It happens that there are a number of ways to do this. Adding a pre-made carbonated beverage to a spirit has been practiced for over a century. Rum and Coke and scotch and soda are well-known examples. More recently, a few bars are creating house-made sodas to use as mixers or even sell directly. House-made soda can be made by adding a flavoring to soda water. The selection of available flavors, natural and otherwise, seems unending. More particular bartenders are making their own carbonated water, and making their own flavorings from fresh ingredients.
Soda siphons are popular – these use CO2 pellets or “chargers” to create the carbonation in water. The carbonated water can be used “straight” as seltzer water, or as the foundation for a carbonated soft drink or mixer formulation. Popular siphon brands include iSi®, Liss, Mr. Fizz and SodaStream.
For an original house-made soda or mixer, some bartenders are turning to shrub syrups to add to their freshly-carbonated water. Shrubs have been around for hundreds of years; you’ll find several shrub recipes in Jerry Thomas’ seminal 1862 work, “How to Mix Drinks.” There are many ways to make shrubs; some involve cooking, others do not. Regardless, most shrubs are made of fruit, sugar and an acidic component, usually vinegar. In fact, a drink made from a shrub syrup is sometimes referred to as “drinking vinegar.” A great way to get started with house-made sodas is to read Darcy O’Neil’s entertaining “Fix the Pumps.”
By the way, let’s not forget the popularity of adding champagne or other sparkling wine bubbles to spirits, as we do in a French 75, for example.
An emerging trend calls for infusing carbonation directly into a cocktail. This changes the game a bit but it’s interesting and some swear by it. The most significant change: Carbonation is introduced without any dilution. Then there is, as we now know, the flavor added from additional carbonation.
While the practice of infusing carbonation is somewhat new, there seem to be several success stories. Clyde Common in Portland created a carbonated Americano, bottled it in 187ml bottles, crown-capped the bottles and refrigerated them for later sale. In San Francisco, Harry Denton’s Starlight Room serves a bottled carbonated Negroni, popular with both cocktail connoisseurs and newbies.
In Manhattan, WD~50 is said to have been the first to experiment with cocktail carbonation, while Lantern’s Keep and Booker & Dax have followed suit. Grant Achatz (Aviary bar, Chicago) and Jose Andres (Minibar, Washington, D.C.) are known practitioners as well.
Equipment that will carbonate any beverage, unlike the water carbonators discussed above, is a bit more involved. Perlini makes a well-regarded commercial system. Less expensive tools may be available, but do your research – one such system is currently under recall for safety reasons.
The union of bubbles and spirits, like many marriages, will evolve with time. But it looks like this marriage could be a long one.
Bubbles Have Flavor
The work was first published in the journal “Science,” Vol. 326, October 16, 2009. The taste of carbonation is initiated by an enzyme tethered like a small flag from the surface of sour-sensing cells in taste buds. The enzyme, abbreviated as Car4, interacts with the carbon dioxide in the soda, activating the sour cells in the taste bud and prompting it to send a sensory message to the brain, where carbonation is perceived as a familiar sensation. We miss-sense this as fizz, or tingle, or bubbles bursting.
Scientists know about the sour taste buds because they’re able to test mice whose sense of taste, it turns out, closely resembles that of humans. In tests, mice without Car4 showed no response to carbon dioxide. And those that lacked sweet-sensing or umami-sensing cells, but had functional sour-sensing cells, did respond.
Additionally, scientists were able to create a (people) tasting condition in which the bubbles, literally, do not burst – yet the taste sensation is unchanged.
If you’re a mountain climber, or follow the sport, you may have heard of the phenomenon “champagne blues,” which is the disappointment experienced by some mountain climbers who crack open bubbly to celebrate reaching a summit only to find that it tastes like dishwater. It turns out that high-altitude mountaineers often take Car4 inhibitors to combat acute mountain sickness, which leaves them unable to taste the carbonation of the champagne.
One last piece of trivia: A human year equals 40 mouse years. So if a mouse wanders into your bar looking for a carbonated drink, you only need to card him for 28 weeks.