Tales of the Cocktail: Setting up your in-house soda program

[This is cross-posted from the original post at Talesblog.com.]

“The entire soda market is dominated by one or two huge corporations,” said Darcy O’Neil during today’s soda program seminar. “I think it would be great if we could get more sodas created by bartenders in our bars,” said his co-presenter Andrew Nicholls.

Absolutely right.

Don’t buy little bottles, don’t use the hose guns … control what you do and keep the quality high by making your own soda and using soda chargers. This is handy for your home use as well as instituting a professional soda program in a bar or restaurant, which was the focus of Andrew and Darcy’s fascinating seminar today — we learned a lot, including a pile of chemistry.

The two main things to remember when making soda — CHILL YOUR WATER and BOIL YOUR WATER. Sounds a bit contradictory, doesn’t it? There are solid reasons for it though, right out of chemistry. Warm or room-temperature doesn’t carbonate well at all, you may have noticed; if you put tepid water in your soda siphon and charge it, all that carbon dioxide will just whoosh right out, leaving your water rather flat. The solubility of CO2 in water increases dramatically the lower the water temperature is — the closest to freezing point the better.

But boiling it? Why would we do that? Because dissolved air in water takes up four times the room that carbon dioxide would — make more room in the water and more CO2 will have room to remain behind and create sparkle. Bring your water to a boil, fill your soda siphon (preferably a metal one), let it cool and stick it in the fridge for at least 24 hours, preferably 48. Your water will sparkle beautifully and retain that sparkle.

Don’t over-pressurize your water, but using two chargers in a standard one-quart or one-liter siphon would create the ideal pressure for more robust carbonation. That tingle on your tongue works physiologically on multiple levels, bringing aroma up the back of your throat and into your olfactory system, plus that tingle on your tongue can get quite addictive, not unlike how folks get addicted to very spicy food. Endorphins being released in your brain is a very good thing.

The growing trend is for bars to ditch their horrid soda guns and start making their own soda, tonic waters etc. in-house, but it can go far beyond that. For instance, in old cocktail books we see fizzy drinks calling for Apollinaris water, a particular mineral water which added a lot of character to the drink as well as fizz. Who knew that you can make your own Apollonaris water by adding 23g sodium bicarbonate, 11.5g sodium sulphate, 8.8g sodium chloride, 7.6g magnesium carbonate and 1g calcium carbonate to 5 gallons of water and carbonating it?

We were reminded in the seminar that mineral salts found in mineral waters enhance flavor, which is why mineral waters work so well with food, and carbonated ones even more so, as the carbon dioxide enhances flavor as well, as do the bubbles which bring the aroma up to your nose, both outside and up the back of your throat. This is why people have enjoyed soda for so many years, and why flat soda is singularly unappealing.

Our cocktail example was delicious and instructive on multiple levels, with a house-made syrup added to cream, egg and fizzy mineral water to create an amazing, multi-layered flavor.

(featured in Fix the Pumps, by Darcy O’Neil)

2 ounces zozia syrup
1/2 ounce heavy cream
1 whole egg
Soda water

Prepare as a standard egg fizz — vigorously shake first three ingredients, strain into a tall ice-filled glass and top with soda water.

Zozia Syrup
3/4 tsp lemon essence
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
15 drops Angostura bitters
15 drops absinthe essence (Herbsaint was added to taste in this version)
3/4 tsp citric acid solution
1 qt simple syrup (or gum syrup, preferably)
Caramel coloring (sufficient)

The chemistry was fascinating here, as the vanilla worked well with the abisnthe flavors, and the lemon essence provided wonderful aroma but very little flavor until the acid was added in the form of citric acid (or acid phosphate in similar syrup and cocktail formulae), and then the flavor just popped right out.

Andrew went on to discuss working with taste, texture, flavor and aroma in conjunction with mineral salts in soda water to create unique flavors, and this could have gone on all weekend. Tying in with Darcy’s excellent book on the history of the soda fountain, Fix the Pumps, and his forthcoming seminar with David Wondrich on the oft-crossed line between bartender and soda jerk, all this shows us what wide-ranging opportunities we have to improve the drinking experience in our bars by taking control of soda and integrating it thoroughly into cocktail programs.