Saturday, April 12, 2008

DIY Ginger Ale

Wilkinson Ginger Ale
Originally uploaded by yoppy

I figured I’d continue on with the beverage theme. I’m not a big soda person. I’m originally from New England, so if you drink something called tonic, cola, or pop, we’re talking about the same thing here. I enjoy it now and then, and I’ll drink it if it’s in the fridge or sometimes if I eat in a restaurant. It’s a now and then thing for those times I don’t feel like water, coffee, or tea. I never thought about the impact too much, because unlike water, I can’t exactly turn on the kitchen faucet and have Diet Coke come out.

I did start wondering though, since I’ve been hearing so much about the environmental benefits of eating local, so I did some quick research. According to Coca-Cola’s own website, they use more than 2.5 liters of water for every liter of soda that is produced. Put another way, they waste more water than what ends up in the bottle. I’m not sure how they calculate these numbers, but assuming they’re painting the best picture possible, it makes sense to believe that this is a bare minimum. If I then consider the cost of transporting the finished product to the store and such, it starts to seem like there are a whole lot of resources being used to produce one beverage.

In addition to all that, I don’t really know what goes in to a bottle of store bought soda, but I imagine it involves lots of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Common sense kind of tells you that those things aren’t that great for you.

So I decided to see if I could make my own. There’s no additional packaging, no transport impact, and I use only the water that I put into the bottle, plus what I use to wash it after. I found a recipe to make ginger ale that seemed relatively easy on wikihow. They also have instructions for cream soda, root beer, and even “Open-Cola” (I didn’t even know that term applied to things besides software).

I made a batch using an empty two liter bottle I rescued from the recycling bin. A 2 liter bottle of ginger ale at the store costs roughly $1.35. To make it, the ingredients cost about 95 cents, by my rough estimate (10 cents for the ginger, 5 cents for the yeast, 50 cents for the lemon, 30 cents sugar, water, negligible). The savings aren’t very significant, but in addition to the other reasons, I’d say it is worth it for me to make rather than buy, especially since it was super easy and the results were pretty tasty (even my picky partner thought so). Here’s the recipe:

1C. Sugar
¼ teaspoon active yeast
1 ½ tablespoons grated ginger
Juice from one lemon
Tap water

Use a funnel to pour the sugar into your empty bottle. Add the yeast and shake it around to mix them together. (The sugar is what the yeast will react with to make the carbonation. Yeast won’t react with artificial sweeteners.)

Mix the ginger and lemon juice together in a bowl or measuring cup. Add it to the bottle, and then fill the bottle with water to about one inch from the top.

Cap bottle tightly. Tilt bottle back and forth to dissolve the sugar. Let sit for 24 - 48 hours (until bottle doesn’t dent easily when you press on it). Don’t let it sit for too long or it will explode because of the pressure that is building up. Once the bottle feels hard, refrigerate until fully chilled. Open carefully and enjoy!

PS: Somebody was kind enough to remind me that "open carefully" really does mean just that...the pressure inside the bottle can be dangerous and cause the cap to come flying off at a high rate of speed, similar to what can happen to champagne bottles when they're opened. So make sure it's not pointed at anybody when you open it.

Speaking of champagne, the pressure and bubbles in the bottle are created when the yeast and sugar react in a fermentation process. Fermentation is what makes alcohol. Although the research I did indicated that the levels will be minimal, it's not impossible that you'll end up with a slightly alcoholic beverage. So enjoy responsibly.

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