“We do a lot of boiling and straining,” said Ross Hunsinger of Atlas Sodaworks as he strode back and forth between the pot of boiling root beer ingredients on the stove and the massive chinois strainer on the counter. As he led the hands-on soda making class at Portland Feast, his excitement about soda-making and soda syrups was definitely about to bubble over.
The availability of artisanal soda brands and soda syrups has been on the rise recently, with consumers now able to pick from their favorite traditional cola to a whole new line of all-natural or boutique brands that have taken the beverage scene by storm. Hunsinger credits the popularity of soda making to both device access (a SodaStream starts at only $79.99) and the availability of soda syrups like the ones he creates at Atlas Sodaworks in Portland, Ore.
Soda making starts with the basics: water and carbonation. You can use mineral water or tap water, depending on your taste or the quality of your tap water. When carbonating with a SodaStream or a cornelius keg (for large-batch carbonation), the water should be 55 degrees F or colder. Hunsinger prefers his soda with a champagne-level of carbonation, but you can be as aggressive or as relaxed as you prefer.
Once you’ve got carbonated water (the bottled variety also works), it’s time to create your own syrup. Hunsinger uses 1.5 parts water to 1 part sugar for his simple syrup because he “loves sugar — there’s nothing better”
For beginners, try making ginger beer, which requires only three ingredients. You’ll need to strain fresh lemon juice with fresh ginger juice and combine both with the simple syrup before adding your soda water. Root beer is a bit more complicated. To really make it from scratch you’ll need sassafras root bark, wintergreen leaf, sarsaparilla root, licorice root, ginger root, hops flowers, birch bark, cherry tree bark, juniper berries and a cinnamon stick.
Basically, you’ll be simmering a forest of flavors in a pot of water before straining out all of the ingredients and adding sugar and honey. A note of caution when making root beer, however: The bottle you use will hold the flavors forever, so keep that vessel exclusively for that beverage.
Hunsinger recommends experimenting with different ingredients and essential oils, which can add big flavor and brightness to your sodas. And if you don’t want to use any added sugar, swap in homemade fruit juice concentrates or diluted jams for sweetness.
Of course, you can get your artisanal fix in a bottle too. Soda brand Hotlips features flavors like Marionberry, Black Raspberry and Pear with fruit that’s freshly picked from local farmers. Bruce Cost Ginger Ale uses only fresh ginger to start, then adds whole leaf jasmine tea or passion fruit pulp, depending on the flavor. Even Starbucks is getting in on the soda game with a new line of Fizzio sodas that are made to order in stores. So you can satisfy your thirst whether you’re starting from scratch, carbonating your own with a store-bought syrup or simply picking up your fizz at the supermarket.
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