Sometimes when I put up a new post on this site, it’s because I have what I think is a good idea and I want to say, “Hey world, here’s an idea I came up with and I’d like to share it with you.” Other times I put up a new post because I want to say, “Hey, quit emailing me and asking me how to do this.”
So, like a million years ago I put up a couple of blog posts on this site, one about making your own ginger beer, and one about bottled carbonated cocktails, both which require some pretty tricky methods for making bubbles: one that called for using ever-unpredictable yeast, and one using a device that was recalled shortly after my post for exploding. Oops.
So about once a week I get an email from someone asking me how to do one of several things:
- Carbonate cocktails in a way that won’t result in exploding equipment.
- Carbonate ginger beer or other mixers without resorting to yeast.
- Carbonate cocktails for draft delivery.
So here are the two systems that can do all of those things. Here we go.
Thanks to the fine folks at my local homebrew shop, I was able to put together a kit that takes less than five minutes to assemble, cost me around a hundred and fifty bucks to build, and costs next to nothing to operate. A bit cheaper than a top-of-the-line SodaStream, but with a lot more versatility (you can carbonate more than just water with mine) and a hell of a lot cheaper to operate long-term. Here’s what you need:
You need a regulator in order to do this. What a regulator does is maintain an exact pressure coming from your CO2 tank. If you’re not using a regulator, you’re dumping the contents of your CO2 tank into your container, and your container can explode. Don’t ever think of hooking a CO2 tank up to anything without a regulator, okay? They cost about $60 bucks and you can buy one here.
A Carbonator Cap
This is about the coolest thing ever. It’s a device that screws on to any two-liter bottle and allows you to carbonate whatever’s inside that bottle. I have this system at home and use it primarily for soda water (I’m a nut for bubbles) and sometimes sparkling lemonade, but you can also use this to carbonate cocktails. It’s especially handy for making bigger batches of bottled cocktails, and sometimes in the summer I’ll make a case of Americanos for backyard parties. Anyway, it’s part of the system I’m describing, so you need to pick one up here.
There’s one good way to get carbon dioxide (CO2) into a beverage, and that’s by using a tank of the stuff. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful, and it’s real easy to find. I’m not going to tell you to buy it online, though if you want an empty tank that you can have refilled cheaply at a homebrew shop any commercial gas place, pick it up here for around $50 bucks. Otherwise, hit up your gas dealer or homebrew shop.
Putting It All Together
Getting the tank connected to the Carbonator Cap is easy, you just need a few small things. First off, get yourself a Quick Disconnect to attach to the Carbonator Cap. This allows you to take the hose on and off the bottle with ease. They’re like ten bucks and you can get one here.
Next, you’ll need some hose and a couple of hose clamps to secure either end to your equipment. I use about five feet of hose for flexibility, and I found one online that actually comes with two hose clamps, which will save you a trip to the hardware store.
Now all you need to do is connect one end of that hose to the quick disconnect, and the other to the hose barb. Use those hose clamps to get it good and secure on either end, and then screw the regulator to the CO2 tank. Open up the tank, flip that valve on the regulator so that it’s parallel to the hose, and crank your PSI up to 35.
Time for Bubbles!
Get your empty two-liter bottle and fill it with the beverage you want to carbonate. The most important thing here is that your liquid is as cold as possible, because carbon dioxide is much more soluble in cold water than in warm. So chill your drink overnight in the fridge if you need to.
Once that puppy is cold, screw on the Carbonator Cap, connect the quick disconnect to the cap, and make sure everything is on there good and tight. Now, while the tank is connected, you’ve got to shake the shit out of your bottle. Shaking will increase the surface area between the gas and the liquid, which is where the transfer of CO2 happens. Shake it hard until you can’t feel or hear any more gas being delivered to the bottle. This usually takes between thirty seconds and a minute.
Disconnect the Quick Disconnect valve and you’re done. If you’re only carbonating water, then you can unscrew the Carbonator Cap and you’re ready to go. If you have anything with sugar in there (and yes, booze and fruit juice all have sugar in them) then you’ll want to unscrew that cap really slowly so that it doesn’t fizz up all over your counter.
And that’s it! Now you can pour it out into glasses, or fill some bottles and cap them if that’s the route you want to take. For reference, here’s your shopping list.
- CO2 tank: $68.40, $15 to refill.
- Tap-Rite Regulator: $58.99
- 5 feet of hose and two hose clamps: $5.24
- Ball Valve Quick Disconnect: $9.99
- Carbonator Cap: $12.65
- Empty two liter bottle: $0.05
Total cost: $155.32
Now, if you really need to serve cocktails on tap, then this system isn’t going to work. For that you’ll need what’s referred to as a “Cornelius Keg”, which is a five-gallon keg typically used for soda. They’re great for this because they have a nice wide opening that makes them a cinch to clean.
I had a whole thing written where I went through the individual parts for you, and then I realized you can just buy a complete system online. It’s around $200 and includes everything you would need to serve cocktails or soda on tap (I do own this system as well). Now, if you’re hoping to connect this to your draft faucets in a professional bar you’ll need some additional connections, but if you’re at that level I’m going to assume you know how to navigate the back-end of your system and get the right connections from the homebrew shop.
Once you’ve got that all assembled, then the method is the same: mix up your drink, get it very well chilled, shake the hell out of it until there’s no more gas running into the container, and you’re almost ready. The one difference with the keg system is that once you’ve reached your full 25 or so PSI of carbonation, you’ve got to turn down the pressure coming from the regulator to about 8 PSI, otherwise you’ll be firing foam all over the place (that’s what she said). You can do this by pulling the ring on the top of the keg to release pressure while turning the regulator knob counter-clockwise until you’ve landed somewhere around 8 PSI.
That’s it! I hope this helps those of you looking to add some bubble to your beverages. I’m starting my 2014 (and my eleventh year of writing this blog!) by helping myself to a nice, cold glass of sparkling water. Cheers, you guys.