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Sunday 19 February 2012

Home Brewed Cream Soda (First Recipe)

Yes, you read that right: Home Brewed. Because there's yeast in them thar ingredients.

On one of my whims, I decided to ascertain if it would be possible for me to make my own cream soda. I like cream soda. It's one of those drinks that doesn't tend to last long when I buy a bottle... Whatever size of bottle I find, it's generally empty in a couple of days, and that's when I'm struggling to ration it. Cream soda is lovely. Cream soda is moreish.

So, obviously, drinking any significant amount would be a rather expensive proposition, particularly where the good stuff is concerned..

The internet, thankfully, has a large number of recipes for making this stuff at home. Most of them seems to employ soda water or soda syphons, and the recipe is actually for a syrup concentrate rather than a full bottle of drink. That sounds like the easy/cheaty way out and, for whatever reason, I didn't feel like taking the easy/cheaty way out on this one. A bit more research turned up some recipes that can be adapted for all kinds of fizz, from Ginger Beer to Root Beer (another favourite of mine - I got addicted to the stuff when I first went to the States!) with plenty of room to manoeuvre in between. The trick seems to be in the use of a small amount of yeast...

  • Sugar (I used Waitrose Light Brown Muscovado Raw Cane Sugar)
  • Vanilla extract (Ndali's - previously used on my Off-Key Lime Pie meringues)
  • Yeast (a pack of 8 sachets weighed in at 82p at Tesco, but you only need a tiny bit!)
  • Cream of Tartar (optional)
  • Water
Tools Required:
  • 750ml bottle (must have a good seal!)
  • Funnel
  • Teaspoon
  • Tablespoon
Preparation Time: Less than 5 minutes to mix... but then at least two days to ferment!

The Process:
Stick your funnel into the neck of your bottle and dump in six tablespoons of the sugar of your choice. Yes, that's a lot of sugar. What did you expect? Turned out that my choice of sugar wasn't ideal because it tended to just clump and block the funnel. My solution? A bigger funnel. Processed sugar would be less inclined to clump, and would result in a clearer drink as an end result but, whatever kind you use, it should be as fine as possible.

Next add a tablespoon of your vanilla extract, and a tiny fraction of a teaspoon of yeast. Because such a small amount is used, it might be better to buy a tub or tin of yeast. It tends to be incredibly cheap, so the little used by this recipe will go an awfully long way. Hey, maybe I'll make some bread from scratch. At this stage you could also add some cream of tartar - approximately double the quantity of yeast - which. Finally, fill up the bottle with water.

At this point, I should make a point about what type of water to use. Tapwater should be fine, but the varying levels of hardness, the chlorination and flouridation all add up to make a bizarre chemical concoction which isn't necessarily ideal for this kind of thing. You could boil your water beforehand, or you could just use bottled water, though that tends to be just as high - if not higher - in mineral content as tapwater. Any amount of research into Coca Cola will show that the flavour varies quite considerably depending on where in the world it was manufactured/bottled, so the importance of your choice of water should not come as a surprise. I used bottled water this time, just to see how it would turn out.

Put the cap back on the bottle and shake the mixture up to dissolve the sugar, etc. Leave the bottle in a warm environment, out of direct sunlight, for at least two days. You may want to decant the resultant drink into a new bottle, hopefully leaving the yeast behind as a sediment.

The Results:
Well, after producing so much win with my truffles and minty-truffly tart, the universe clearly required that I deliver some fail.

Y'know, just for a change.

I'm not sure how much alcohol is produced by this method, but this first batch definitely had a slightly yeasty mustiness to it and the odour is, to be perfectly honest, more than a little beery.

The flavour of cream soda is in there somewhere, but I can quite honestly call this version a failure. Either there was just not enough sugar and vanilla extract, or I somehow managed to put in too much yeast... But then, after about 48 hours of fermentation, the only bubbles I got were in the initial fizz when I first opened the bottle, and the - admittedly very satisfying - head of foam I saw when I decanted the drink into a new bottle. On the tongue, it's about as effervescent as slightly flat beer. Does that suggest too little yeast, or simply the need for a longer fermentation period?

Further experimentation is needed... And the results are in on batches 2 and 3...
Batch the Second (22/2/12)

Changes to Ingredients:
  • Trade Aid UK Natural Pure Granulated Sugar
  • Tap water
Changes to Procedure:
Eight (8!) tablespoons of sugar, about 60ml (4 tablespoons!) of vanilla extract, about half as much yeast (this is very difficult to measure as the first batch used "a fraction of a teaspoon"... call this 'a pinch'.

Roughly the same amount of cream of tartar (probably more important in this batch, as it (theoretically) prevents re-crystallisation of the sugar. 'Granulated' sugar is less fine than the Muscovado I used last time, so it took a bit longer and a lot more shaking to dissolve in the first place.

Also, rather than using bottled water, I went straight for the tap. My local water tastes foul - on the rare occasion I drink it 'raw', I'll normally fill an empty plastic bottle and let it stand for a day or two before drinking. Much of the dissolved crap bubbles out, leaving it tasting slighly less foul, so I'm not holding out much hope for a homemade drink made using a bottle full of 'raw' tapwater.

In terms of procedure, all I really changed was that I wrapped cling-film around the cap and bottle neck (as a precaution - I don't believe the bottle was leaking gas) and put the bottle into a cupboard I rarely use - the first bottle was left out in the kitchen and probably did experience some fairly direct sunlight.

The Results:
I'm going to have to admit that there's just something about this recipe that isn't working for me. This batch tasted better (though perhaps I went a bit heavy on the vanilla extract), smelt only very slightly alcoholic... but turned out entirely flat.

Batch the Third (1/3/2012)

Changes to Ingredients:

  • None versus second batch

Changes to Procedure:
Same amount of sugar, only 2 tablespoons of vanilla, very slightly more yeast, but roughly the same amount of cream of tartar... The big change here is that, rather than using water straight from the tap, I boiled it and poured it in hot, since temperature is the one thing I haven't really varied that much... The first batch was by a radiator for some of the time, but it wasn't exactly giving much output. The second was cold water, placed in a cupboard, and the ambient temperature was quite low.

Again, cling film was wrapped around the cap, though I still don't think there was a leak, considering the last batch wasn't remotely fizzy even with the cling film seal.

The Results:
Sadly, while the flavour was pretty much spot-on and the drink was entirely without the alcoholic tang, there was still no fizz. Since I don't know what I'm doing with this kind of thing, I cannot say if it was the reduced yeast, the increased vanilla content or the foul tap water that caused these failures... but I can say that it's time to look for a different recipe to try.

That, or do some serious research on brewing...


  1. I might suggest dissolving the sugar into hot water

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Lesa... I gave that a try on Batch 3, but with no greater success. Something's definitely screwing up this recipe...

  2. maybe try not to use cream of is propably killing off the yeast.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion Anonymous Reader! That's certainly going to be worth a try. In theory, the cream of tartar stops the sugar being precipitated and recrystallising... but I'm not sure how likely that is in reality.

      It still bugs me that the closest I've come to success was the first batch, though, and the only significant different between that and the later attempts was the quantity and type of sugar. Perhaps reverting to the Muscovado and leaving out the cream of tartar will do the trick.