She hops down out of the car and trots inside. 
I was planning on waiting until after dinner to check the sodas, but drastic times call for drastic measures.
I grab the not quite full bottle, grab the bottle opener and pop the top. Well, I didn't "pop" the top as much as I allowed the pressure inside the bottle enough breathing room to hurtle the cap through the air(I swear it hit the ceiling), along with a fountain of soda to rival the greatest Diet Coke/Mentos youtube videos. Half of the bottle was spent, leaving a trail about 2 feet long across the kitchen floor, foam in Middle's hair, and yeasty-goodness all over my pants. I did manage to minimize the damage by quickly getting it to the sink(next time, open over the sink...), but it was still quite the mess.
Time to sample! The prospect of drinking our own root beer was really what lured Middle out of the car, so it was time to come through on my end of the bargain. I poured the remaining contents into a nearby glass and took a quick swig while she looked away-yeasty, but delicious. It takes a few days in the fridge for the soda to actually taste like soda instead of yeast, so don't get discouraged if/when you make your own at home. The longer it sits in the fridge, the better it tastes.
Back on point-Middle enjoyed it, Biggle thought it was ok, and the wife said she felt like she was drinking sweet bread, and wondered if she could use our soda to make her own root beer bread(she's crafty like that).
So, all being satisfied with the level of carbonation attained in 2.5 days, we loaded the sodas into the fridge and continue our wait for homemade awesomeness.

As an aside, my pants still smell like rising yeast, and I keep licking my lips at the prospect of enjoying some of my wife's fantastic homemade bread fresh out of the oven. Unfortunately for me, there will be no oven warm bread unless I throw my unwashed khakis into the dryer and try to take a bite. 

Adventures in Soda Making

So, as promised, me and my two oldest girls made some soda Friday night. Originally I thought it was going to just be my oldest and I, but when we were talking about doing it at dinner the middle one decided she wanted to join in on the fun as well. Awesome! I get to share my hobby with my girls, and they get to learn a little bit about old-fashioned soda making!
Anyways, my middle daughter was most excited about the prospect of us making our own "Doggy Soda"(her affectionate term for ALL root beer since discovering that Mug Root Beer is her favorite soda/pop of all time). I explained to her that we wouldn't be able to drink it for at least a week, but she was hearing no part of that statement.
I filled our 12 quart pot up with water, set the heat on and proceeded to clear the dishes from the dinner table. My wife chimed in "Hey honey, are you going to be able to get this all done in a half hour?"-we were getting a late start do to some running around and playing before I we finally got to dinner that night.
"Sure," I said, "we can get the soda mixed up within thirty minutes, and then the bottling will go pretty quickly without them"
"Honey," she said, "you have to bottle up a couple with them."
Oh yeah, of course they'd love to bottle. I'll have some helpers, for the first couple(I thought), and then they can go upstairs, change into pajamas and brush their teeth while I finish up the rest.
Long story short, nothing goes quite as smoothly as planned. Anyone with children also knows what happens when you have two little ones(mine are currently 5 and "still 2" as of this writing), and so there were a few minor conflicts.
Anyways, I bring them in the kitchen, and start setting bottles up on a TV tray positioned underneath the counter top with my new toy on it. The girls immediately start grabbing my old, back-up bottles and bringing them into the kitchen. "No girls, we don't need those in here right now. Put them back, and we'll get them when we need them."
They continue to get them out and play with them without bringing them into the kitchen(because technically, they're not bringing them "in there"(the kitchen) "right now"....and they are "putting them back"). So, after a few minutes of back and forth with them(and some great mom interference), we get them back on task and in the kitchen.
I break out the candy thermometer to confirm temperature(110 degrees F-perfect for our needs) to make sure it's hot enough to dissolve the sugar, but not too hot to kill the flavor in the extract(a lesson I've learned the hard way before, which I'll go over more in another post). Since we're making 3 gallons worth of soda, I get out the big jar of extra sugar, and pour it out into a 2 cup measuring cup-I pour in the first one, and have the girls each take a turn pouring the next two subsequent cupfulls into the pot(for a total of 6 cups of sugar). Now, that might sound like a lot, but the yeast will eat up a bit of that in the carbonation process, and it breaks down to about 40ish grams/12 oz. bottle*(most commercial root beers clock in between 38-46 grams/12 oz...).
Then, we each take turns using our big spoon to stir the sugar into the pot until it is completely dissolved. You want to make sure that you don't leave any sugar undissolved to get it as evenly distributed as possible, and the best way to tell is to stir until there are no more "gritty" scrapes along the bottom of the pot. Another way to tell is when the water takes on a very light yellowish-brown twinge(much like flat ginger ale) and is obviously "sticky" on the spoon when you lift the spoon out.
We get to that point and add the extract-we put in 2 tbs. and 1 tsp(roughly 35 ml**), and we each take turns stirring that in. I'll also note here that us taking turns has never been as simple as I make it out to be. There is fighting between the two of them as to who gets to stir first, and who gets to stir next after dad stirs again. So we make it through all of the stirring and get to the taste test. I'm the first to go, and it's very sweet, but a liitle light on the root beer flavor. Middle's turn- her verdict? It's good, but this kid spoons sugar, so her opinion is a little biased at this point. Biggle's turn. She arrives at my conclusion, but in her own way-she observes that it tastes like sugar. So, I ask them if we add more flavoring. Agreement all around, so 2 more tsp(or 10 ml) is added, we all take turns stirring. The second tasting proves satisfactory. Time to get the yeast ready.
I scoop a bit of the slog out into a cup, and consult my resident kitchen expert on how much yeast to use. We  agree on 1/2 tsp(4 scoops of a 1/8 tsp), mix it into the slog cup and we clear the girls for the transfer from pot to bucket. The slog is still cooler then their bath water usually is, but if I slip and spill there will be a huge sticky mess that I don't want them to be part of. Transfer goes off smoothly(much to my wife's relief), I give the slog a quick stir and it's time to bottle.
"Come on girls, let's start bottling up our soda!"
"Honey, do you know what time it is?"
"No-why? What time is it?"
She announces it's 7 minutes before I need to get ready for work. I still have 3 gallons of soda to bottle up...panic mode sets in. I rush the girls into the kitchen, and start to work filling the bottles as quickly as possible. I love my new toy, the siphon valve fills the bottles at least 3 times more quickly then my old method of ladling the slog into each bottle through a funnel. The biggle starts talking-"Daaaaad!! When do I get a turn?", then middle chimes in and repeats the same phrase in the same tone. Oh crap, I was supposed to be bottling with them...
After getting 5 bottles filled on my own, I show my girls what I'm doing and how to stop the siphon valve so it doesn't over-fill the bottle. We have a few spill overs, they alternate. While biggle is filling her bottle I send middle to go get a towel to help soak up the overflow and set the bottles onto to prevent them from slipping on the linoleum on the kitchen floor.
Then, I decide we need to start capping some bottles before filling all of them. Biggle is on bottle-holding duty while middle dances around us and alternately continues trying to fill bottles. Before my wife has the great idea of giving middle a new job to keep her occupied(placing the bottles back into the box where they will be going through the carbonation process) my middle has sprayed a bit on the floor, and my improper placement of the siphon valve when she sets in on the floor(in addition to forgetting to turn the spigot to the "closed" position), results in a bit of loss on the floor and counter tops. Not drastically much, mind you(about 3 bottles worth), but enough that my panic is turning into madness with the stress of things not going perfectly(I get a little anal sometimes) AND the fact that I'm running out of time to shower and get dressed for work. So I get the rest of the bottles capped and put away, and even spent some of that time convincing my biggle to lean the bucket forward to get the last couple of bottles(as the spigot is roughly at the 1 gallon mark) filled.
After all was said and done we got 27 full bottles and 1 slightly-short bottle(which will be the one me and the girls open later tonight to check for carbonation levels).
It took only 15 minutes from start to finish to bottle everything(where 1 gallon used to take me about 40 minutes), and I got to do a fun experiment with the kids. I had to rush to get through my work prep(shower, shave, getting dressed, etc.) and I had to feel horrible leaving such a sticky mess for the wife, but I managed to make it to work JUST on time. Next time I'll start a little earlier, though-just in case.
I'll be back with updates on how the initial taste/carbonation test goes and back again to report on how well this batch turned out after aging for a few days in the refrigerator. The package says 2 weeks gives the best results, but I(along with my girls), barely have the patience to make it through one whole week, let alone two.
Until next time...
*For all you math geeks out there, it breaks down like this-each cup of sugar contains 201 6 cups is 1206 grams of sugar. Divide that by 28 bottles, and you're left with 43g/bottle. As stated, though, the carbonation process eats up a few tablespoons in the process, so it'll end up being 38-41 g/bottle after all is consumed and ready for drinking.
**Another math geek moment. The directions said to use a whole 2 oz. bottle for a 5 gallon batch. 2 oz. equals a bit over 59 ml, so to make 1 gallon you'd need about 11.8 ml-multiply that by 3 and you get 35.4 ml.

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Toy

I woke up after a short nap post-work last week(I work the night shift, and like to nap before my spawn wake up so that I may spend the morning with them), and my wife informed me that she had ordered me a new toy for my soda-making adventures. It got here via FedEx this morning, and it is totally awesome. Wondering what it is? Feast your eyes on this bad boy...
Yeah-that's a 6.5 gallon bucket to mix my soda in-complete with spigot and hose w/siphon for easy bottle filling and huge stir spoon(to reach the bottom). I was super stoked about it. The girls enjoyed the unpacking too, as it was a 12x12x24 box filled with large sheets of paper. My eldest turned the box into a pirate ship-complete with mast and sail(the mast was 2 taped together pool noodle lightsabers with the sail being made from one of the many sheets in the box).
I can't wait to use this amazing piece of equipment to make some tasty cheater soda(using Root Beer extract) with my daughters later today.
I didn't have enough bottles for 5 gallons, so we took a quick trip down to our local brewery shop(North Corner Brewing if you're in the Bellingham, Wa area), and picked up a case of bottles, more caps and some new yeast. After that was a quick jaunt to pick my wife up a kitchen scale(that'll come in handy for me as well), and a fun lunch at a local donut shop. While there we got a couple of bottles of soda for future reviews, so be on the look out for those as well.
After I get some sleep I'll take my new toy for a whirl and hopefully talk my wife into taking some pictures to help document the whole process. See you then!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Recipe: Grape Soda, supply list

After relating my horrible first experience, I feel it's now time to share my first successful homemade soda.
I made a really delicious grape soda, and it's a very easy recipe. Most importantly, though, is that I learned my lesson about using baker's yeast. It will get the job done, but it produces too much of it's own (bread-like) flavor, and way too much sediment. After doing some quick research online, I discovered that Champagne Yeast was the way too go. It provides a good amount of carbonation, very light flavor, and was readily available from a local shop catering to those who wish to brew their own beers and/or wines at home(although I have included a link for your convenience). Anyways, on to the recipe.
The prep-get a gallon or two of water in your sink, pour a little bleach in there(one tbsp/gallon), and thoroughly rinse out an empty 1 liter/1 qt container(and it's lid), and a small funnel. This kills all the bacteria in the bottle and funnel and cuts down on the likelihood of any bacteria remaining in your bottle and spoiling the batch. It is always of the utmost importance to make sure the bottles you are working with are cleaned properly to ensure the best possible homemade soda you can make.

2 cups of water
2 cups of grape juice
1/4 cup of sugar
1/8 tsp of champagne yeast

Combine water and grape juice in a pot (sauce pan that is at least 1.5 quarts), bring to a low boil.
Stir in your sugar and remove from heat.
The grape juice/water will get incredibly foamy and sticky, which is why I recommended using a pot that is bigger than a quart, otherwise your concoction is going to creep over the sides and all over your stove.

Pour your ingredients into the bottle and cap them, allow the contents to cool. While the bottle is cooling(you can put it in the refrigerator, or submerge in cold water), you want to get a coffee cup and put about a 1/4 cup of water in the bottom(and a pinch of sugar if you like), and add your yeast. This will activate your yeast and allow it to carbonate your drink a little quicker.
After the grape juice/water solution has cooled to about 100 degrees, you can go ahead and add your yeast. Cap the bottle, shake a few times, making sure to distribute the yeast as evenly as possible(tip the bottle upside down, slosh it from side to side), and then place the bottle somewhere out of direct sunlight where it can stay at a more or less constant room temperature(68-72 degrees). If it's colder than that, it will take longer for your drink to carbonate(too cold, the yeast will go inactive and you'll have to start over), if it's slightly warmer it will carbonate a little more quickly. If it gets too hot, it could make the yeast overactive and cause enough pressure to explode your bottle.
I let my bottle sit for 2 days before the bottle was firm enough(as the yeast eats the sugar, it will produce co2, which in addition to carbonating your beverage will also create pressure buildup in the space at the top of the bottle). You know it's ready when you can't squeeze the bottle anymore. Place the bottle in the refrigerator(to arrest the yeast's development), wait a few days and you have yourself a tasty, homemade soda that you made all by yourself-and it's even healthy too!
In addition to the nutrients from the grape juice, yeast produces B vitamins of it's own-something you'll never get in a store-bought soda.

Impressions of my homemade grape soda.
I cracked it open, and was hit by a sicky sweet waft of a rich red wine. I was a little worried by this, as I HATE wine. Anyways, I brought the bottle to my lips, tipped back and let the nectar envelop my tongue. This was fucking delicious! It tasted exactly like Welch's grape soda, but with the tang of real grape juice. There is a slight, tart aftertaste(as with wine), and a feeling of dryness in the throat(again, like wine), but it's absolutely delicious. It makes sense that it has a wine-like flavor profile though, as this recipe is essentially making wine and then stopping the fermentation process before it gains a significant amount of alcohol.
Homemade soda will contain a very small percentage of alcohol (0.5%, I believe), but it's not significant enough to affect you in any manner. It'll just provide a bit of a "sting" to the drink, if you will.
Overall I was very satisfied with my first successful batch of homemade soda, and it motivated me to carry on. My wife was quite pleased with my excitement too, and showed her gratitude by ordering me some supplies- Bottle Capperbottle capsHomemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop, Cola soda extract and Cream Soda Extract. I bought a case of Thomas Kemper Root Beer, drank it down and sterilized the bottles. I was stocked up with supplies, a recipe book, and ready for some real soda brewing(with some cheater liquid to get me going).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Moxie Original Elixir

My purchase of this particular soda was a long time coming. I first read about it's continued existence about six or seven years ago. Until that point in history, I had always thought Moxie was a long discontinued brand of soda that was swallowed whole by Coca-Cola or Pepsi's march to supermarket/advertising dominance. Much like Coca-Cola, Moxie was developed in the late 19th century as an elixir with medicinal purposes, and later modified to be a carbonated drink when those imbibements started becoming popular across the nation.
It is also speculated that Moxie may have contained cocaine at one point(much like it's contemporary Coca-Cola), but there's no concrete proof behind this-just the hold-over suggestion to "drink for vim and vigor!".

Anyways, down to my thoughts on the bottle. The packaging is very simplistic and has a very nostalgiac feel to it- the simple orangey red field with a classic looking font(as it should, it's been nearly unchanged for the last century), and a kind, fatherly gentleman pointing at you from above the logo. Pointing as if to say, "Hey champ, cheer up! It's ok if you blew the game, pop'll still love you if you drink this here beverage." It is really all quite endearing. Looking at the bottle calls up memories of my grandfather(who is still with me) and how I envisioned him as a young man, taking a lunch break from building Jeeps for the Allies, walking into the company cafeteria and telling the handsome girl working behind the counter that he wanted a Moxie.
So, not only does it look like your grandfather's soda, it tastes like it as well. That's not a bad thing, but it's flavor is unmistakably something that would have sold as a medicine. However, it's complex, bittersweet flavor is perfect as a soda. I would never have placed the flavor had I not bought a candy stick boasting a flavor I never recalled having before-horehound. Moxie is quite clearly a horehound flavored soda, and it works surprisingly well. Horehound has a rich history as an aid to coughs and colds-it contains a natural expectorant that helps with bronchitis and helps alleviate some asthma symptoms*, I don't know if the soda retains any of these healing properties, but it sure is delicious. I wish I had bought more bottles, as I was very sad when it was all gone. I also wish it was more widely available, and will have to soon go in search of it locally, as the shop I purchased it at was in Seaside, Or-at least a six hour drive. I may just love this enough to drive all that way for it, but I'm also positive it's probably available in Seattle.
As a closing sentiment, I will also relate that at one point in it's history, Moxie was on top. It outsold Coke for quite a few years, and only faltered when they stopped dedicating funds to their advertising campaign.

Packaging- 5/5
It's clean, minimalistic(something I love), and very old-fashioned(not much has changed since the days when Moxie was king). Easily fits in the "iconic" category.

Taste- 6.5/7
It tastes amazing. I can see that it would be an acquired taste though, as it is a complex bitter but sweet. One who doesn't care for bitter might not like this soda at all, but I would definitely recommend they at least try it.
It is not a cola, so don't expect one and you won't be too disappointed.

Aroma- 4/5
At first the medicine-like smell was a little off-putting, but it resolved in a slight hint of anise and maybe a touch of vanilla-not much though.

Overall- 15/17
One of the best sodas I have ever had, hands down. It would have gotten a perfect score on flavor had it not been for the whole "acquired taste" thing. Many people will hate this soda, but those who like it will probably love it. I see there being little middle ground.

*Disclaimer. i am not a medical professional. consult a real physician if you're afflicted with either of these or any other condition.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My first attempt

I would like to relate my first real attempt at making soda with everyone, and so decided to make this post before putting up my next review. Also, stay tuned for the question at the end.
I started off reading about Soda Siphons and different flavor concentrates, but at the time I didn't have the money to purchase the siphon(still haven't bought one). I wasn't going to let that get in the way of me making my own soda, and then it dawned on me-people have been making carbonated beverages for a long time before we had co2 canisters. So how did they do it? So I did a search, and very quickly discovered the mysterious secret-combining yeast, sugar and a closed container in a warm place. Really simple chemistry, and something I thought I should have learned at some point already.
So, I ran to my kitchen, looked for yeast and sugar. baking yeast was there, and we always had sugar. So now I needed a container I could seal- obvious answer! So I drank the rest of the 2 liter in the fridge and rinsed it thoroughly. I was rearing to go, and realized I had no idea what kind of soda I wanted to make.
I spent the rest of the night reading up on cola recipes, already knowing that cinnamon and vanilla was the "generic" cola flavor we associate with most store-brands. I knew we had those two ingredients, but I had to find out what the rest of the ingredients were. Most formulas call for lemon/lime/orange oil and some various spices. So, I collected what we had(I'll go into an ingredient list in a moment), and prepared myself for the task at hand.
I got out a stock pot, dumped a two liter bottle full of water into it(and added a little extra for boil off), and turned on the heat. I got it up to below boiling and turned the heat down, and proceeded to put in about a cup of sugar. Stirred in the sugar until it dissolved(creating an off-brown colored watery syrup), and sparingly added cinnamon and vanilla until I could taste them along with the sugar. I was just pinching and dropping, so I don't have any accurate measurements(nor would they be relevant by the end of this), but future recipes will include amounts so you can try it out yourself if you'd like.
After getting a satisfactory amount, I proceeded to add my other ingredients. A 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, a pinch of cardamom, a tablespoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of lime. The lemon and lime juices provided me my citrus bouqet and slight acid bite(as I was working from my wife's spice rack instead of a grocery list specifically for my purposes), and overall the mixture turned out smelling and tasting quite flavorful.
So I grabbed a ladle and funnel and filled my two liter bottle with my concoction. I then took 1/4 teaspoon of the baker's yeast, dropped it in a coffee cup with a little bit of warm water in it, and let it proof with a paper towel covering it for about 5-10 minutes while the 2-liter cooled in the fridge. It's very important to allow your  pre-soda to cool a little before putting in the yeast, as letting it stay too hot will kill the yeast, but letting it cool too much won't allow the yeast to activate or continue to culture. 98-105 f is the recommended temperature.
My pre-soda was cooled and my yeast was ready. What could I do to make my cola stand out? I put a drop of green food coloring in the bottle to make it look fun and made sure it didn't alter the taste any(it didn't).
So I capped the bottle(having left about an inch of head space to allow a little gas buildup from the carbonation process), and set it on the counter.
Then, one of the longest waits of my life started. For three days I continued to return to my bottle(a few times a day) to squeeze and check for levels of carbonation. It started off very squishy and continued to get more firm. After the third day I decided it had gotten firm enough and placed the bottle(very, very carefully) into the refrigerator so it could cool and arrest the yeast.
It is of note to bring up the fact that yeast will create a kind of dirty-looking sediment at the bottom of your mixture, and it is very unappetizing to look at, so try to avoid doing that and focus on how delicious your soda is going to be.
After what felt like another eternity(which was about 2 days), I cracked open by bottle, received a very satisfying "pop" and fizz. I was super excited, until I caught a whiff of the odor that emanated from the bottle. It was something akin to risen bread before going into the oven to be cooked(as to be expected from the yeast), and a faint chemically smell. Uh-oh. I soldiered on.
I poured a small glass of my concoction to try it out. I took a sip. Very sweet, amazing carbonation. Those are the only good things I can say about my first batch of homemade soda. The mixture seemed to have taken on a bit of the plastic as part of it's flavor, but more pressing then that was the huge clumps of yeast floating around the wouldn't have been too bad, but it left a hairy feeling in your mouth. Bleh! My attempted cola ended up tasting like non-alcoholic, stale beer that someone had spilled sugar into. I really want to equate the taste to formaldehyde, but outside of passing puffs of it on a cigarette, I honestly had no reason to believe I actually knew what the stuff tasted or smelled like. In short, it was awful.
I then began to wonder if it was the added food coloring that gave it the awful chemical-like taste and smell. So I recreated the experiment without green food coloring and less yeast(to cut down on the floating hairy strings of yeast). It took slightly longer to carbonate, but produced an almost identical flavor with the same carbonation.
I decided to not get too discouraged and just shelved the cola idea for the time being and looked up other ideas and recipes. My next experiment, and first successful soda, will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.
What was your favorite off-brand or generic soda growing up?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: Gale's Root Beer

Recently I took a much needed break from work to enjoy an amazing vacation with my family. We packed up the car and the kids(the car was so full we had to throw one up on the luggage rack-she didn't seem to mind too much until it started raining...) and headed out on the open road. Day four of our five day trip landed us in Astoria, Or-a hop, skip and a jump away from Seaside-a beautiful little town with a nice stretch of beach and a downtown set up specifically for tourists(particularly those with children).
Anyways, after many stops at toy stores, sweets shops, and ice cream parlors, I ended up ducking into a place that boasted a large selection of "old-fashioned sodas". I knew I was in luck. I perused the five large refrigerated display stands stocked with a large variety of sodas, and made my first selection based upon a need to try an old-fashioned brew that had as of yet eluded my grasp- Moxie Original Elixir(review coming soon). However, for my next selection, I returned to the case dedicated exclusively(!) to Root Beers. There were Root Beers of many kinds, but most of them could be found in my local grocer's aisle. I narrowed it down to a few I had never seen before, and ultimately decided upon Gales Root Beer. The fun label made it pop out at me, and I picked it up to read the fine print- a sad but charming story of Chef Gale Gand moving to England and having her "root beer supplies dry up", and how she proceeded to get a terrier, name him "Rootie"(possibly because the dog tasted like Root Beer-the world shall never know), and then make do with the ingredients she had available to her at the time. Those ingredients? Cinnamon, Vanilla, and Ginger. Upon learning of a Root Beer that was formulated with those three delicious ingredients, I became excited, and my tongue began to dance in my mouth. So I scooped the bottle up, dropped the money on the counter($4.50 for two bottles of soda? Extortion!) and absconded with my find to the car.
Later on that evening I twisted off the cap, took a whiff(cinnamon with the slight hint of vanilla sweetness), and took a big gulp- that triggered my memory of my first attempt at making a soda recipe, and a return to that awful taste and feel of too much cinnamon. I took a few more swigs, and realized that the vanilla balanced it our, and the real sugar mellowed it out enough to make it mostly palatable. It wasn't nearly carbonated enough for the flavor, and just left me with regret of plopping down $2.25 on such a half-assed concoction. My soda-loving 3 year old even turned down the opportunity to have another sip, turning down the proffered drink with a confident "No thanks, dad. That soda is icky."
I also feel like I was deceived-there was not a single hint of ginger in this brew, not a faint hint of ginger's aroma nor slight bite of it's spice. It was just...not gingery at all. I feel that cutting back on the cinnamon and increasing the ginger would have saved it, but I still wouldn't call this a root beer if I had made it. A shitty cola, yes, but not a root beer.

Packaging- 3/5
Awesome Illustration, fascinating blurb, quite unique- but labelled as Root Beer when it so clearly is not.

Taste- 3/7
It wasn't completely awful, but I made only slightly worse on my first try, and this was supposedly formulated by a chef.

Aroma- 3/5
Cinnamony and sweet-gave me hopes of a carbonated Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Soda-Loving Daughter's assessment- Icky/3

Overall- 9(icky)/20

Buy Gale's Root Beer
Sub-par soda, but not the worst. Worst root beer? By far.