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This month's question: How do I make soda?

Answer: Making soda, like making beer, can be very easy, or can be long and complicated, depending on the level of involvement you are willing to do. The easy way is to use some of the soda extracts that they sell at the shop and add sugar and water.

There are two main procedures for making soda, depending on how you want to carbonate it: yeast fermentation and force carbonation. Force carbonation is easier and quicker, but of course, you need to have kegging equipment. It is a bit more complicated if you are planning to bottle the batch, but on the whole, it is still easier than most beers.

The trickiest thing about sodas is that typically there is lots of free sugar in the finished product. This makes it prone to overcarbonation, and unwanted secondary fermentations. If you're not careful, that ginger ale will be come ginger beer!

The recipe that comes with soda extract calls for rehydrating dry yeast. Add the extract and four pounds of sugar to four gallons of warm water at 100 to 110°F. Then bottle immediately. If you use this procedure, you have to make sure you can store it cold once it has reached the correct level of carbonation, so the yeast is deactivated. If it stays warm, you'll have bottle bombs for sure. Ignore the stuff about the right amount of yeast. It's wrong! You cannot control the carbonation level by adjusting the amount of yeast. It says you can use just about any type of yeast. However, I strongly recommend against using a lager yeast, since these will keep going even when cold.

There are a few other methods to avoid the uncontrolled fermentation problem:

  1. Use the "low calorie" recipe that comes in the extract package. You add just enough sugar for carbonation, and make up the balance with artificial sweetener. Use ¼ pound of priming sugar in a 4 gallon batch. This is just like priming a batch of beer and leads to a fairly stable shelf life.
  2. Use lactose for the bulk of the sugar and add ¼ lb priming sugar. The yeast won't be able to ferment the lactose.

If you use the natural carbonation method, you'll need to allow three to four days at room temperature for the yeast to carbonate the beer, and another week or so of refrigeration for it to mellow out.
If you have kegging equipment, I recommend force carbonating the soda. This is very quick and simple and avoids the whole yeast control issue.

Here is the simplest procedure:
Ingredients for 4 gallons:
1 bottle soda extract (cola, root beer, etc.)
8 cups sugar (4 pounds).
Dissolve extract and sugar in water.
Dump into a 5 gallon keg.
Force carbonate at 15 psi.
Refrigerate and serve.
Easy, right?

As with any food preparation process, you want to be careful of sanitation. Note that these procedures don't have any boiling, so there is a chance that they can get contaminated. If possible, make your soda so that it will be ready for serving as soon as possible. Keep refrigerated if you want to keep it a while. If you've tried the extracts at the shop and are ready to go on to more interesting recipes, check out these two provided by Tom Rierson and Bob Kaisaki. Both are still quite simple and will have more of a punch.

Bob Kaisaki's Vanilla Cream Soda
5 gal filter water
4 oz Gnome Old Fashioned Vanilla Cream Extract
1/2 oz Vanilla Extract
2 lbs..10oz Cane Sugar

Heat 5 gallons filter water
Add sugar and stir (you might to start with less sugar and add more to
taste once you added the extract). When sugar is completely dissolved add extracts and stir.
Turn heat off.
Transfer to 5 gallon Keg.
Force carbonate.

Tom Rierson's Jamaica Ginger Soda
1 gallon water
2 cups sugar
12 oz. ginger sliced very thin (can use more if you like it spicey)
4 quarts Raspberry Lemonade (reconstituted frozen-concentrate)

Boil ginger in the water for 15 minutes then strain out ginger slices.
Add sugar and lemonade.
Chill and force carbonate in refrigerator for several days before serving.
Makes about 2 gallons.