Adam Bernbach stands behind the large concrete bar of Estadio and chops the shells of two lemons. He crushes a few bay leaves and adds them and the lemon to a plastic container filled with hot water. After leaving the mixture to steep for an hour, he stirs in sugar and lemon juice. Then he runs it through a siphon, which uses a C02 cartridge to inject carbonation, and pours the bitter-lemon -and-bay-leaf soda into a tumbler filled with ice.
Even in this prepackaged, grab-and-go age, it’s an uncomplicated process. In fact, making your own soda is far simpler than pronouncing acesulfame potassium, the artificial sweetener found in some commercial products.
The DIY, seasonal focus that many home cooks and professional chefs have embraced in the past decade has spilled over to soda. Bernbach’s experimentation began after a failed attempt to find strawberry soda made with actual strawberries. Melissa Horst, beverage manager at Virtue Feed & Grain, began for a more fundamental reason.
“I wanted to make sodas that I didn’t feel bad about drinking,” Horst says. “I wanted to make it as simple and pure as possible.”
The allure isn’t limited to the pros. Andrew Schloss, author of the recently published “Homemade Soda,” credits SodaStream with making the process easier for the amateur. The company, which had a heyday in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and ’80s, is enjoying another one in North America, where sales of its home-carbonation machines have almost tripled in the past year.
But here’s the secret: A CO2 system is just one route to homemade soda. Time for a little fizz ed.
Start with a flavor base. Often, that involves making an herbal syrup, muddling some fruit or a combination of the two. Some ingredients are easier to work with than others.
“Berries are the most user-friendly,” says Horst. “They are easy to press. It’s more challenging to get the extraction when you’re using harder fruits. It requires a juicer.”
Straining and tasting are key, she adds. You want to be certain all the seeds and tough fibers are out of the base. And the level of ripeness — and therefore the sweetness — will be different with each batch, so be sure to sample.
Once you’ve determined your flavor base, decide how you’ll sweeten your pop.
“Liquid sweeteners like agave and honey are easier to use than the granulated ones because you don’t have to dilute them,” says Schloss. “But it’s very simple to take any sugar and make a syrup.”
Schloss makes his homemade sodas with about half the sweetener of commercial brands. Some, like the naturally sweet watermelon, need no extra sugar.
Finally, it’s time to turn your base into soda. There are three methods of carbonation, in order of simplest to most complicated: Combine the base with bottled seltzer; use a siphon or other device to inject it with carbon dioxide; or ferment it with yeast.
Each method creates a different mouth feel. Commercial drinks such as bottled seltzer are more highly carbonated than homemade versions, so even though some of the bubbles escape, soda made this way will create tingle. A siphon will result in softer bubbles, and a fermented drink will be even smoother.
“The fresher the flavor base, the less I would recommend yeast. The siphon works best,” Schloss says. “Anything that is complex, like root beer, tends to benefit from brewing. It lets the flavors meld better, and the yeast eats some of the sugar.”
There is an art to brewing soda, Schloss says, but making it with bottled seltzer or a siphon device is “stupid easy.” So easy, in fact, that the next time life gives you lemons, there’s little excuse for not concocting something more interesting than lemonade.