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!

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