Pop Art – Brewing Excellent Soda

Brew your own…soda? Well, why not? If you have the equipment to brew beer at home, you have the equipment to make your own soda. There are a lot of reasons to make soda. You can make brewing a family activity without raising the neighbors’ eyebrows. You can have something nonalcoholic but different for a picnic or other event. You can experiment with flavors without the time and monetary investment that goes into a batch of beer. Or you can just try something new.

There are several options available to home soda makers.You can choose to use a premade kit, make your own soda base and add fruit extract or other flavorings, or make your soda entirely from scratch. In other words, the range of options is about the same as it is for brewing beer. Kit, modified kit, or whole grain, the choice is yours.

The Basics

Compared with brewing beer, making soda is fast, easy, and cheap. Even a batch from scratch takes only an hour or so to make and can be consumed within 24 hours. The procedure for making soda is pretty much the same as it is for making beer: heating, cooling, and carbonating. And sanitization is every bit as important as it is for beer. In fact it is more important for soda, because you will not be introducing a good healthy yeast population to outcompete all the undesirable microbes.

Unless you have a kegging system and can carbonate artificially, you will be using natural carbonation supplied by yeast. This means that your soda will have a negligible amount of alcohol in it. You will be stopping the fermentation process quite early in the game, and the alcohol should not be noticeable. Should you fail to stop the fermentation, the results will be about the same as if you had dumped cane sugar into your beer. Your soda will be cidery and not in the least bit sweet.

If you use natural carbonation, bottle and add yeast to start the carbonation process once your soda base is at about room temperature. You should use plastic soda bottles. Do not use glass. Should you overcarbonate in glass, you may find yourself with little glass grenades. In addition plastic bottles allow you to “feel” when the carbonation process is finished. When the bottle is rock hard, it is time to refrigerate it to stop the carbonation process.

If you need a comparison, try squeezing a commercial plastic bottle of seltzer. Your soda will probably be ready to be refrigerated after it has been left at room temperature for 12 hours. You can use wine, beer, or Champagne yeast. Wine and champagne yeast strains are generally recommended, because they impart little yeast taste to the finished product. If you choose to use beer yeast, use ale yeast. Lager yeast cells continue to ferment at refrigerator temperatures, and you do not want this to occur. Do not use bread yeast unless you want a strong yeasty taste.

If you are using dry yeast, rehydrate it first. One packet of yeast works for five gallons of soda, and about half a teaspoon of a yeast slurry made from one packet of dry yeast rehydrated in one-half cup warm water works for a two-liter bottle.

Which carbonation method is best? Many soda makers prefer artificial carbonation. You get an alcohol-free soda, no yeast at the bottom of the bottle, and no yeast flavor. Use 30 PSI and hook the carbon dioxide to your “out” valve so that the CO2 bubbles through the soda on its way to the top of the keg. With your soda chilled to the low 30° F range, about 10 minutes of shaking is sufficient. Dispense at eight to 10 PSI.

The Ingredients

If you pick up a can or bottle of your favorite commercial soda and read the list of ingredients, you will find that it has four basic elements: water, sweetness, flavor, and acid. You will want the same four basic elements in your homebrewed soda. For sweetness you can use cane sugar and honey. For flavorings you can use anything from a commercial soda flavor to whole ingredients. Lemon juice and citric acid are probably the most accessible sources for the acid component. The acid helps counterbalance the sweetness.

The Easy Method

Your homebrew supply store is likely to have a small selection of soda extracts. You should follow the instructions that come with these extracts. These kits include the extract only, so you will need to supply your own sugar.

The Harder Method

Make your soda base from scratch, using the recipe in this article, and add natural fruit extract or another source of fruit flavoring. Realistically, this is no harder than using the preformulated soda extract, except that it might require a little creativity on your part.

The Hardest Method

Use a scratch soda base and whole ingredients, such as ginger or other roots, herbs or spices. This is still not very difficult, but you will have to make some decisions about how best to get the flavor from the ingredients. For example if you are making ginger ale, you will want to boil the ginger with the soda base. However, if you are making a pepper soda, you will probably want to add the pepper at the end of the boil to avoid getting a cooked pepper taste. Experimentation is the key to success here, and you’ll want to play with a scaled-down version of the soda base so that you can try different flavors without committing to a five-gallon batch.

Choosing Flavor

The sky is the limit when it comes to flavors. Soda makers have made birch and root beer from extract kits; raspberry and cranberry soda using natural fruit extracts; ginger ale, garlic soda, and habañero soda from fresh ingredients; guava soda using a concentrate found in an ethnic market; celery soda from celery seed (there’s a commercial soda called Dr. Browns Cel-Ray soda — it’s an acquired taste — to replicate it try one-quarter cup of celery seed added to the boil); and coffee soda from coffee. Cream soda uses vanilla for its flavor. Root beer’s primary ingredients are wintergreen and sassafras. Real sassafras is carcinogenic, so artificial or natural substitutes for the sassafras flavor are used in all commercial extracts and sodas.

One word of caution about using fresh fruit: Heating it is going to bring out pectin, the same substance that forms the base for fruit jellies, and give you a cloudy soda. Unless you want to add pectase, an enzyme that breaks down pectin, fresh fruit is probably not the best ingredient. The general rule about when to add ingredients is that herbs and spices should be boiled with the soda base, while fruits (including pepper), should be added to the hot base after the boil is finished.

Think about your consuming audience when deciding what to make. Most children consider the ginger ale recipe included below much too strong. Try using one-half or one-third the ginger if it is for the kids. One home soda maker learned her lesson about knowing her consuming audience in a club soda competition. Upon arrival she learned that the judges would be children. The sophisticated but strong ginger ale and habañero sodas were trounced by one flavored with Kool-Aid. The next year the judges were adults, and she took all the ribbons.

Finding Ingredients

Soda extracts are available from most stores that sell homebrewing supplies. Very high quality, 100 percent natural fruit extracts can be ordered by mail from some companies, such as HopTech ( HopTech’s extracts are very concentrated, and they offer raspberry, blueberry, cherry, peach, cranberry, apricot, and pear, as well as root beer flavoring.

Your local ethnic grocery is a wonderful source for fruit concentrates of all sorts. You might find guava, mango, papaya, sour cherry, and tamarind syrups at the stores. Be sure to check the label because some are presweetened and some are not. Taste them and play around with the sugar levels in your soda recipe.


The sugar/honey proportion is a matter of personal taste. Some home soda makers like to use some honey because it adds body and the proteins aid in head retention. Many prefer a light honey, but you can make a fantastic root beer using a dark honey. Some concoctions, such as cinnamon soda, might benefit from the use of a dark, spicy honey.

Basic Soda Base
(2 liters)


  • 2.25 liters water (some will boil off)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup mildly flavored honey, such as clover
  • 4 tsp. lemon juice (added at end of boil)
  • 1 tsp. per liter of yeast mix, from 1 packet Champagne yeast, rehydrated with 1/4 cup of warm tap water and 1/2 tsp. sugar.

Step by Step:

Boil water, sugar, and honey, stirring to dissolve honey and sugar, for at least 15 min. Add lemon juice and cool. Add yeast and bottle, or skip the yeast and use artificial carbonation.


Flavoring: Fruit extracts vary widely in the intensity of their flavor, and you will need to experiment to decide how much to use.
Sweetness: There is nothing magical about the amount of sugar and honey, and you should adjust this recipe to your own tastes. Adults generally prefer less sweetness, children more. As a rule commercial soda makers aim for a gravity of 1.040 to 1.048. That’s the equivalent of about 7 oz. or 21/4 cups of cane sugar per gallon, 2 oz. or 2/3 cup per liter.
You can use all sugar, but the use of honey adds a little body. You can also use corn syrup, molasses, or any other natural sweetener.

Basic Soda Base
(5 gallons)


  • 5.5 gal. water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups mildly flavored honey, such as clover
  • 6 oz. lemon juice

Step by Step:

Follow the step by step instructions from two-liter Soda Base recipe.

Ginger Ale
(5 gallons)


  • 5 gal. soda base
  • 1 large adult “hand” of ginger (about 6 oz.), peeled and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. dried ginger (optional), added to boil
  • (optional) 1-2 hot peppers, sliced and steeped after boil

Step by Step:

Follow the ingredients and general instructions for the 5 gal. soda base. Chop the fresh ginger in a blender or food processor and add it to the soda base’s boil. You can also add dried ginger to the boil if you want more ginger flavor.

Another optional flavor addition is a hot pepper or two. Slice the pepper and steep it in the soda after the boil as the mixture cools. Strain the mixture prior to bottling.

Notes: A “hand” is about the size of an adult man’s hand. The quality of ginger you find in stores varies widely. You want fresh ginger that is plump and has a thin, shiny skin. Your local Asian grocery store is probably your best source.

Coffee Soda
(2 liters)

Before trying this recipe, add molasses to a cup of coffee to decide whether you like it. This recipe does not use the soda base.


  • 2 liters good-quality coffee
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 tsp. per liter of yeast mix, from 1 packet Champagne yeast, rehydrated with 1/4 cup of warm tap water and 1/2 tsp. sugar

Step by Step:

Prepare the coffee in your usual way. Add the sugar and molasses to the coffee when it is hot from your machine. Do not boil the coffee! Cool.

Add yeast and bottle, or skip the yeast and use artificial carbonation.

Brewing Soda vs. Beer: Some Differences

Once made and carbonated, soda should be kept refrigerated. You have a much higher chance of spontaneous fermentation with soda than with beer, because the sugar level in the end is much higher. Do not bottle in glass. There’s just too much chance of spontaneous fermentation and exploding bottles.

Soda does not need to age and should be consumed quickly. Prepackaged soda extracts can impart a permanent flavor to your plastic equipment. Root and birch beers are infamous for this. Soda is ready the next day. You can drink homebrewed soda and drive, legally.

Issue: October 1999