Editor’s Note: This is a revised and updated version for 2019.
My first experience making soda was with my father back in the mid-nineties. We made and bottled our own root beer that was naturally carbonated in the bottle. I remember it being a big hit. The flavor was more complex and it was so much cheaper than any quality root beer out there.
We only did this a few times and looking back I guess that is what got me started knowing how to naturally carbonate and bottle any beverage. The method we are going to talk about today takes far less time and storage space than bottle carbonation. If you get a seltzer system set up, you can have your own seltzer and soda in less than an hour.
There are so many other systems and devices available now for those that are interested in making their own soda or seltzer. If you have thought about doing it, here are a few reasons why you should not hesitate.
You can avoid high fructose corn syrup and still have a refreshing beverage.
For the traditional soda drinkers out there. The one major advantage of making your own sweet sodas is that you can use better quality sweeteners and you can limit the amount.
High fructose corn syrup is what most commercial sodas are absolutely full of. It is also one of the biggest contributors to the obesity problem in the United States. Soda is cheap and the corn industry is extremely subsidized.
Regardless of how much corn you consume, you are still paying for some of it if you pay taxes at all. Making your own soda can help you lose weight and not feel so deprived as you do so.
You control the ingredients.
Back in college and when I was a kid, I consumed way more sugary soda than I should have. A lot of kids do, especially those that grew up in a lower economic bracket. It was a treat that was affordable until you got the dental bills a decade or more later.
While a lot of readers became soda drinkers when cane sugar was the normal method of sweetening, now all the mainstream sodas and drinks are sweetened using high fructose corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup is some nasty stuff to consume all the time and a main contributor to the obesity and diabetes epidemic. There are other ways and one of them is making your own so you can control sweetener levels and flavors.
You can buy natural flavor in lieu of artificial ones and also leave out the artificial dyes like Red 40 or Caramel Color.
I have heard plenty of older people comment on how their favorite soda doesn’t taste the same as it used to.
While some have passed this off as everything tastes better when you are a kid, the truth is that the ingredients of have likely been substituted enough to make a difference. Real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup is one of the biggest differences but also natural versus artificial flavorings.
When you bottle your drinks and leave residual sugar that creates natural carbonation. Root beer is delicious when done this way but you have to have a place to store it for weeks while it carbonates.
It might be fun to do once in a while but most people are too busy and lack the storage to do it for all their soda making.
This is the easiest and most space efficient way to create fizzy drinks. There are an array of systems out there to force carbonation. This involves using CO2 gas from a canister to carbonate rapidly.
Our seltzer system
We do not drink commercial sodas at all but we do like to drink sparkling waters. Some flavor and sugar is ok but not anything close to what you find in traditional sodas or sweet sparkling waters.
I don’t care enough about sweets to use artificial sweeteners or natural based ones like Splenda but if you have dietary restrictions that require this you can certainly use them.
Here is what you will need for a set up similar to ours. This is just what I found. Sometimes brew supply stores and others have package deals and specials but Amazon seems to have some pretty good prices on individual components.
If you don’t want to put your own system together with individual parts then you can buy a kegging system that has everything you need to get started except for having the CO2 tank filled. I list individual components because sometimes you can find a deal here and there and put a system together cheaper or at least buy parts as you can afford them.
These are not an inexpensive item but they will last forever if you take care of them and maybe replace a seal once in a very great while.
Larger 3-5 gallon kegs cost around the same and sometimes you can find an outstanding deal on one used. The problem is that larger kegs are harder to fit in your refrigerator so if you want to keep seltzer chilled, that is a problem.
Our system lacks some portability. Of course, one of the problems with our seltzer system is that it is not convenient when you want a fizzy drink away from home or running errands.
This is one area where a Soda Stream system is superior because there are containers you can use for maintaining fizziness on the road. Soda Stream machines are shown further on in this post.
Cleaning The Keg And Making The Seltzer Or Soda Base
You need to clean your keg every few batches of seltzer or soda generally so this is the first step.
To Clean A Keg
We use Oxygen Cleaner that has no scents in it. This is very important. If you cannot find this then get a good sanitizer like that found at brew supply shops. Bleach can be used but I don’t recommend it because it is so smelly and unpleasant to work with compared to oxygen-based cleaners.
Put some warm water and oxygen cleaner in your keg. You can use a keg brush if there is grime from some previous beverage project. Put the lid on and shake well.
Add a little CO2 to the keg. It just has to be enough to force water out. This cleans the lines within the keg and your tap line.
You may need to repeat the above process with a bit of fresh water to rinse but some cleaners are no rinse and break down quickly. Oxygen cleaner is good for this so if you just let the keg rest for a minute it will dissipate.
Fill the keg with water. Our tap water is from a well here so I do not bother filtering it. You may want to filter yours. If so now is the time to do it.
Tip for quick carbonation
Leaving some room in the keg is called headspace. A larger headspace allows for more CO2 to be added to the keg in ratio to water and so you get faster carbonation. If I want seltzer fast I only fill the keg about half full with 1/3 of it being ice.
Cold water carbonates faster so if you have an icemaker, throw in a few cups.
When keg has water and ice in it, proceed as directed below.
Put on the lid and secure. Put CO2 into the keg. You will hear a hissing sound that will level off to nothing. Turn off C02 at the tank and remove the CO2 in the connector from your keg.
Shake keg for a minute and then add C02 again and shake. Let it set for a few hours at a cold temp if you can. If you want it carbonated sooner then keep shaking it or roll it around on the ground.
Shaking is really not required but carbonation takes longer if you don’t agitate the keg. It is completely up to you. Add more CO2 to your keg as needed to keep up carbonation levels.
You want to avoid putting sticky and sweet things into your keg if you can. If you are going to drink it up within a few days and keep pressure on it then fine but your keg will be harder to clean out and if you let the pressure drop on it then you can get things growing in it that you don’t want to drink.
Mostly it seems like the flavor is just off in these cases. The exception, of course, is when you use extracts and mixes specifically made for mixing in kegs.
We try to keep a selection of juices and concentrates on hand and then mix it in as we pour seltzer. This allows for a greater variety from one keg.
This usually consists of organic lime and lemon juice, tart cherry juice concentrate, and then we will get something special here and there like the mango and guava nectar you see in the picture.
If you are a fan of Orangina you can make a good homemade version of it by mixing orange juice and seltzer together. This also contains a lot less sugar.
Torani makes syrups in 47 flavors last I checked. I include them because they are often found at grocery stores as well as Amazon. They are one brand of many different soda syrups out there. You can get sugar free versions as well.
There are are a lot of natural based soda syrups out there and I definitely encourage you to take a look at ingredients and make sure they are acceptable to you.
Some have coloring agents or artificial ingredients that may not be acceptable to you. There are also books and recipes out there that can show you how to make your own custom soda syrups with sweeteners or not.
Home Soda Makers
These are popular systems because they are easy to order and you can get a lot of different flavors. If you want something easy and foolproof then go for it but the keg system and C02 tank with juices system I use are a lot cheaper and to be honest I do not care for the lemon-lime and natural flavors that Soda Stream produces.
It just tastes too fake to me and costs as much or more than organic lemon and lime. Soda Stream does sell carbonation bottles that you can take on the road with you so you can enjoy homemade soda from home.
These are old fashioned and used to be a staple in any home bar. They are good for small amounts of seltzer. It is kind of a neat concept but not a practical solution for a household.
Although a starter kegging set up may cost you $240 if you get the components I suggest in a package, this is nothing to what you are paying if you are a regular soda or seltzer water drinker.
Spending $10 per week for 24 cans means you are spending $520 per year on fizzy drinks. If you are spending $20 a week then you are spending an amazing $1040 per year! In a family of fizzy drink fans, this is not hard to spend, especially if you are impulse buying soda at gas stations or similar.
A seltzer and soda kegging set up can easily pay for itself in 6 months or less depending on your household’s overall consumption rate.
If you are making more expensive style carbonated beverages then you may get your money back even faster. Organic soda’s and other drinks can be nearly twice as much as standard soda.
This was just a quick overview of making carbonated drinks at home. There is a lot of room to play around with flavors and sweeteners. If you have any questions I will try to answer them if you ask in the comments below.
Please share with us any tips or recipes you have for making carbonated beverages at home. It would be good to hear from fellow Backdoor Survivalists that have used any of the soda makers I have mentioned. We love hearing first-hand accounts from our readers so we can learn too!
Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and a pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them.
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