October 20, 2011

Recipe 15: Halloween Root Beer with Dry Ice

As the harvest season approaches, there are invariably countless Halloween parties at which homemade rootbeer is a staple. I don’t know if it’s the dry ice in the bubbling “witch’s brew” that makes us think of Halloween, or if enjoying a root brew has always been traditional this time of year. One thing is for sure, whenever I think of homemade soda with dry ice, I think of the large orange beverage cooler bubbling at a church Halloween party, with little kids hoping to get just a little sliver of that dry ice in their cup so they can watch it bubble and “smoke” until it quickly disappears.

If you’re planning a party with just such a brew, here are some tips on carbonating with dry ice to get the best carbonation in your beverage.

- A general rule of thumb is 1 lb of dry ice/gallon. This is going to bubble like crazy, so make sure you have a lid for your orange beverage cooler to contain the splashes.

- Also easy to remember is 1 lb of sugar/ gallon. This may seem like a lot, but it is the same amount of sugar as Kool-Aid, so it’s nothing you haven’t imbibed before.

- How much carbonation a drink will hold is mostly a function of temperature and pressure. As the drink gets colder and the more pressure the drink is under, the more carbonation it will hold. Increasing pressure can be difficult and dangerous (especially with 5 lbs of dry ice), placing the lid on the cooler will certainly help, but you’ll get more results with keeping it cold. Dry ice will chill it, but you’ll be much farther ahead if you start out as cold as you can go. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight if you have that much space, or add some of your water as ice. With that much sugar you should be able to get it just below 32 degrees before it freezes.

- You’ll get more mileage out of your dry ice if you don’t add it all at once. Add about 1 lb and stir until it’s gone. The agitation will ensure that you get even cooling, pH adjustment, and carbonation from the first pound, then add the rest and let it sit.

So why does dry ice carbonate water? Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide or CO2, it’s held at a temperature of about -110F. Instead of melting, it sublimates, meaning it goes straight from solid to gas. As the gas bubbles through the water, some of it dissolves into solution, creating carbonic acid, or H2CO3. Carbonic acid readily breaks down at room temperature and pressure to 1 molecule of CO2 and 1 molecule of H2O, carbon dioxide and water. Many people think that the tingle of soda in their mouth is the bubbles, but part of it is the bite of the acid.

5x5 Halloween Root Beer Recipe:

5 gallons water

5 lbs sugar

5 lbs dry ice

5 ounces extract(2 oz rootbeer, 3 oz vanilla)

Combine water, sugar, and extracts in a 6 gallon or larger beverage cooler (you’ll need extra space so it doesn’t bubble over). Make sure this is as cold as it can possibly get, or chill it overnight if you have space. 1-2 hours before serving, add 1 lb dry ice and stir until dissolved. Add the rest of the dry ice and let it sit for the remainder of the serving time.

I wish I had a lovely picture of this, it's always fun to see all that bubbling brew.  Maybe closer to Halloween one will pop up, no pun intended.

October 13, 2011

Recipe 14: Homemade Mountain Dew / Sun Drop Clone

Let me preface this by saying I'm not a Mountain Dew drinker.  Really the only time that I can think of that I actually drank Mt. Dew and said "Wow, this is good!" Was after being in Italy for a year and a half drinking the bitterness they pass off as soft drinks. 
I shouldn't say that, Italian beverages are fine.  Some are an acquired taste, but there's nothing inherently wrong with them.  They do run light on the sugar, though.  So it's possible that my taste of Mt. Dew that made me think it was a good drink was based on sugar content.  I love sugar.  When I returned back to the States and acclimated myself to standard US syrupy goodness, Mt. Dew was just kind of *meh*.  So this may not be an exact match, but it's a start for anyone looking for a match. 

2 cups sugar, inverted in 1 cup water (with 1/4 tsp cream of tartar, see recipe below)
Juice from:
2 oranges (about 1/2 cup)
2 lemons (about 1/2 cup)
2 limes (about 1/4 cup)

1 cup water
Peel from:
1/2 orange
1/2 lemon
1/2 lime

Carbonated water up to 1 gallon.

Combine sugar, 1 cup water, and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes.  Allow to cool. Bring the other 1 cup of water to a boil separately. Add the citrus peels, remove from heat and cover. Allow to steep until it has cooled to room temperature. Strain and add to sugar solution, along with the strained juices Ensure it is well blended. Add to carbonated water and mix gently until dissolved.

This has a bitter citrus bite because of the peels, there's that acquired Italian influence sneaking in there.  Feel free to adjust as you see fit.  If your a Mt. Dew drinker because of the caffeine, you'll need to add that separately. As you can see, it's not as green as the commercial version, but does it really need to be?

I'm thinking that this does need some work, but it's at least a start.  I know some people online have been looking around for something like this, so here it is!

Update July 2014: Because this is such a popular recipe, I've included it in my book - Making Soda at Home.  The recipe there takes on a slight variation and also includes methods for carbonating via fermentation or force carbonating like pre-mix rather than just making a syrup to add to carbonated water.

October 8, 2011

Homemade Soda: Cheaper than Store Bought?

I like to keep tabs on what homemade soda information is available on the web. A couple weeks ago I found this article from the Christian Science Monitor by a Trent Hamm. It talks about the other costs associated with drinking homemade soda, particularly health costs.  In my opinion, it seems a bit narrow minded and kind of misses the mark.

I agree that drinking that much sugar is not anything near healthy. But there are some calculations in the article that could use a second look. The article compares Sodastream cola to Coca Cola. First, let's look at the financial aspect: The article says that using the Sodastreams syrups you spend about $0.40/liter.  One thing they forgot was the ridiculous amount you end up paying for a cylinder exchange.  Generally, about $15 per cylinder which works out to an extra $0.25/liter.  So sorry kids, you're spending $0.65/liter for Sodastream beverages.  Compared to the $0.70/liter for cans of Coke.  So you'd have to drink 1600 liters for you to make the initial machine investment worth your while.  You'd be way worse off in reality than what you thought following Hamm's method.

As far as the health aspect goes, what Hamm doesn't realize is that each serving of Coke has 100 calories while each serving of Sodastream Cola has only 35 calories.  27g of sugar compared to 8g.  So in reality, you'd only be consuming 112 lbs of sugar from that amount of Sodastream cola rather than the 380 lbs of sugar you'd consume from that amount of Coke.  Hmm... that sort of waters down his claim about the health consequences of the Sodastream.  Even if it is still more than Hamm's original estimate, it's actually sort of a selling point for the silly little contraption.  Though, that's still a ton of sugar.

Perhaps the best way to look at it economically are the following two scenarios:
Club Soda - For some strange reason, I can't find a decent sized bottle of seltzer anywhere in this town.  The largest bottle I've found is a 1L, and the cheapest that's been is $0.50.  Now I know there are companies that make 2L bottles, but I guess there just isn't a market for that here.  Anyway, The soda stream could carbonate water for $0.25/liter as noted above for cost of the CO2.  So you'd have to drink 320L of club soda to break even on the device.  Plus, no significant negative health consequences.  That's still a lot, but not as bad as the cola. 
And since I'm by no means trying to sell the Sodastream to anyone, let's look at my method: the soda keg.  I can carbonate water for about $.09/liter.  However, I paid more for my setup, so I actually don't break even until I hit 365L of club soda, so kind of a bummer.  

Gourmet Soda - Coke is like the Buick Century of sodas.  It's a staple.  Decent, but ubiquitous and thus, inexpensive.  In fact, some places use the name Coke to mean any type of soda.  What Hamm doesn't take into account is the quality of homemade soda that equipment like this can churn out.  What we're looking at here is a not a way to duplicate the Buick, but a way to build our own Alfa Romeo.  I'm going to consider a recipe from Andrew Schloss that in my opinion is even better than an Italian import, San Pellegrino Limonata.   I can buy a six pack of 330mL cans of Limonata for about $6.  That's about $3.03/liter.  Ouch!  But, honestly, it's worth it.  Schloss's recipe in my setup gets me a better product for about $0.99/liter.  Huzzah! So I really only have to make 144L of that for me to break even on my equipment or 42L on the Sodastream... interesting.  Additionally, when I can make something that good, I'm going to want to share it so I can show of my beverage making skills. So I guarantee that I won't be drinking it all by myself and I won't be shouldering that health burden of all those extra calories alone. 

The bottom line: soda isn't the best choice of beverage, but if you want to make it yourself, you do have a little bit more control over your finances, your health, and the quality of your soda compared to drinking standard commercial fare.  
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