June 29, 2011

Book Review: "Homemade Soda" by Andrew Schloss

from Storey Publishing
Available from Amazon (also on Kindle), Barnes and Noble (also on Nook).

I saw that this was released early this May and I have been aching to get my hands on a copy. On the surface, it appears to be an updated version of Cresswell’s book, some recipes even look similar. Schloss’ 7-Root Beer (pg. 94) bears some resemblance to Cresswell’s 10 Root Spring Tonic if only in complexity. Deeper examination reveals that the two are companions, rather than one replacing the other. Schloss’ book seems to have more of a “health food” slant, with sections on sparkling waters (similar to a carbonated mineral or vitamin water) plus herbal and energy drinks. However, the book does have its fair share or more of indulgent recipes as well. Where Cresswell is the expert on basic, tried-and-true stand by recipes, Schloss writes to the established foodie who is unafraid to try new and unconventional culinary concoctions and blends such as prune and chocolate, rosemary with berries, and ancho chile and lime. Even the the array of classic recipes is more diverse with a couple of different colas and even the original Orange Crush recipe (pg. 66).

His intended foodie audience is ever apparent when considering all the recipes are scaled to single servings, most likely for those accustomed to venturing alone into uncharted culinary territories. I have felt that disappointment myself when I have made even a one gallon batch of beverage which I am left to consume alone. That being said, each recipe is scaled differently depending on the most convenient and most appropriate preparation method.

Schloss’s book is set up similar to Cresswell’s in that he begins with an intriguing history of carbonated beverages. While Schloss’s history seems more inclusive, some pieces don’t seem to fit with that recounted by Cresswell. Which is more accurate is hard to say, nonetheless a moot point. Along with the history, Schloss occasionally hints at imminent scientific discussion, only to vaguely yet tastefully steer away from it. For a food scientist like me, this is a bit disappointing. For the average foodie, this seems a natural flow of discourse more directed toward great flavor rather than the nitty gritty chemistry.

That particular slant is actually one thing that makes the book great. Schloss’s passion for things new and exciting, as well as for mimicking old stand-bys, shows through in every recipe, no matter how simple.

Schloss makes his recipes more appealing to a wider audience by providing multiple carbonation instructions for most recipes. He offers up instructions on carbonating in a siphon (force carbonating), mixing with seltzer (post mixing) or brewing (natural carbonation from yeast). Some recipes do have instructions for all three, but some recipes lend themselves better to different methods, such as the Fermented Honey Soda. Fermenting gives a more complex flavor and would be more like a traditional mead, whereas force carbonation will be more of a honey sweetened seltzer with a more simple flavor.

A disadvantage perhaps unseen by many would be that many recipes are to be made and consumed right away. Certainly those recipes for which brewing instructions are included can be stored for some length of time, but the rest would not bottle well due to ingredient concerns. Some have ingredients susceptible to microbial contamination (there’s an entire section on cream sodas, most using real cream or milk) if stored for a length of time, others have ingredients that would settle out or separate if bottled. While these are still great recipes, and Schloss makes no pretense that these recipes can or should be bottled, the reader should be sure they know the implications of bottling should they choose to do so. I personally think that there is something to be said for “bottle conditioning” certain sodas, as certain flavors change (for better or for worse) over time.

With most of the recipes being single serve or small batch, those making their own sodas for economic savings over commercial sodas may be disappointed. Some specialty ingredients are necessary for certain recipes that may make them more costly. The reader should keep in mind that the commercial equivalent of Schloss’s recipes would definitely fall under the category of boutique or gourmet sodas along the lines of Thomas Kemper and Sprecher or better. Even the most simple recipes compete at the gourmet level. Such as the Sparkling Honey Lemonade (pg. 58), which is at parity with an authentic Italian limonata such as San Pellegrino, yet more complex with the floral notes provided by the honey. These recipes are certainly for the artisan soda maker, the craft brewer and the DIYer who’s looking for something incomparably better than what’s available for commercially.

With 200 recipes, including a myriad of recipes for foods made with homemade or commercial sodas, Schloss definitely adds inspiring variety to any homemade soda brewer’s repertoire. I highly recommend a copy.
"Homemade Soda: 200 Recipes..." by Andrew Schloss

June 27, 2011

Recipe 11 - Harry Potter's Butterbeer v1.0

This is something that I've wanted to do for a long time even before Universal starting selling $4 cream sodas topped with butterscotch cream at their park. Having read the Harry Potter series a couple of times, I was very intriqued with the butterbeer concept. I thought it must be a flavor similar to butterscotch or butter rum, but it would have to have something that differentiated it from those two for it to have the beer moniker. I came to the conclusion that the chief distinction would have to be the source, I have some Briess caramel malt 20L for another project, and thought it would be a good fit.

When I made up the syrup, it tasted fantastic! Once I hit it with the carbonated water, it was actually quite the opposite. Like the chocolate recipe I posted earlier, I'm posting this with the caveat that it is not a completed recipe, but rather a work in progress. Stay tuned for version 2 and pictures to come. Don't worry, I'll be sure and have a perfected recipe with plenty of time to brew a batch for your Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 release party!

Yield is 1 gallon:
1/4 cup caramel malt, cracked
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar - caramelized
1 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp butter flavor
1 tsp salt

Once you have your caramel malt (available at a homebrew supply store), you'll want to crush or crack it. An adjustable grain mill is what I use, and it works quite well. If you don't have a mill, you can steep them whole, and crush them with the back of a large spoon while they are in the pan about 10 minutes in. This is not quite as effective as the mill, but it works.

In a saucepan, steep the crushed malt in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes at 170F. If you don't have a thermometer, bring your water to just below boiling. It should be steaming and you should see small bubbles clinging to the bottom of the pan. At this point, turn your stove to low/medium low to hold that temperature throughout steeping. Once finished, strain out the larger pieces of grain and allow the rest of the sediment to settle out.

After it has cooled and the sediment has settled, filter through a coffee filter. I've found that if you slowly decant off the top portion through the filter first, you can remove most of the sediment without clogging the filter.

In a separate dry saucepan, caramelize the white sugar over medium heat while stirring constantly. You want the sugar to caramelize evenly, so as you're stirring, try and keep the melting sugar in contact with the bottom of the pan for as little time as possible, it burns rather quickly. Once most of the sugar is melted and the overall color is golden, slowly add 1 cup of water. It boils on contact, so be careful, stir it as you add so the melted sugar doesn't harden in the water.

Once all your water has been added and the hissing and spitting has died down, you'll want to add the brown sugar, molasses and salt and heat until dissolved and the volume has been reduced significantly. At that point, add your malt water, mix well, and allow the syrup to cool. Once cooled, add the butter flavor and you're ready to add carbonated water up to 1 gallon.

So after making this, it's very apparent that there's simply too much salt. It was salty enough that I poured out about half the batch. Some suggestions would be to throw out the salt entirely, and substitute another cup and a half of brown sugar for the 1 cup of white. Other than that, this would be an excellent beverage while enjoying your favourite quidditch match. Er... something like that.

June 11, 2011

Book Review: Stephen Cresswell's "Homemade Root Beer, Pop, and Soda"

from Storey Publishing
Available from Amazon (also on Kindle), Barnes and Noble (also on Nook)

This is the book that got me started on homemade soda. I was searching for what roots were in root beer and came across this in a local library. No library is complete without a copy. One thing that makes this an excellent resource for someone looking to create homemade sodas is that Cresswell gives a clear context on what it takes to start from scratch and work your way up to being an advanced brewer. The book is planned perfectly to help the reader step by step. He begins with an engaging history on root beer and carbonated beverages in general which is in itself worth picking up a copy. Indeed every page instills romantic nostalgia for all things soda related. Cresswell lays out a discussion on necessary equipment, categorized according to what’s necessary and what’s just nice to have. As many hobbyists know, understanding what might be extraneous when just starting out is always encouraging when starting a new hobby. Then, the recipes begin with easy, 4 and 5 ingredient first batch recipes and Cresswell works the reader up through more complicated recipes on to helpful tips for many aspects including creating one’s own recipes, using natural roots and other ingredients, and troubleshooting what might have gone wrong in the event of a bad batch. In addition to being well versed in pop’s history, Cresswell also provides historical and vintage recipes from yesteryear, even as far back as
Colonial America.

Included recipes range from simple old-fashioned root beer to the spicey Virgin Islands ginger beer and the interesting Russian kvass. In addition to bottled drink recipes, there are a number of traditional beverage recipes for smoothies, spiced coffee drinks, and even egg nog.

Creswell is very up front about doing things the old fashioned way – carbonating with yeast, bottling in glass bottles. While this is part of the allure of homemade soda, this becomes one of the book’s shortcomings in that Cresswell only briefly discusses other methods for carbonating and glosses over the safety issues of natural carbonation in glass bottles. Most homebrewers will consider unchecked fermentation in glass as “bottle bombs”, i.e. when there is enough sugar to cause the bottles to burst. It is usually suggested on forums and elsewhere that soda brewers reuse commercial PET bottles, whereas Cresswell mentions that while plastic bottles will work, they have limited use.

Another downside is that the book is somewhat dated on ingredient sourcing. Ingredient sourcing is now a breeze with specialty internet shops selling bulk roots and herbs. There was much less of this in 1998 at the time of the book’s release, leaving the reader feeling limited to local flora for ingredients which are often regional and seasonal.

The book does however have an excellent reference section, including references for the historical recipes found throughout the book. The references are a great resource for those wanting to delve deeper into other homebrewing, digging for local roots and herbs, and searching out more vintage recipes and history.

At 120 pgs, the book is a great way to get a jump start on homemade soda, without feeling
overwhelmed with complicated recipes or feeling like you’re plowing through a thick university text.

Homemade Root Beer, Soda & Pop
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