My son, Nathan, attended a retirement party a few weeks ago and returned home with a case of soda that had been left behind. Soda is just not something we generally drink. Occasionally, we may indulge in a root beer and our co-op carries a blueberry soda that is much more blueberry than sugar or fizz but these are fairly rare purchases and our kids are just not accustomed to having soda in the house. You would think that this would give soda great appeal but it didn’t. That case of soda just sat there, day after day, taking up space and taunting me.
I remember liking soda as a child. So on one of those meltingly hot afternoons we’ve all experienced this summer, I gave in to temptation and opened a can. I poured it over ice and sat on the porch, ready to be transported to my childhood. Well. Not so much as it turns out. Was soda always so cloying sweet? Did it have that chemical aftertaste before? Was the level of fizz always more irritating than refreshing? I can’t say for sure. I do know that I, a person who abhors waste, poured it out and enjoyed a glass of iced water with a sprig of lemon verbena.
This leads me to the reason I decided to spend Wednesday afternoon making a batch of ginger ale. If you have never made soda, I can imagine that it seems like one of those insanely difficult tasks requiring all sorts of fancy skills and hard-to-find equipment. Not so. Soda requires not much beyond simmering water and flavoring, in this case an ounce and a half of fresh grated ginger, adding some sugar and getting the whole mess down to room temperature before adding some proofed yeast and then bottling it all up for a few days to ferment.
I’m going to make a PRONOUNCEMENT here. I don’t make a lot of PRONOUNCEMENTS but this one is important. You need to get some heavy, non-threaded bottles for this. It’s possible for the yeast to get away from you, especially in the heat, and flimsy bottles can explode.
The second part of this PRONOUNCEMENT is that directions for letting the soda ferment say to let it set for 48 hours and then check to see how fizzy it is. This means you need to open a bottle and check in the next 48 hours. If you wait for perhaps seven days before checking you might experience the kind of explosion of sticky sweetness that involves washing the floors (twice), the walls, the windows and even the ceiling. It’s the kind of event that could put you off trying again for a good long time. (How do you suppose I know this?)
I certainly hope my “incident” does not put you off trying this truly simple and fun project. Following the directions helps a lot. I got mine from Stephen Cresswell’s book, Homemade Root Beer, Soda and Pop. I got a big sack of caps and a bottle capper from Lehman’s. It’s so much fun to use that you might consider making soda just for the entertainment value of the capper.
I do have one further piece of advice. I sent my husband to the transfer station to round up a dozen of the heavy bottles I needed for making my first batch of soda. He came back with a sack full. What he had failed to notice was that nearly all the bottles had formerly held beer. As the liquid was already simmering, I had no choice but to use what I had. I sterilized them all and went on to make a truly wonderful batch of ginger ale. The kids all wondered why I refused to let them consume the soda out of the bottle and instead insisted on pouring it into a glass. I’ll bet you can guess why!