Looking for more

One of the things that I like about the Zune is that it has podcast support that is more like how I really use them rather than the way they work with iTunes. It’s not perfect by any stretch (Why can’t I squirt a podcast?) but it’s generally very good. Good enough that I’m looking for more content to listen to.

I have two very different kinds of podcasts that I listen to for very different environments. I find that I can’t listen to people talking without having to pay attention to them, at least if I want to get anything out of it. This is just as true of talk radio as it is of audio books. I also find that after 45 minutes of people yakking I get really, really bored pretty quickly but I find items less than 10min long to not be worth the effort to fiddle with the player to listen to (Not perfect #2: Can’t put them in playlists). Which is really unfortunate since I otherwise would have a couple of really short items that I do like (The Engines of Our Ingenuity being a prime example).

So here’s what I’m currently listening to:

I also really used to love SpaceMusic, but that shifted to a paid subscription model a year or so ago. Though looking on the site now there does appear to be some free stuff again so maybe I’ll take a look at them again.

Any suggestions anyone?

Swing the night away

This weekend is the final half of the Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival, which has quite a few local and national jazz acts performing on mostly free stages in and around Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. I have been to at least some portion of each of the last four festivals and have been looking forward to this year’s event. I was a little disappointed to note that the festival is a fair bit smaller than it has been in the past, with only a single free stage on Friday night in Peavey Plaza, and two free stages Saturday and Sunday. In comparison, two years ago I remember there being five stages running all day on Saturday and Sunday.

For the most part I have been going to the parts of the festival that I have been able to get to by myself but this year I was fortunate enough to remember to invite my dad early enough that he might not have fully booked his schedule yet, and so he and I had a grand evening last night enjoying the festival and each other’s company.

The day started out somewhat mixed when I ended up having significant car trouble from what has turned out to be a bad tank of fuel. I had stopped at a new Biodiesel pump on the southeast corner of 66th St and Portland Ave in Richfield on Thursday afternoon and not driven much after filling most of the tank. Friday morning on the way into work I noticed that the car was performing very sluggishly and the exhaust was both extremely thick and smelled quite intensely of burning something and the nice people at West Side VW where quite surprised that the engine was able to do much with whatever had been sold to me as fuel. Still, emptying the entire system, clearing the lines, a new fuel filter, and at least some cleaning of the fuel pump will hopefully get things running fine sometime today.

In any case, this did change plans somewhat as I would not be able to meet my dad at my house as had been planned, but it was not a huge deal for him to pick me up at work, and from there were went to my place and took the LRT into downtown for the festival, only an hour later than we had hoped and unfortunately having missed Ginger Commodore. Neither of us had managed to have dinner yet so when we arrived were quite hungry and while it might have been interesting to stay for Dan Kusz‘s set on the main stage, the song they were performing wasn’t nearly as interesting as the possibility of food so we popped into Brit’s for a good meal.

Well sated, and having had a chance to talk, we were lucky enough to came out just in time to see the third act for the night, Grace Kelly. Being 15 she definitely lacked some of the polish and long experience that I often see on the main stage, but she made up for all of that and more with raw talent and vivacious dedication to her sax playing, as well as her singing, and even managed to surprise with a couple of tunes she had composed herself.

The last main stage set was the one that I had been looking forward to and Barbara Morrison was even more fun this year than last. Getting to hear her is such a treat with her fabulous stage presence and wicked humor between songs it makes for a great way to end the night. The dancers tend to come out of the woodwork during her set as well and getting to watch some great swing dancers bopping along to the music just made it even more fun.

While somewhat tempted to stay out for the jam session at the Dakota, we decided we had better start heading home since there was still an hour before the jam would even start and it had been a pretty full day. On the way home we did decide to take a slight detour and stopped for adult malts at the Town Talk Diner. Dad had the Mint Condition, my usual favorite, while I tried the Silly Rabbit. I don’t know that I would have it twice, but I can say that it was the living embodiment of an alcohol infused version of the bottom of a bowl of Trix cereal on a Saturday morning watching cartoons. That particularly sweet, sticky, creamy, but slightly grainy flavor and texture are iconic enough to bring back memories though I’m pretty sure it was Kix in my family instead of the extra-sugared Trix.

Looking forward to today’s line-up and I going to stay up for the jam session tonight. I’m always looking for friendly faces so give me a ring if you’re in the area.

Update: Thoughts from day 2 here.

Just when you think you’ve got it all covered

Yesterday in a fit of total idiocy I managed to fry my skin pretty badly, though there is actually quite a bit of success to this little story. I always _used_ to fry my head really badly in the sun on weekends like this. But now I’ve finally gotten into the habit of reliably wearing a good hat so my head, face, and even my neck are just fine. Slightly overexposed, but really just very slightly.

Unfortunately in my new found confidence I completely flaked on using sunscreen on any of the rest of my exposed skin and so now my knees are throbbing, or at least they are when the aloe gel stuff dries out and I haven’t put any more on just yet. And in a bid to look like a total idiot, I’ve decided to try something interesting: Last night I was having horrible trouble with the gel drying out on my skin so I kept on having to re-apply gel something like every 20-45min. This morning I took a nicely temperature controlled shower to get the sticky remains from last night off and then applied gel afterwards and wrapped it in food grade plastic wrap. I have absolutely no idea if this is a really good idea or not, but I’ve gone nearly a hour without having to re-apply and things are still nicely cooled underneath the wrappings.

Of course, I look like a total… well, headcase I suppose. With forearms and knees encased in clear plastic wrap with somewhat vivid green goo underneath I’m thinking I’m going to skip out on much in the way of public appearances today.

BTW – Just in case any of you were wondering, I was in fact macho enough to try to get pants on and attempt to go to work. It was merely excrusiatingly painful until I tried to walk some stairs and then it became somewhat of a whimper and scream sort of experience. I think calling in sick to work, even if explaining to your boss that it’s because of a sunburn of all things, was probably a very wise decision.

L-Space Login Quotes

The following is the contents of the login quote file from L-Space:

vaxjo:

this is a test!

Mainsail:

Oh dear..It’s the brain again…Will someone kindly beat me senseless?

Glyph:

And then there was…. well, something resembling a great big mess.

Mainsail:

BBC Reporter talking about the Middle East conflict: “The Lesban..Libbanese…Lesbian Millitant….Oh damn…Lebanese Millitant Group …. “

Laughing Buddha:

I don’t care if it’s free, I want a letter of apology written in blood!

DreamCat:

If I have to read the word “embodiment” one more time I’m going to have to kill someone.

kallisti:

climb troll. er, wait. wrong universe.

curious:

If I could drag myself away from the computer, I’d wonder how wide mine is…

Aeliona:

I have powedered history all across the front of my pink shirt.

Phage:

This would work alot better if I would stop running into walls.

Corwin:

Do you really want a Troll doing a body-cavity search? Think about that.

kal:

You think they’re not going to recognize us when we’re moisturized?

Wil Wheaton:

It sure was strange to see something on Usenet about me that didn’t involve Klingon gang rape.

Kallisti:

You can’t eat a solitaire game. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Glyph:

I can also do many things with my feet that I can do with with my hands.

1880’s Tobogganing Etiquette Printed in a St Paul paper for the Winter Carnival:

6. When steering it is unadvisable to seek to get extra purchase by planting your unemployed foot in the small of the back of the lady in front of you.

Mainsail:

There’s nothing like a nice cup of hot, strong tea, with just a dab of cream and a lump or two of sugar…especially when it gets dumped into your lap.

MPR disc jockey John Zech:

For more on passive-agressive monarchs, and their enabling composers…

bash.org:

I beat the internet. The end guy was hard.

Mousie:

I have your laptop and a full bladder…

hypochrismutreefuzz:

I ran out of gluons and fell apart

poi:

well, you start out reading those innocent little piers anthony books. then before you know it you have a collection of water-proof erotica.

Mainsail:

Also, some words of advice: never put words into Google you aren’t prepared to see results for.

kallisti:

i need either a vacation or a chainsaw. oh, decisions decisions…

Mainsail:

It’s time for the adventures of Lars Mitsuison; North Woods Ninja: Off of 35W North, outside of Brainerd, lies the mysterious Falling Lotus Petal Temple and Coffee Shop, secret home of the Moose Clan: a sect of Ninja dedicated to the principals of Honor, Justice, and Ice Fishing. The temple founded by Tokuzo Minowara-san, who meditated long and attained enlightenment on the Eternal Question: ‘Cold enough for you?’ Tokuzo had trained in the ancient art of the Ninja, but got a job as a fry-chef in a diner in Minnesota We join Lars, a young acolyte of the temple, who sits in meditation after the lunch-rush

Dara Moskowitz [CityPages.com, Dish article from 3/12/2003]:

Failed! The way an entire year’s worth of Harvey Wallbangers have failed to erase the memory of that unfortunate incident in Karachi with the fan dancer and the locomotive. Failed!

Macaw:

Immortality doesn’t disturb me any more than flying pink unicorns with pez dispensers for horns do.

from System Performance Tuning, by O’Reilly:

If a process tries to write to a shared page, it incurs a copy-on-write fault.[5]
5. Often called a COW fault; not to be confused with a ruminant falling into a chasm.

mainsail and jenx:

‘Um, but what if I’m a helicopter? Or a tea pot?’ ‘It means you’re short and stout, here is your handle, here is your spout. It also means that you’ll be experiencing continuous light to moderate chop from FL280 to FL410 for the next 300 miles.’

kallisti, watching yet another depressurization scene in Total Recall:

What, is the dome made out the of saran wrap?

LT:

People are not good food. People are not good food. Eating smokers is bad for you. People are not good food. People are not good food. Eating smokers is bad for you. People are not good food. People are not good food. Eating smokers is bad for you.

Dara Moskiwitz, referring to the Minneapolis neighborhood:

If Seward had the nation’s largest per-capita consumption of hemp soap, no one would be at all surprised.

Mainsail:

Such a beautiful day…not a cloud in the sky, the sun is shining…the frozen thump of the birds falling out of the trees and shattering on the sidewalk…

Asher:

This is where cultivating a sharp elbow and an unerring sense of rib comes in handy.

LT:

I’m not sure if that was a meeting or an experience of listening to someone recite the results of MadLibs using only technical terms.

Broog, Alien Film critic:

The mighty cinematic edifice which is the human Jackson’s rendering of Tolkien’s classic novel grinds to its imperial conclusion in the third film, “Lord of the Rings: The Fat Jolly Hobbit Saves Middle Earth And Everyone Is Nice To His Whiny Friend”.

Laughing Buddha:

no more perogis before bed.

Mainsail:

We’ve always had this skill back into the mists of time in my family. It can be a burden sometimes. Like when I dreamt that I was stranded on a tropical island with the Olympic Naughty Pleasuring Team, and sure enough, the very next day I found an unopened jar of guava jelly in the fridge.

One Windswept Rose:

The problem with being IS and saying “we don’t have time/resources to do this” is that people will do it anyway.

Pretend, for a moment, that the database and server resources you should be using is the I94 bridge over the Mississippi – many lanes, fast speed limit, well monitored and patrolled. A truckload of widgets goes across easily and smoothly, usually.

Now, take away the truck & the bridge, but they still want to move the widgets. They’ll take what they can find “Oh, hey, there’s this cable across the river in front of the dam no one is using – if we train a hundred monkey’s to carry a widget each and put them in relays running up and down the river bank carrying widgets across for us, we can do the whole project w/o needing any IS funding. Cool!”

The problems now are:
1) Dead monkeys and widgets blocking the hydroelectric intake.
2) Barge captains running into the lock doors because they got distracted by BoBo.
3) Riverbank erosion and plant damage from widget laden monkeys
4) Large monkey breeding farms smell bad
5) We’ve already upgraded from small monkeys to large (Gorilla), monkeys are still not as good as trucks for carrying widgets

Pryderi:

What ensued was probably the kitty version of the 4th ring to Hell (the 7th being an underwater dog park)…

Mainsail:

If I call in air support, and they send me penguins, and those penguins hit what I really need them to, I will buy those penguins a drink. I will not quibble.

Goodle:

Bush takes XTC, goes to rave
New York Times – 12 hours ago
“He was jumping around, blowing a whistle, and kept asking me if I had any chewy,” says Alison, 19, who danced with the President and his team of advisors at an unnamed club until 4am. “Rumsfeld gave me a kick-ass back rub.”

Sedna Information Page:

We use a 172 Megapixel camera mounted on a robotic telescope to find these things.

One Windswept Rose:

Well, actually, it’s a work-safe splash-screen right now, you need to click through to get to anything Janet Jacksonesque.

Zannd:

I have a soft spot for Land Yachts. I used to drive my mom’s 1970 Chrystler New Yorker (affectionately named “Tank”)…it could easily fit at least 6, plus trunk space sufficient to garage a small car. Definitely a rolling livingroom. And fun to drive. In an Abrams sort of way.

Pryderi:

There are only so many directions I wanna see my naked white ass from.

kallisti:

feet are like cleavage, only… er, wait, no. they’re not.

dieselsweeties.com:

Bacon is a vegetable.

LT:

I have a trebuchet budget?!?! What great news!

Weird Al Yankovic, “Nature Trail To Hell” from the album “In 3-D”:

If you love the 6 o’clock news
then you’ll love
Nature Trail To Hell!
Nature Trail To Hell!
Nature Trail To Hell!
In 3-D!

Wired:

You programmer. Me writer.

Two Lumps as posted by Asher:

I AM TE CAPTAIN OF THE CARPET SHIP!

Wired:

I vote we go lick their babies.

Zannd:

It wouldn’t be so boring if you took my advice and lowered it, threw some fatties on it, dual dump pipes, neons, fake blower and brake scoops, and a honkin bigass spoiler. And did an 80% tint on the windshield, and added a megabass sound system. Sure, it would handle like a pregnant water buffalo on a lowered skateboard with fatties, but hey, it wouldn’t be so boring.

Mainsail:

No, ‘The Madness of King George III’ is not a sequal.

Pied Piper:

You loved the adventure of “The Madness of King George”!!
You couldn’t get enough of “The Madness of King George – Part II”!!
Now, Miramax brings the thrills, the mayham, the excitement that is:

The Madness of King George III

Just when you thought he was down for the Count,
he’s back…and badder than ever…

(cue music: Mark Morrison – Return of the Mack)

He’s out for justice…he’s out for revenge…
he’s ready to fight for his honor, his crown,
and his rule over the Americas…

He’ll risk everything, even his sanity, to get what he wants…
It’s the Return of the King as you’ve never seen him before…

The Action…the Intrigue…the Romance…

Don’t Miss the Thrilling Saga of King George

in

The Madness of King George III

Rated R
Under 17 not admitted without parrots
Void where inhibited

Asher:

Nothing says teh sexay like being covered in jet black velvet… oh, and lots of multi-hued cat fur.

xat:

taking personal responsibility for my orgasms so often leads to being pursued through the jungle by a t-rex. *sigh* ah the perils of modern life.

xat:

That’s the thing that gets me. Saying that dinosaurs walked the earth 6,000 years ago is such an eyeblink in the REAL LIVE ACTUAL timeframe of evolution that it is the same as saying, look out, over there, it’s a velocoraptor crossing Rockefeller Plaza. Oops. There goes Katie Couric. Pity.

kallisti:

beaners might be in love, but chelsea might be in the kind of love that a person has for their dinner.

Gryphon:

While I was growing up, Velveeta was the unapproachable father figure – elusive, and absent. Softer than it looked, it definitely had it’s “yin” side. But it was never to be found. So I grew up without proper guidance, and got into a lot of troubles with a bunch of Kraft American Singles.

Okay, this is the last time I take a daily poll at quarter to three in the morning.

Mainsail:

Great Moments from The Evolution of the Orgasm #327: ‘Thag go all funny there for moment.’

http://www.goats.com:

Theoretically how much porn could you store on a fish?

elsie:

had i known, i could have given crap by proxy!

elsie:

cause nothing says christmas like shaving a dwarf.

kallisti:

what, all that work and jesus gets to be a bellhop?

from RFC4041: Requirements for Morality Sections in Routing Area Drafts:

The key words “SHALT”, “SHALT NOT”, “SMITE”, and “PILLAR OF SALT” in this document are to be interpreted as expected.

Car Talk Listener:

Driving a Mustang ranks right up there with sleeping in a double bed.

Pryderi:

That’s like saying you didn’t invent the plague, you just spread it.

Chilly Willy:

Wait until you see the telescoping crucifix with blinking colored lights… you’ll be hooked!

-anon:

Oh dear God, they’ve discovered random punctuation to go with random lettering. Any minute now, they’re going to bust out the umlauts and I’ve going to go into hiding.

MousiePants!:

Vanna White is getting her star on the Walk of Fame next week. What I wanna know is, will it light up when people touch it?

Also found this afternoon

Target’s Archer Farms line of food products now has a “premium” soda available, at least in the Twin Cities market. I saw 4 flavors today at a non-SuperTarget close to work: Sarsparilla, Ginger Beer, Strawberry Creme, and Diet Peach. I picked up a 4pack of all but the Diet and should have had a chance to taste all of them by the weekend. The ingredients do list sugar instead of HFCS, so I have some hope that it might be at least drinkable and if it’s done by the same people who make their “Italian Soda” line of beverages there’s a strong chance there will be at least one good flavor in there.

Soda Brewing

At this point my commentary about various aspects of soda brewing are spread so evenly through my blog archives that I think it’s time to collect some of them in one place for easy access for people who are looking for the information. The following is a somewhat ordered list of items that I think are important for people who are trying to brew their own naturally carbonated sodas. That said, this is far from a definitive work and I would be glad to hear from others about their own thoughts on this topic. Actually, that’s not quite true: I would be astonishingly excited to talk to anyone else that is also brewing sodas.

Contents

Basic Recipe
My basic soda recipe is as follows:
Software:

  • X gallons purified drinking water
  • X pounds sugar
  • Flavoring
  • 1/4 teaspoon brewers yeast for every 5 gallons of water

Hardware:

  • 11, 12oz bottles per gallon of water
  • Food grade bottling bucket large enough to hold the entire volume of water
  • Food grade tubing
  • Racking cane/Bottle filler
  • 1 bottle cap for each bottle, plus a few spares just in case
  • Stainless steel 2-4 gallon kettle
  • Large metal ladle
  • 2 cup Pyrex or glass measuring cup

Before you start you must clean and sanitize everything. This is very, very, very important. If you don’t sanitize something you are likely at best to have some pretty odd flavors in the resulting soda, and at worst will need a trip to the emergency room. Don’t kid yourself, it does happen. The best people to tell you everything you need to know about sanitization are at your local brewing supply store, and they are more than happy to do so. It doesn’t take much time or effort to do properly and is always worth it. If you have no interest in properly sanitizing your equipment and workspace you should NOT be brewing.

1. Bring no more than 1/4 of your total volume of water to a simmer in a large stainless steel pot.
2. Chill the remaining water thoroughly.
2. Dissolve all of the sugar thoroughly in the water.
3. Set aside 1-2 cups of the sugar solution.
4. Add flavoring to remaining solution and increase heat to just bring it to a boil.
5. Allow solution from step 3 to cool to just above room temperature.
6. Dissolve yeast into cooled solution and let stand to allow it to bloom.
7. Continue to allow flavored solution to boil until flavor is very strong and very sweet, then turn off the heat and let cool.
8. When the yeast has been blooming for at least 15min there should be a short layer of foam on the top.
9. Pour half of the chilled water into the bottling bucket, then the flavored solution, then the yeast, and then the remaining cooled water.
10. Bottle and cap quickly.
11. Store bottles in a warm, dry, and dark location for 60 hours. Be sure they are not exposed directly to sunlight.
12. Place the bottles in a refrigerator and let cool for at least 1-2 hours.
13. The soda will usually be best 3-5 days after being chilled. Drink within 1 month.

While you are at the store learning how to sanitize your equipment, the helpful people will probably also be very happy to sell you just about everything on the hardware and software lists. Your first time making a batch of soda I would recommend using Champagne yeast and an extract for flavoring. Rainbow and Gnome both make very good extracts and are widely available. If you are feeling more adventurous you can also use your favorite tea. Once you’ve made a few batches from extracts or teas, I strongly encourage perusing the herb and produce sections at the local co-op or supermarket for ideas.

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Glass vs Plastic
So far, every time that I’ve talked to someone who works at a brewing supply store I have heard the same thing: Never brew soda in glass bottles. Anyone who is looking to start brewing their own soda is very likely to hear the same thing and it is basically good advice, but I think it’s important to note that this usually dire warning is a bit overstated.

The basic argument is that because there is nothing to inhibit the yeast in the bottle from continuing to produce more CO2 using glass bottles is akin to producing little glass bombs that you never quite know when they are going to go off. It is also pointed out that a typical plastic bottle is flexible enough to be very useful in figuring out when your soda is done carbonating and is ready to be chilled.

These points however overlook the number of flaws of using plastic bottles. They are much easier to damage, must be replaced more often, add an unpleasant flavor to whatever you put into them, and in my opinion look ugly. Plastic is by it’s nature more porous than glass. When I say they are much easier to damage, I am not just referring to obvious physical wear and tear, but also that if you ever have any sort of mold or other undesirable in the bottle there is no chance that you can use that bottle safely ever again.

By following several very simple rules, glass bottles can be used very safely without ever exposing anyone to the risk of a face full of glass shards:

  • Most soda is fully carbonated after 55 to 80 hours. The actual time is greatly effected by the amount of sugar and yeast, as well as the acidity of the soda along with the air temperature where they are stored for carbonation. Higher amounts of sugar, yeast, and temperature equal shorter carbonation time. Higher amounts of acid require longer carbonation times. In almost all cases I carbonate my sodas for 60 hours in 68F with good results.
  • Always keep the bottles out of direct sunlight. While a minute or 2 isn’t going to hurt anything, it’s quite possible that an hour might kill you. Sunlight contains a LOT of energy and is very good at making things in your soda that had no intention of doing anything suddenly become very dangerous. If your soda has been left unrefrigerated in the sunlight for an hour or more THROW IT OUT. And be careful opening the bottles when you do.
  • Once you have chilled the bottles, keep them that way. Short trips of 1-2 hours without refrigeration will probably be okay, but any longer and you need a well tended cooler.
  • When you have chilled the bottles the yeast has not completely stopped working. You will notice that as they have been in the fridge longer, they will get more carbonated, but much more slowly than when they are at room temp. I find that after about 1 month the carbonation has gotten to the point that it is very likely that every bottle will be “a gusher”. The biggest problem with gushers is that the yeast that used to be neatly at the bottom of the bottle will suddenly be mixed in with the soda very effectively by the fast stream of bubbles going everywhere. Brightly colored sodas also tend to stain nice carpets very well too. Once I’ve gotten 2 bottles out of a batch that are gushers, the rest go down the drain. Besides, if you haven’t drunk most of it already you probably made too much in the first place. :-)
  • Limit the amount of yeast you start with. It is no coincidence that my basic recipe has a variable amount of water and a fixed amount of yeast. For batches under 5 gallons I find that 1/4 teaspoon of yeast is always quite sufficient. Less than that is harder to measure but would probably be just as good for 1-2 gallons. Often the finished taste of the soda is also effected strongly by the amount of yeast you start with.

Follow those simple rules and I think you’ll have a much better experience using glass bottles than plastic.

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Good Yeast
For reasons completely unknown to me most brewing supply stores will recommend RedStar Champagne yeast as a good yeast for making soda. I can say that without exception the soda that I have made using this yeast has been execrable, and usually undrinkable. I have heard that other people have great success with the stuff, but if you have a choice try something else. I have have very good results using Lavlin EC-1118 Champagne yeast and highly recommend it.

If you take the time to look through the selection of yeasts at your local brewing supply store you will notice that there is a huge variety of yeasts. For the most part they all do about the same thing, the difference is that they all impart slightly different flavors as well as texture when they’re doing it.

The flavor part is relatively simple to explain: Different yeasts taste differently. Some leave a very strong “yeasty” flavor, like the smell of unbaked bread dough. Others leave flavors of mushrooms, spices, or fruits. Champagne yeast is usually recommended for soda making because they tend to be the strains that have the least strong flavors, or at least ones that don’t clash with sweet and bubbly liquids. This should not stop you from experimenting with other yeasts. I have found that very hearty Ale yeasts in particular are very good for root beer.

The texture part is somewhat more complex to explain: Different types of yeast will produce different types of carbonation. The simplest explanation involves the size of the bubbles produced. When you pour a glass of soda you will usually see bubbles that stream out of the liquid. Champagne yeasts generally produce very small bubbles that are the reason why carbonated wines are usually called “sparkling”. They are light and fairly frothy and give a very specific texture to the liquid they carbonate. Other yeasts produce bubbles that are larger or smaller. I find that ale yeasts produce nicely sized bubbles that rise more slowly and impart a more round texture to sodas that can soften the edge of slightly bitter flavors.

When you go looking for yeast you will probably find it in several forms. I would recommend that you stick with dry yeasts. Yeast packets are designed for wine and beer brewing which generally requires a LOT more yeast than you are going to use for soda. With dry yeast it is a fairly simple matter of measuring out what you need and then throwing out the rest. While that may seem like somewhat of a waste, either make larger batches, or do more than one at the same time so that you can use more of it. Generally once the yeast packet has been opened you need to use it then, or not at all. The problem with using liquid or “pitchable” yeasts is that it’s much harder to measure out what you need since most of the contents are liquid. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, just difficult.

Yeast is just as important a component in your soda as the sugar and the flavoring and should not be forgotten when considering exactly what you want to be making. Carefully selecting the right yeast for your batch can mean the difference between a good soda and a great soda.

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Sugars
I am consistently surprised at the lack of knowledge people have about the relatively simple subject known generally as, “sugar”. As with other crafts, like candy making, sugar is a topic that can is inordinately important, and also one that is often ignored. For every batch of soda produced, you will have spent the most money on sugar and every time someone tastes the results of that batch the primary thing they will taste will be the same. When people think about soda, they think about a sweet drink. Liquid candy. Fizzy candy. Candy. That is not to say that all sodas are like candy, but if wine is the chicken stock and beer is the hamburger of brewing, soda is definitely that little treat of sweetness to lighten any mood. Like candy, the difference between mass produced dreck and high quality delights is the quality of the sugar used to make it.

Starting in the early 1980’s, the major soda manufacturer’s made a concerted effort to increase their profit margins. Cane sugar, which is what most people know as “sugar”, was expensive in the American market because of a number of factors, not least of all price protection by the government and they needed a way to continue to be produce products that their market could afford, and at the same time get them more profit. Corn sugar was their solution and today it is a rare product that doesn’t use it when sugar is required.

To put my bias out front I like cane sugar better than corn sugar. To me corn sugar has a very recognizable after taste that is slightly sour. Cane sugars tend to have more depth to their flavors and often lack that sour after taste. But in the end, I just like I better and it is what I use for most of my sodas.

But there is more to sugar than just cane and corn. A short list of common natural sugars includes those two as well as beet, date, palm, as well as honey, molasses, maple, and birch. Using natural sugar in soda is important beyond the flavor because it is needed to provide food for the yeast that produces the carbonation, but that still leaves room for the lower calorie artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Nutrasweet), and even saccharine (Sweet ‘N Low). In fact I have theorized that it might be possible to make a shelf-stable (i.e. doesn’t need to be chilled) soda using exactly the right amount of natural sugar to produce a limited amount of carbonation and the rest of the flavor produced by an artificial sweetener. I still haven’t done that experiment, but I’ve got a box of Splenda waiting in the cupboard for when I do.

As people have noticed since diet sodas have been produced, the sweetener used in a soda greatly effects the flavor of the soda and the same is true of other natural sugars. Birch gives the wintergreen like flavors to root beers and birch beers just like Maple can easily impart that classic maple flavor to any concoction, while honey often has subtle floral and fruit aspects that pop out when paired with other flavors. Molasses and brown sugars produce dark and heavy flavors, while pure and refined corn, cane, and beet sugars produce light and clear tones. Date and palm sugars, while a bit harder to find, produce exotic and complex flavors. Selecting the right combination of sugars is like writing music. Sometimes you need an orchestra (1/4 refined corn, 1/4 dark brown cane, 1/4 honey, 1/4 date) and sometimes you need a great horn solo (all washed raw cane sugar), but whatever you choose makes a difference.

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I got a pleasant surprise via email the other day:…

I got a pleasant surprise via email the other day: There are people who actually read this! While this wasn’t the first person to mail me, it has been awhile since I’ve heard from anyone and now I feel somewhat bad about not keeping it up to date.

So, here’s the big update:

  • Some days I wonder if I actually read anything. Case in point, the extracts that I have got (and have been using) are not the Gnome brand, but are in fact Old Fashioned brand. Assumptions, assumptions. Anyway, I am pretty happy with the Old Fashioned extracts. The one small issue that I have is that there is a slight pickle-like aftertaste that I think is probably associated with using some sort of vinegar (or a derivative) as a preservative. Honestly, the only other person who has been able to taste it is another big time foodie so it’s basically just a nit. And it isn’t even a bad thing, just a thing mostly.
  • The batch that I last mentioned here used ~6grams of of the Nottingham ale yeast. On September 6, I produced a batch with the following ingredients:

    The yeast bloomed very nicely with a rather large head after only 10 minutes. I was going to use Nottingham again, but they were out at Northern Brewer and they said that the Windsor is very similar, which I think was very true. I don’t know if I could tell the difference after brewing which one had been used. After bottling, the batch carbonated decently in only 42 hours! After sampling that bottle, I refrigerated the rest of the batch at ~50 hours and it was _very_ carbonated. To be quite honest, I think this was my first completely successful batch. The flavor was good, the sweetness was almost perfect (though maybe just a touch over sweet), and the carbonation was actually almost too much for me. Taking a sip from the early bottles would get you a mouth full of foam as all the carbonation tried to release as it came into contact with saliva. As several people noted, it was excellent belching soda. However, there was still a bit too much yeast flavor, even after 2 weeks in the fridge. I have 1 bottle remaining that I’ll be opening tonight to see how it’s aged. My notes on the existing bottles indicate that 5 days in the fridge was probably optimum for settling as the yeast flavor dropped precipitously until day 5 when it has remained almost constant ever since.

  • On September 30, I put down a new batch, hoping to finally reduce the yeast taste to a better level. This recipe was:

    It’s been carbonating for 36 hours at this point and I’m planning on tasting one of the bottles tonight before I go to bed. The first try with the yeast didn’t bloom very well (I think the water was too cold) so I had to do another bloom using filtered tap water. I’m a little worried about that, but I think it should come out okay.

  • I’ve been playing with ideas for ingredients for a non-extract soda. My first attempt will be either tonight or tomorrow morning using 2oz of TeaSource’s Red Berries herbal tea blend. It’s a really lovely, sweet, and fruity tea that I think will make a fantastic soda if the iced tea I’ve made with it previously is any indication. I don’t think that the C&H Dark Brown sugar is going to work as well with it since I think the molasses flavors will cover up some of the subtlety inherent in the tea, so last night I went to the Seward Co-Op and got a couple of pounds of bulk organic raw cane sugar. I’m still not sure how much I’m going to use for this batch just yet though.
  • I’ve been asked to supply some homebrew soda for the Supercon room party at Icon next weekend! The Fan Goh for Icon this year happens to be the new Supercon parties head and he’s having a panel on homebrewing on Friday night of the con. Immediately after the panel, he’s coming down to host the room party and will be showing off several examples of the panel discussion. I’m planning on bringing the Birch Beer batch that I put down this week, and I’m looking to do a ginger beer/ale/soda of some sort to fill out the selection.
  • I’m working on formulating my own root beer recipe, and I think I’ve come upon an unusual ingredient that will add a lot of character: African Honeybush. I’ve been drinking it for awhile from various places, and TeaSource has started carrying it as well so I got a few ounces and I’m going to start pairing it up with sassafras, sarsaparilla, vanilla, and anise/star anise to see what I can come up with. One of the places that I’ve been drinking it very regularly is at Midori’s Floating World Cafe just up the street. They have a drink they call African Cloud Tea that is honeybush tea, palm fruit, and something else that is really wonderful. The other ingredient that I’m toying with using might be nutmeg as well, but I think I’ll wait till I’ve played with the other stuff a bit first.

So, that’s the current stuff. Quite a bit, but I’ve been having some fun. Hopefully I’ll remember to post early about the new Birch Beer batch, and the Red Berries batch.

What a weekend! The party on Saturday went really …

What a weekend! The party on Saturday went really well and we drank a LOT of good soda and it seemed like everyone got a nice sugar buzz going for most of the evening. Thankfully there were only a couple of flavors that were, er, unpalatable.

Unfortunately among them was one of the Journey Foods root beer flavors: Shenandoah Sassafras Root Beer. The problem is not that they use Star Anise as one of the ingredients, it’s that they used a LOT of Star Anise as one of the ingredients. The first comment from someone who tried it was, “Tastes like raisins.” Not that raisins are a bad thing, but it was just a very off taste and not very pleasant.

The other unsuccessful one was the Steap line of sodas. All of them are based on Green Tea, which doesn’t sound like a bad thing until you taste one. Ick. Someone said that their sweetie might like them and so took the rest home to see what happens. Good riddance and I hope they get some enjoyment out of them. I did try both the Cola and the Root Beer and both were pretty disgusting.

OTOH – on the good advice of someone close, I found some Sangria flavored Mexican sodas that were quite good. One of them was mostly grape soda flavored, but the other actually tasted like good sangria, but without the alcohol. [Now I just have to get around to calling her today after I didn’t get a chance to this last weekend like I was supposed to. :-( ] Another really pleasant surprise was the Journey Foods Carribean Creme Soda, which had a very nice flavor of toasted coconut. It tempered the usual oversweet flavor of cream soda very well and was a big hit. I’ll have to stock that in the fridge more often.

I didn’t end up getting either the Boylan’s or the 1919, but I think I more than made up for it with the rest of the selection. I’ll post a link to the picture I took of the entire selection arrayed on the dining room table. The chicken curry turned out really well too (though needed a touch more salt) thanks to the lesson on using chicken thigh meat instead of breast meat I learned a few weeks ago in Chicago.

I’ll try and come up with a revised list of the stuff that I actually did end up getting later this week.

So I’m having a little party thing on Saturday nig…

So I’m having a little party thing on Saturday night (5/24/2003) and I’m putting together a bunch of odd and interesting soda’s to get. The list so far:

If anyone wants to drop by, let me know. I’ll be serving Chicken Curry at ~7pm.