Monday, June 13, 2011

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.

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