Very good soda day

Yesterday was a very good soda day. Jennifer arrived for our usual date night with my birthday present a few days early: A mixed case of The Sopranos soda. (Do follow that link and make sure to watch the commercial, it’s fairly funny. The timing is a bit off but it works.) I’m drinking my first bottle of the Limoncello right now, and it’s pretty good if a touch more sweet than I necessarily like. The good news is that it isn’t a cloying sweet, it’s very clean and finishes exceptionally well. I have a bottle of the Chianti with me at work today as well and I’m hoping it’s at least as good.

After we had a nice walk around the trails at Wood Lake Nature Center and then taking a Kia Rondo out for a test drive we stopped in at the original Chatterbox Pub where I noticed for the first time that they had a “Scratch” Ginger Ale which turned out to be very good. It is definitely a Ginger Ale and not a Ginger Beer since it does go for more of the sweet than the hot and spicy, but it also has a really wonderful clove flavor that adds a lot of depth and character. Very highly recommended.

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.

Spring 2004 Update

I’ve completely fallen off the wagon as far as keeping this up to date is concerned, so I’ve started to re-title them somewhat more appropriately.

I did however recently do 2 batches of soda, both quite drinkable and one of them is a HUGE success. Absolutely terrific stuff, and so close to perfect that it’s really breathtaking.

And the other one… well, it was a good experiment. :-)

I tried a new champagne yeast and have confirmed that it’s just something about the Red Star yeast that just DOES NOT WORK for me. Always a good tasting, but incredibly bad smelling batch with the Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast.

The yeast I switched to I HIGHLY recommend. It has now produced 4 great batches and produces a really lovely carbonation and even adds a nice, but slight, yeasty flavor to the batch. Lavlin EC-1118 Champagne is available from Northern Brewer and other sources, usually in the Wine Yeast section.

The first batch in the recent set was a replay of the Red Berries based soda from Icon last fall. The recipe:
2oz TeaSource Red Berries herbal tea blend
1lb Billington’s Demerara sugar
1lb bulk pure granulated organic cane sugar
1/4tsp Lavlin EC-1118 Champagne
2 Gallons purified drinking water

Carbonation time: ~58 hours

The nose is amazingly fruity, and the flavor is bright and fairly sweet while not being sugary. Slight yeast flavor that adds some depth and does not detract from the fruit. Brilliant red color, showed off well in the 16oz/500ml Flint EZ Cap bottles I was able to get most of the batch into (Had to fill a few fairly standard brown longnecks too). Carbonation is thorough and fairly lasting, a plastic cup full on Sunday night in very high humidity was still noticeably carbonated after sitting out for an hour. Almost perfect! I would still like to tone down the sweetness just a touch so the fruit can stand out a bit more on it’s own. I might try cutting the granulated cane sugar down to 1.5 cups for the next batch and see what happens. Hoping to get it done soon as several people are clamoring for more.

The experiment was an attempt to marry a few flavors that I find quite good on their own or in combination with other flavors. It’s basically a ginger soda, though I was aiming more for a ginger beer. The recipe:
2oz TeaSource Honeybush tea (not a blend, 100% honeybush)
6oz fresh ginger root, coarsely chopped
1lb Billington’s Dark Muscovado sugar
1lb Billington’s Light Muscovado sugar
1/4tsp Danstar Nottingham Ale yeast
2 gallons purified drinking water

Carbonation time: 62 hours

I left it go a bit longer carbonating because the Notthingham and related yeasts aren’t quite a quick as the Lavlin Champagne, and I am quite pleased with that result. The bubbles are a bit larger and more playful. However, the sugar I used pretty much trampled on ALL of the other flavors in the batch and so what I ended up with was a somewhat interesting molasses flavored soda with maybe a slight trace of ginger, and hardly any honeybush to be seen. Color is fairly cloudy brown, and the scent is strongly of molasses. There are so many directions to go with this batch, I’m not quite sure where to start:

  • I was hoping that 6oz of ginger would be enough to get a nice nose tickle, but even the flavor is mostly not discernable unless you know to look for it. I might try crystallized ginger next time. I would welcome ideas on this.
  • I definitely needed to go with just the Light Muskovado sugar, and the drop the Dark entirely and use either a Demerara or the granulated organic cane. That way there will still be some molasses, but not nearly the huge, overbearing, 800lb gorilla it turned out to be. I really thought that the ginger and honeybush would stand up to it a lot more.
  • Once the sugar has been tamed, the honeybush should come out quite a bit more. Maybe adding some sarsaparilla to give it some additional spine too.

Anyway, certainly drinkable but not what I was looking for. I used the Dark Muskovado for Birch Beer with the Old Fashioned extract and it was really great. Just need to make sure there is something very potent for it to work against next time.

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.

Someone who ran across my site made the assertion …

Someone who ran across my site made the assertion that Ginger Beer is possibly Australian in origin. I hadn’t heard that before, and so now I’m off on a fact hunt.

First things, putting “Ginger Beer” into Google as your search terms sure pulls up different hits than it used to, including this site with some simple Root Beer and Ginger Beer recipes. Pretty similar to the stuff that I’ve seen before, but quite nice to finally start seeing this sort of thing around the net. I sent mail off to see what they have to say on the topic of yeasts. Hopefully something helpful.

Anyway, not too much in the way of history, so I refined to “Ginger Beer History” to see what happened. Well, not so much about actual Ginger Beer history, but I did run across a micro-Birch Beer in the Rochester, NY area. Not what I was looking for, but always good to know about these sorts of things. I also turned up this site which is billed as “the comprehensive ginger site”. Still nothing really definitive.

After a bit more searching, it looks like the party line goes something along the lines of: Ginger beer is really old. There is some evidence that the Egyptians knew about it, or something very like it, and there is still a strong presence in sub-Saharan Africa of similar beverages.

So, probably not Australia.

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.