Expert tips: homemade soda

soda-cannonborough-vertical-crdt-olivia-rae-jamesIn the September/October 2015 issue, we take a look at the next generation of small-batch soda makers popping up across North America. Charleston’s Cannonborough Beverage Co. is one such company, specializing in all-natural sodas—including honey-basil, elderberry and grapefruit. Here, co-founder Mick Matricciano shares some handy DIY tips to help you make quality homemade sodas.

Simple Flavors
When dreaming up flavor combinations for homemade soda, less is almost always more. There is a culinary equivalent to the Law of Diminishing Returns we like to call “flavor creep,” and it’s an easy trap to fall into. By limiting yourself to just two or three flavor elements to complement or contrast, you can enhance nuances in the fruits that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. A great example is adding seeded jalapeño juice to fresh strawberries. The vegetal aroma of the pepper creates a backbone for the delicate savory qualities already present in the fruit.

Finely Strain
Finely straining your juices is one of the most important steps to making great soda. Not only does it effect mouthfeel, but any remaining particulates will create what are called “nucleation sites,” Because C02 is only weakly held in suspension, these nucleation sites are a pathway for carbonation to escape, resulting in overly foamy sodas. The more finely you can strain your juices, the lighter, cleaner and more crisply carbonated your sodas will turn out.

Experiment With Acids/Sweeteners
When balancing a soda, there are three elements to always keep in mind: concentration, sweetness and acidity. By experimenting with non-traditional sweeteners and acids, you can bring those elements to your soda while adding flavor. Sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey can add more complexity than cane sugar, and things like phosphoric acid, or different vinegars can balance sweetness with a completely different flavor profile than citrus juice. Concentration of these ingredients is the final piece of the puzzle to achieve balance.

The Colder the Better
The size and duration of your bubbles is largely determined by the amount of C02 dissolved in the liquid. The closer you get to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the stronger the bonds of H20 and C02 become. By chilling everything down before carbonating, you can ensure tight, springy, champagne-like bubbles that last long after you pour a glass.

Purge Oxygen
Oxygen present in your soda will eventually lead to the breakdown of the volatile aromatics you’ve worked so hard to preserve. If you plan on storing your soda for more than a few days, it’s important to purge the tank of oxygen to stop the process. If you’re using something like an ISI charger (which I recommend) simply fill and assemble the canister. Before you charge it with C02, turn the canister upside down, and charge, bottom up. This forces the gas into a pocket at the base of the canister, and because oxygen is heavier than C02, you can press the dispenser, purging the oxygen and C02 without wasting any soda. At this point, the canister will be rid of most of the oxygen and you can carbonate as you normally would.

Shake Your Soda
This seems counterintuitive, but it’s the quickest and most efficient way to trap bubbles in a liquid. As soon as your soda is chilled and charged, shake the canister for 1 to 2 minutes and set it in the fridge to settle for another 15. This works because when you add pressure to a vessel, everything inside wants to be at equilibrium. By agitating the liquid, you increase the surface area of liquid coming into contact (and binding with) C02, speeding up the process. The amount of gas trapped in the liquid is equal to the pressure in the headspace, meaning your soda is ready to pour, foam free.

Slightly Sweeter
If you’ve ever wondered why a flat soda tastes sweeter than a fully carbonated soda, the answer is H2C03, otherwise known as carbonic acid. When C02 is forced into a liquid and allowed to dissolve, it bonds with H20, creating H2C03. The more C02 dissolved in your soda, the more carbonic acid will be present, which in turn effects the sweetness of the finished product. By making your soda base just slightly sweeter than you’d like the finished soda to be, the additional carbonic acid will result in a perfectly balanced soda.