November 26, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide 2015

How is it the holidays already?  Life has been crazy and time just flies by.  While I'm not ready to post new recipes just yet, I've got a couple things up my sleeve, such as a tasty Hibiscus Ginger Ale and a possible Moxie clone.  I couldn't however leave everyone hanging for the holidays without a gift guide.  This gift guide, now in its fifth year, is a tradition I've started that I can't bear to let slip away. See previous gift guides from 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011

For The Nostalgic
Nostalgia is really what I love about homemade soda.  It hearkens back to a simpler time.  Even though I wasn't around to see the heyday of the soda fountain, or the dime glass bottle vending machines, that's what I associate with soda.

There was something classy when it came to kitchen appliances in the 1940s and 1950s. Chrome and curves accentuated functionality. If you can't get your hands on a 1950s refrigerator to convert to a kegerator, or you don't want to trust your tasty beverages to something that old (though the fact that some of the 1950s fridges are still cranking should be a testament to the fact that they just don't make things like they used to.) A 1950s style kegerator is the next best thing. If you want to convert this for soda kegs, all it takes is swapping out the sanke disconnect for a Ball Lock Keg MFL Coupler Set or Pin-Lock MFL Disconnect Set.  When pouring soda instead of beer, it's always a good idea to swap out chrome faucets (even though this one is spring loaded to avoid unintended spillage) with a Stainless Steel Beer Faucet to avoid corrosion.

Anchor Hocking Classic Soda Fountain Glasses
Kick up the nostalgia a notch by serving up your own homemade ice cream soda, coke float, root beer float or ice cream sundae in these classic look glasses.  Pick up a Pack of 4 or a Set of 12 .

The Syrup-er
Like the soda fountains of yesteryear and the SodaStreams of today, adding syrup to carbonated water is really the easiest route to go in making homemade soda.  
The SodaStream has brought the popularity of homemade soda to new heights in the past 5 years, but one of the big complaints and probably one of the biggest reason for people to stop using them is the proprietary fill canisters and the expense of replacements.  For someone who wants the convenience and compact design of the SodaStream but the cost savings of a larger CO2 tank, this adapter screws onto a standard paintball tank that can be refilled for just $3 to $5 at your local sporting goods store. Refill the tank at the store without the adapter, then plug it into your SodaStream with it on, and you're ready to carbonate.  Now you don't have to feel bad about that third blast of CO2 to get more fizz.
LorAnn Flavoring Oils

There's a secret formula locked up in the vaults of the Coca Cola Co. that details the ingredients in their more than a century old classic formula.  It's been somewhat elusive to many, but some recipes have surfaced over time that seem to hit close to the mark. The Open Cola Project is one that has been kicking around for a few years now and uses flavor oils as the flavor base.  Cola is not the only one that can be made strictly from oils.  Crush and 7up also started their lives with flavor oils as well.  You can pick up flavors for syrup for all those and more using Lorann Oils.  These can sometimes be picked up at pharmacies for flavoring hard candies, they are super concentrated and some are straight up natural flavor oils.  A little goes a long way, so picking up a Pack of 10 or 12 1-dram vials should be plenty for a foray into syrup making. (The 12 and 24 pack links will let you pick the flavors.)

For the Connoisseur 
One of the appeals of homemade soda is the gourmet side.  The Connoisseur will try any new flavor (No matter how weird ) they can get their hands on and has a running list of the ones that are the best.  

Flavors are funny things.  If they lean one way or another towards something else, it can make the difference between something delectable and something horrific.  For anyone who wants to brush up on their flavor pairing skills, the Flavor Thesaurus is the go-to book for mixing up something new.  Want to know if a bacon chocolate soda would work well? Consult the thesaurus.

Rox Ice Ball Maker
Part of being a connoisseur is consuming things in style.  For someone looking to make homemade soda say classy, swanky and hip, there's the Rox ice ball maker.  This mold will swank up your soda party with perfectly round ice balls.  After all, if you're bold enough to serve up a hibiscus-ginger-cucumber-melon-turmeric soda, shouldn't it be served on the Rox?  

For The Budding Pro
One of the common questions I get is "How do I take my soda commercial?"  That's not a road that I've trod, but I've seen some of the people that have.  It's got a lot of road blocks and obstacles, but one way to have the confidence to face them head on is with custom branded items.

Bottle Cap Mount Starr X Bottle Opener

Build your brand the easy way by picking up a cap mount Starr X Bottle Opener.  These are available in many colors and are the classic wall mount openers that haven't changed in nearly a century.  Just get yourself a custom cap, and mount it on the top nub.  If a cap mount isn't your style, you can get a special order one with your own logo from the Cap Monger on Etsy.

For The Health Nut
While I'm not opposed to difficult to pronounce ingredients, there are those that have made dietary choices to avoid artificial ingredients and chemicals.  Some found homemade soda a great way to feel good about what they put into their body and still enjoy some tasty fizz.

SipWell Stainless Steel Straws
Sipping sodas brings back memories of a bygone era, but concerns about chemicals in plastics and filling landfills may be on the forefront of a sodamaker's mind.  For some piece of mind, pick up some reusable stainless steel straws that can be cleaned and sanitized at high temperatures and reused indefinitely.  Careful, though, they're likely to get pretty cold in an ice cold beverage.

Carbonator Cap
While there are health merits to making your own soda, there is still a likelihood of consuming simply too much sugar.  So while having kegs of soda on hand seems like a wonderful idea, it may be a bit much for most people not serving a crowd.  The carbonator cap brings all the benefits of owning a kegging system down to a more manageable scale by allowing the carbonation of 2 liters or less at a time.  The cap fits on most standard 2L bottles and some smaller and hooks up to a ball lock disconnect attached to a regulated CO2 supply.  Just chill, pressurize, shake, and enjoy your favorite beverage, and unlike a sodastream, you won't ruin any warranties by carbonating whatever you please. Water, apple juice, milk, pudding, jell-o; you're only limited by your imagination (and the laws of physics, and your ability to get it out of the bottle).

June 19, 2015

More recipes in the works… somewhere… eventually…

So there haven’t been a lot of posts from me lately.  I know I don’t have a huge readership, but I feel bad leaving everybody hanging. 
Just to let everyone know, I’m no longer in grape country.  I’ve taken a new job closer to family and made a move from Pennsylvania to Utah.  So I traded views like this…

For this views like this…

So what does this have to do with sodamaking?  Well, a lot actually as I’ve discovered.  There aren’t many beer or winemaking stores very close nearby, so getting my hands on caps and some different ingredients isn’t going to be as easy. 

Additionally I’ve discovered that I can’t fit my bottle washer on any of my sinks in my new home.  Not a huge issue, I just need to take a trip to the hardware store to figure things out, but it does put a damper on things. 

Instead of having my vintage fridge in a dedicated space in the basement where it sits somewhat out of the way, it’s now in the garage, typically with a minivan in front of it, not allowing me to open it up.  And there’s no way it’s going in the basement either.  Getting it out of where it was I thought we were going to smash someone.   

The cost of CO2 tank refills is going to be a challenge.  The two places I’ve called are around $18 per fill versus the $10 per fill in Erie.  Unfortunately, at the same time, funding is down.  While I took a better paying job, the cost of moving across the country, a longer commute, cost of living changes, and a few other things has shaken up my finances a bit, so it will probably take a while to sort things out.  In conjunction with that, I’ve put my ebay sales on hold (which usually finance my hobbies) with moving, and since I don’t seem to have a post office nearby which is a new experience for me, that will probably stay on hold until I can figure out a way to make it a bit more convenient.

Moving to a new place obviously means leaving good folks behind.  We had a lot of good friends back in Erie, and it hurt to make the move in a lot of ways.  It seemed like there were lots of get-togethers that warranted lots of tasty, bubbly beverage.  Being in a new area doesn’t seem to come with as many gatherings right off the bat.  And no one here is expecting me to provide a keg yet, so I haven’t had many requests.  Sure we have family close by, and our summer schedule is quickly filling up, but it seems a lot of family members are dieting, including myself.  (Which is definitely commendable, don’t get me wrong). 

So, although the summer is a perfect time to make and enjoy a cold homemade soda for family picnics or holiday BBQs, my soda projects are on hold for the moment, or at least toned down.  I have some great recipes planned to post, but they will unfortunately have to wait.  They are coming, so stay tuned.  I haven’t left the sodamaking hobby behind.

I will gladly accept guest posts for the time being, and I would love to hear from fellow sodamakers and their challenges that they've seen.

March 7, 2015

Lessons Learned from a Homebrew Competition, Episode 2 (with 3 Recipes)

Once again I attended the Brewerie’s Annual Homebrew Fest, the Brewer's Cup. And once again I had an interesting experience serving soda at a beer event.  Even though I did this two years ago I feel I've come out with a few more lessons to learn for any homebrew event.

1. Serving from real faucets makes things so much easier.
This past year I picked up some fabulous Stainless Steel Perlick faucets for serving from my kegerator.  I had them mounted on some wooden slats that clipped to the beverage tub so I didn't need a drip tray.  These are by far the best thing I have done for dispensing soda.  The picnic taps I used two years ago got sticky, they were difficult to keep in place, and didn't adequately show what I had available to taste.  The Perlicks kept things cleaner, more organized, and the oversize bottle cap tap handles let people know what's on tap.  Though, people who see them and are familiar with draft dispensing equipment are always amazed I would spend that much "just for serving soda".  I think a lot of people don't realize the big difference there is between serving beer and serving soda.  Soda is lower pH (more acidic) and thus would eat through chrome plated brass faucets much more quickly.  So stainless steel is a must.  Soda is also higher in sugar content and stickier, so having a forward sealing design with less space for residual liquid to accumulate seemed like a better idea.  I've never let beverage sit in my faucets very long, so I don't know how long it would take for the standard faucets to gunk up, but since the stainless Perlicks were only marginally more expensive than standard stainless faucets, the choice was simple, really. 

2. If you're selling something, have a clearly marked price.
I took some copies of my book to sell in case anyone was interested in further recipes.  I didn't mind people asking how much I would sell for, and I did sell more than I expected, but I might have sold them all had I clearly marked them as for sale.  I also left my gold sharpie for autographing at home accidentally, so that didn't help.

3. When there's 60+ beers available for tasting, people will get pretty drunk.
I don't know if it was because this year was an evening event and last time was an afternoon event, but people seemed to imbibe a little more liberally than I remember last time.  I had a couple that were shouting at each other at my table and she was telling me not to give him any thing more to drink.  I was a bit perplexed since mine had no alcohol, so I didn't really heed her advice.  I served him some cherry pie soda and she started throwing popcorn into his glass and they started shouting obscenities at each other.  They had a friend there with them, that squeezed in between them to hand me his glass and was either oblivious to their raucous behavior or trying to deter it.  As he held out his glass he asked for one of my flavors and said quite matter of factly, "I'm not with them."  I'd seen him with them the first (more sober) time they came around to my table, so I knew better, but I give him a lot of props for being able to deal with it.  One girl had taken off her jacket and was in a tank top, despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside (granted there were a lot of people there and we were inside, but I still thought it was a bit chilly). I saw her swaying a bit with glazed eyes talking to a guy there, I thought she was going to fall over onto him.  Some people that came to my table near the end of the night I had a hard time understanding their slurred speech. One person saw the tall green bottles and excitedly asked if I was serving wine, I don't think she quite understood what I was saying when I explained what it really was.  I don't often hang out with heavy drinkers, so this was not normal for me.

4. Don't assume the inebriated to reason as well as the sober.
So this is a lesson that is a combination of #2 and #3.  Because I had my books out and not clearly priced, a couple of copies walked off when I wasn't looking.  Ouch, there goes $40.  I saw a girl carrying them out the door, but couldn't catch her in time and wouldn't know what to say exactly if I could.  It was more or less my own fault by not clearly labeling them as "for sale" instead of as freebies.  I saw a couple of people walking around with copies of Zymurgy magazine, and I figured probably someone was giving those away.  My books were apparently mistaken for the same.  I also had business cards out, so if you've come to this blog from my card and happened to pick up a couple of "free" copies of my book, I'd be more than happy to autograph them for you for the small price of $20 each. (That's $5 off the list price, so you know you're getting a deal!)  You've (hopefully) got my card, so you know how to contact me.

5. Keep it simple
Having learned from last time not to make too much, I planned accordingly this time.  One keg of Cherry Pie, one keg of Sarsaparilla, and one keg worth of Orange Creamsicle in bottles.  It was a lot easier to lug all of that in this time around rather than last time when I brought double that amount.  I still only went through a portion of that, but I have a lot less left over than last time.  I also paid better attention to the note on the entry information that said ice was provided, so I didn't have that to lug in this time either.  Simply cutting back on what I brought made it a lot less stressful and easier to handle.  I'm also glad that even though I was serving from faucets, I didn't need to lug around a draft box like I had wished I had had last time.  The event wasn't long enough for the kegs to get too warm and they served pretty cold without a problem.

As promised to the attendees, here are the recipes that I served at the event:

Cherry Pie Soda
Nearly identical to the Blueberry Pie Soda Recipe I posted last year, this recipe uses cherry juice, caramel malt, butter flavor, and vanilla extract to make you think you're eating a real cherry pie.
For a 4 gallon batch, I used:
32oz R.W. Knudsen Just Tart Cherry juice
1 cup Caramunich III caramel malt
7 cups sugar
4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp butter flavor
top up to 4 gallons with water

Crush and steep the malt in about 2 cups of water. Strain and set aside. Heat the sugar with 1/2 cup or so of water to dissolve or invert if you wish. Combine the sugar, liquid from the malt, juice and flavorings for your syrup. There's a pretty heavy volume of water, so it is a thin syrup. This recipe works well to add the water and then carbonate in a keg for the best carbonation, but it does still work as a syrup + seltzer version as well.

Sarsaparilla root is not as strong as sassafras, but it is a common ingredient for root beer.  The flavor of this one lands somewhere between a root beer and a cream soda.  I yeast carbonated this on in the keg to showcase something more akin to homebrew for this event.
For a 4 gallon batch, I used:
1/2 oz Sarsaparilla Root
1/2 oz Wintergreen Leaves
4 lbs light brown sugar  (dark brown sugar can also be used for a fuller flavor)
1/2 tsp Red Star Pasteur Champagne Yeast
4 grams Fermaid K Yeast Nutrient
4 gallons water

Begin with as much water as is practical to strain, add the sarsaparilla and wintergreen and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and allow to steep for about an hour. Strain the liquid through a coffee filter to remove as many of the solids as possible.  Add that to the keg.  Heat the brown sugar in a small amount of water to dissolve, then add to the keg.  Allow to cool below 100°F before adding yeast.  Hydrate the yeast in a small amount of room temperature water (with a bit of sugar added) and add to the keg when cooled.  Top up to 4 gallons and add the yeast nutrient.  Close up the keg (pressurize with enough CO2 to ensure a seal if necessary).  Allow to ferment at about 80° for 24-36 hours or to appropriate carbonation level.  My OG was 1.044 and I ended with 1.040.  Refrigerate immediately and serve when chilled

Orange Creamsicle
Orange juice and vanilla combine to make a classic creamy orange flavor.
For a 5 gallon batch, I used:
10 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups orange juice concentrate
5 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 drops Natural Orange Oil Flavoring
1 Tbsp lemon juice
top up to 5 gallons with carbonated water

Invert the sugar by combine with the lemon juice and 4 cups of water and heat to 240°F.  Remove from heat and add 2 additional cups of water to cool the mixture, then add the orange juice concentrate, vanilla and orange oil.  Stir until thoroughly combined and use as a syrup to add to carbonated water.  If adding to a keg, fill to 5 gallons and carbonate.  If mixing in smaller amounts, syrup to water ratio is between 1:5 and 1:6 depending on what suites your taste.

December 30, 2014

Year in Review - Top 5 Homemade Soda Recipes of 2014

Another year has come to a close and it's been a decent enough one.  The biggest thing to happen this year is that my book hit store shelves and is now available to the masses.   I didn't dream up as many recipes as I have in past years, but I was somewhat focused on book marketing and other things, so I don't feel too disappointed, especially considering that they've been pretty good quality.  There's still time to whip up something tasty for New Year's Eve, so here's the top five in case you missed them:

#5 - Blueberry Pie Soda

This was a little something I made as a special treat for some friends as a fun way to announce the gender of our next child.  I figured boy=blue, so blue...berry pie would be perfect.  It seemed appropriate for the approaching summer and was quite a hit among friends, even though it wasn't all that blue.

#4 - Blue Bubble Gum Soda

This was my take on both Jones' Blue Bubble Gum and as a checkmark off my Recipe Challenge pinterest board.  The recipe is not mine, but comes from Cherry Tea Cakes.  It turned out fine, though not an exact match to Jones.  I think I prefer the fruitier version that I put into my book, even though it's not blue.

#3 - Psych Roasted Pineapple Soda

 Every bit worthy of a fist bump, this was a tribute to the final season of USA network's Psych.  The only show where there is a pineapple in every episode.  A smoky version of the tasty fruit, this recipe incorporates smoked malt for the grilled notes for a more in depth flavor.  I love that the pineapple juice adds a little bit of head at the top.

#2 - Grape Lime Rickey Soda

This was meant to be a match to the Arizona Beverage Co.'s Grape Lime Rickey and tastes very refreshing for a summer afternoon.  This was a very popular recipe this year and even got served at my sister-in-law's wedding.  

#1 - Mockter Pepper

 With the release of my book this year, I had the opportunity to do some radio interviews and participate in a few giveaways.  It was quite a blast to enjoy the 15 minutes of fame.  As part of the marketing and probably the best revealed recipe of the book has been the recipe for homemade Dr Pepper.  It's not meant to pull out every nuance of the 23 mysterious flavors or topple the beverage giants, but this is a pretty good representation of a classic Dr Pepper for your homebrew keg or sodastream.  There are even instructions for fermenting it to get the carbonation.  Plus, gorgeous photography.

So there you have the top recipes of 2014!  I hope you have a Happy New Year and enjoy some tasty homemade soda along the way!  There are many more recipes to come, so stay tuned.  I'm excited to see what 2015 will bring.

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