2015-08-08 05:52 pm
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Jerking Around #10 - A (Mostly-)Failed Experiment

Today, just because I was in the mood, I tried an experiment with the SodaStream. It didn’t work out as planned.

I happen to like iced tea with mint flavor in it, especially when the weather is excessively summery. Unfortunately, the only commercial mint iced tea that I’ve ever come across is Snapple’s, and it seems to show up for a summer, then disappear for three or four years. And right now, it’s disappeared. So, I decided to try to make my own.

Bigelow has a (bagged) flavor they call Plantation Mint; this is an acceptable black tea (not as nice as most Twinings blends) with a decent mint flavor, not too strong. It also doesn’t need any added sugar when brewed hot or as “sun tea”. This made it a perfect tea for this experiment, as SodaStream says that carbonating after flavoring is a bad idea because you end up with sugar in hard-to-clean–or impossible-to-clean–places in the device. Since the tea in question doesn’t actually need sweetening (and none is listed in the ingredients), I figured that in this case it would be safe to make the tea normally, chill it, and then carbonate it. So I did.

There is a good reason not to carbonate already brewed tea in a SodaStream: It gets very excited and wants to escape the bottle urgently. After cleaning up the resulting mess, I did have enough left to taste, and that little bit is the reason that this is a mostly failed experiment, instead of a completely failed one.

As a carbonated beverage, tea needs sweetening. The mild acidity of the soda and the mild acidity/bitterness (not sure what to call it) of the tannins in tea reinforce each other just enough to be unpleasant. Once you’ve added enough of a sweetener (I was using cane sugar) to cut the acidity, but not enough to make it sweet, it becomes quite tolerable, and, of course, if you like sweeter beverages, you can always add more. I would actually consider doing this again, if I could find a way to carbonate it without it becoming so exuberant.

I find the tea bags in boxes of 25 in my local Stop-and-Shop; Bigelow is a widely-available brand that I would expect to find in any supermarket and many small grocers.

Made with SodaStream
Tea bags (Bigelow Plantation Mint) sold in boxes of 25
0 Cal/fl oz (0kcal/100ml)
The Bigelow Tea Company

2014-07-09 07:11 pm
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Jerking Around #9 - Dr Brown’s Cel-Ray

Cel-Ray is one of those completely off-the-wall flavors (celery) that turns out to be surprisingly good. It quite definitely fits into the same niche as ginger ale (not ginger beer), but doesn’t seem as sweet as most.

The flavor is principally from celery seed extract, and has a spiciness similar to that of the best ginger ales. It’s a lighter flavor, though, and (in my opinion) more refreshing. It can benefit from the addition of a small amount of lemon juice or lime juice, but far less than the 10% that I cut the Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer (from Jerking Around #4) with.

The color is best described as amber, lighter than most ginger ales, and in the LED light in my dining room (where I’ve set up the laptop I’m writing this on), there’s perhaps the faintest shading of the color toward a celery-stalk green.

Like most name-brand sodas, it’s more heavily carbonated than I find ideal. The carbonation is visible, with moderately-sized bubbles adhering to the inside of the glass, renewed as they break away and rise to the top. It doesn’t leave me with a burp bubble, though.

Most of the time, I drink this “stand-alone”, for refreshment. It’s not out of place with a potato knish (with mustard, mind you), a corned-beef sandwich on rye, or any number of other Jewish classics.

I routinely find this at many Jewish delis, including one on the Grand Central Food Court. I can sometimes find it in Stop-and-Shop, Fairway, or DeCicco supermarkets. If you’re in Brooklyn, NY, the iconic Junior’s Restaurant also serves it.

Sold in 12 oz (355 ml) cans (singly in delis and restaurants, six-packs in supermarkets).
11.67 Cal/fl oz (39.45kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with HFCS
Dr Brown’s

2014-07-08 04:49 pm
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Jerking Around #8 - Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer

Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer is both like and unlike other birch beers - the traditional ‘harsh’ flavor of birch beer is there, but it’s also ‘cut’ a little with the smoothness of a classic vanilla cream soda. It’s not the same flavor you’d get by mixing the two, however; while this has the smoothness of a vanilla cream soda, probably from the vanilla listed as an ingredient, there isn’t so much that you actually taste the vanilla. It’s all birch beer, and quite enjoyable.

The carbonation is on a par with most major-brand sodas; it’s a bit heavier than I prefer, and leaves me with a burpable bubble.

When held up to the light—unfortunately, I didn’t have one that I could take a picture with—it’s quite definitely the red that Boylan’s named it; it’s possible that you can get a hint of it by looking at the accompanying picture, up at the top of the soda.

I enjoy this accompanying spicy foods—it goes well next to a chicken-and-andouille-sausage jambalaya.

I find this occasionally at one of the Grand Central food vendors; it’s also an occasional flavor available at my local Fairway. If you like it, stock up; it doesn’t seem to be a regularly-stocked flavor anywhere I’ve found it.

Sold as singleton or four-packs of 12 oz (360 ml) glass bottles.
14.17 Cal/fl oz (47.91kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with Cane Sugar
Boylan Bottling Co.

2014-04-21 06:23 pm
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Jerking Around #7 - GuS Dry Valencia Orange

Much of what I said about the GuS Star Ruby Grapefruit in Jerking Around #3 applies to the Dry Valencia Orange as well – it’s not too sweet, has sediment in the bottle requiring gentle agitation, and is quite refreshing. It’s even almost as tart as the Star Ruby Grapefruit; the difference can be attributed to grapefruit juice being somewhat more tart than orange juice, and the Dry Valencia Orange doesn’t have any grapefruit juice.

While I don’t have anything negative to say about the flavor, I probably won’t be a regular purchaser of this – I can do just as well, in my opinion, by mixing a good brand of orange juice with seltzer. And doing so will probably be cheaper in the long run.

I find this at one of the food vendors in the Grand Central Terminal dining court, and also at a nearby Fairway supermarket.

Sold in four-packs of 12oz (360ml) glass bottles
7.92 Cal/fl oz (26.78kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with cane sugar
Utmost Brands

2014-04-19 11:46 am
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Jerking Around #6 - FOUND Cucumber & Mint

It’s been a while since the last one of these, for which I apologise – it’s mostly been a case of too much hands on my time.

This bills itself as “infused sparkling water”, which still meets the definition of “soda”.

When I broke the seal and removed the cap, I was met with the characteristic odor of cucumber - not unreasonable, given the flavor. It wasn't intense, but then, cucumber simply isn't an intense flavor/odor.

The flavor is complex. The cucumber is the single most noticeable flavor, but this is definitely a sparkling mineral water, rather than “regular” water, and the cucumber plus the mineral-ness almost completely overpower the mint. The sweetening is almost imperceptible, and probably does nothing more than bring out what little mint flavor can be detected.

The carbonation is very light – there is a slight hiss and a few bubbles when opening the bottle, but afterward it appears to be still. You can still taste the carbonation in the tingle on your tongue, though.

This is not really something that I’d specifically seek out, but it would be a reasonable choice to go with a salad – especially a greek salad – on a hot summer day. It might also be an interesting choice for the non-drinker at a wine-and-cheese party.

I find this product at a food vendor in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal.

I’ve only seen this sold as single glass bottles, 11.2 oz (330 ml)
5.54 Cal/fl oz (18.7kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with beet sugar.

Found Beverage Co.

2013-12-08 07:17 pm
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Jerking Around #5 - Boylan MASH, Pomegranate Blueberry

Boylan MASH, Pomegranate Blueberry

I came to this expecting it to be sweet, as berry-flavored beverages and grenadine-syrup-based flavors usually are. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it isn’t. It doesn’t have the underlying spiciness of the ginger in the Lemon Peel Ginger Root (LPGR henceforth), nor the basic citrus acidity of the lemon, so most people will perceive it to be sweeter, but not nearly as overpoweringly sweet as the typical orange or berry-flavored soda. As with the LPGR, the carbonation is very light, detectable only in the fizziness on the tongue.

I don’t like this as much as the LPGR, and can’t think of any particular food I’d recommend it with - but that’s just because it’s not to my taste. If you don’t favor tart and spicy as much as I do, you’ll probably find this a nice change from cloyingly-sweet berry-flavored beverages.

I find this product at a local ‘gourmet’ deli, and also at one of the food vendors in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal.

I’ve only seen this sold as single 20 oz. plastic bottles.
5 Cal/fl oz (16.9 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with crystalline fructose and sucralose.

Boylan Bottling Co. - note that Boylan’s website has absolutely no mention of this product line anywhere to be found.

2013-10-14 06:57 pm
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Jerking Around #4 - Gosling's Stormy Ginger Beer

There are two differences, in my experience, between ginger ale and ginger beer: ginger beer has a much stronger ginger flavor, and it also usually has a ‘stickier’, more cloying sweetness. Usually, there’s a third difference; ginger beer is darker. Gosling’s follows the pattern for the first two. It differs from other ginger beers that I’ve encountered in that Gosling’s doesn’t color the soda into a darker version of the light amber that has become the ‘conventional’ color of most ginger ales. If it weren’t cloudy, Gosling’s would be a clear and colorless soda; the cloudiness makes it a color best described as off-white. It lets a small amount of light through, but not enough to make out the shape of the logo that’s on the back of the stein pictured.

It is moderately carbonated, forming a layer of bubbles on the inside of the stein that are renewed as they break off and float to the top. The bubbles are larger than those seen in MASH or GuS. It does not seem to leave me with a big bubble to burp up.

The flavor is intensely ginger, much more so than any ginger ale, but consistent with most ginger beers of my experience. This is nothing less than the liquid version of crystallized ginger.

I actually like this a little better with about 10% lime juice; it cuts the sweetness and adds a citrus tang. Lemon juice would probably work as well.

I’d drink this with just about anything, but when cut with lime, it goes very nicely with a curry.

I found this at the lobby concession at the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.

Sold in 12oz cans.
15.83 Cal/fl.oz. (53.54 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with HFCS.

Bottled by Polar Beverages, but it’s a product of Gosling’s Rum

2013-10-08 04:02 am
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Jerking Around #3 - GuS Star Ruby Grapefruit

GuS Star Ruby Grapefruit

GuS stands for “Grown-up Soda” and claims to be “Not Too Sweet”. The Star Ruby Grapefruit flavor lives up to the billing. The soda is a cloudy pink color, and there is a small amount of sediment in the bottom. There are no specific admonitions on the bottle, but a gentle agitation of the bottle before drinking is indicated. It has a quite refreshing, tart citrus flavor, not purely grapefruit (it is mostly grapefruit and orange), with light carbonation amounting to a strong fizz on the tongue. Sweetness isn’t absent, but it’s not the cloying sweetness of too much HFCS - one could almost suppose that it’s no more than the natural sweetness of citrus fruit. There are seven other flavors in the line; I’ve seen “Dry Pomegranate”, “Dry Valencia Orange”, “Extra Dry Ginger Ale”, and “Dry Cola”; the website claims those plus “Dry Root Beer”, “Dry Meyer Lemon”, and “Dry Cranberry Lime”.

I’d want two of these, not one, but it’d be a great referesher on hot days. It would also make a nice palate cleanser.

Sold in four-packs of 12oz (360ml) bottles
7.5 Cal/fl.oz.(25.36 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with cane sugar
Utmost Brands

ETA: I find this at a food vendor in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal, and also at a nearby Fairway supermarket.

2013-09-15 07:04 pm
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Jerking Around #2 - Fentimans Shandy

Fentimans ShandyFentimans Shandy, poured

I came across Fentimans when someone mentioned their Victorian Lemonade to me. The local supplier that I found didn’t have the Victorian Lemonade when I went in, but they did have the Shandy (and some of their other flavors), so I grabbed a four-pack to try. Upon reading the label (and confirming by looking up the definition of ‘shandy’), I saw that it was a mix of beer and lemonade. In the case of Fentimans, the 70% beer has been de-alcoholized to 1° proof or less. I was nevertheless dubious, recalling my personal history with beer.

The bottle is the typical brown glass that many beers are sold in, and unlike the generally clear bottles that most sodas are sold in (there are exceptions). Upon opening the bottle, I was met with the distinct odor of beer, which is certainly expectable, but did nothing to assuage my doubts. On pouring into a glass stein, it developed a head much like beer would, though not nearly as long-lasting (but definitely not ‘soda foam’). The color of the shandy is the same sort of amber color one expects from the typical American mass-market lager.

The flavor of this product is definitely affected by temperature. When I originally tried this, not wanting to be surprised immediately before writing this review, I had it quite cold from the refrigerator. Then, the lemonade flavor was quite pronounced, and it wasn’t ‘beery’ at all, except perhaps a little as it hit the back of the throat on the way down.

When drunk closer to room-temperature (in this case, it sat on the table in the bottle for a couple of minutes while I took pictures, then a minute or so more while I dug out my glass stein, then a minute or so more after pouring while I did a visual inspection and took a picture for the second paragraph of this entry), the beer-ness comes forward much more strongly, though it doesn’t get to the point of overwhelming the lemonade.

Edited to add: The carbonation was visible, with myriad small bubble forming on the inside of the stein, and a distinct fizziness on the tongue. It was not a strong carbonation like is common in commercial seltzers, but neither was it the barely-there carbonation of Boylan’s MASH. Overall, it gave a pleasant mouth feel.

I won’t presume to try to make a pronouncement as to whether the beer flavor is ‘good’ or ‘bad’; I’m not a beer drinker, and my experiences and expectations aren’t those of someone who knows beer. However, taken as an entity by itself, I’d occasionally seek this out, just because I needed a change from the same-old-same-old.

I do think it would go well with crunchy salty snacks, or with something like chili con carne. My preference would be for colder, but I can see where this could legitimately be considered ‘better’ when served at or near room-temperature.

Sold as four-packs of 9.3oz (275 ml) bottles.
14 Cal/fl oz (47.3 kcal/100ml)
70% de-alcoholized beer, 30% lemonade
Sweetened with granulated sugar

Fentimans UK and Fentimans North America

ETA: I found this at a nearby Fairway supermarket.

2013-09-08 05:03 pm
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Jerking Around #1 - Boylan's MASH, Lemon Peel Ginger Root

Boylan MASH, Lemon Peel Ginger Root

MASH meets the definition of ‘soda’ that I mentioned in Jerking Around #0(b) - it’s carbonated and non-alcoholic. Boylan’s, the manufacturer, calls it “a low calorie water drink”. There are four flavors; I’ll be reviewing them all, each in its own entry in this series.

The Lemon Peel Ginger Root is a cloudy lemon-yellow color. The carbonation is very light - about the only sign is in the fizziness on the tongue and a slight pressure release on opening the bottle.

The flavor is quite lemony, with overtones of ginger and the bitterness of most citrus peels - a very nice combination. One can also taste some sweetness, enough to take the edge off the flavors, perhaps a bit more, but definitely not overpowering. It’s perhaps just a bit too sweet to be acceptable as a palate-cleanser, but I would certainly find it more refreshing on hot days than the typical mass-market soda.

I would happily drink this with just about anything, but would recommend it with dishes that have heavy or cloying flavors.

I've only seen this sold as single 20 oz. plastic bottles.
5 Cal/fl oz (16.9 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with crystalline fructose and sucralose.

Boylan Bottling Co. - note that Boylan's website has absolutely no mention of this product line anywhere to be found.

ETA: I find this product at a local ‘gourmet’ deli, and also at one of the food vendors in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal.

2013-09-08 04:59 pm
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Jerking Around #0(c) - A Bit About My Tastes

I should perhaps make some comments on my own personal tastes, since they will undoubtedly influence how I describe the sodas I review.

While I do not turn up my nose at highly-sugared, very sweet sodas, I don't actually seek them out, and given a choice, will generally choose something tart or even bitter over something sweet. I'm the kind of person who will consider bitter lemon or tonic water to be drinkable, even enjoyable, in its own right, and not strictly as a mixer. I will choose a root beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla, cola, or similar "harsh" flavor over a very sweet fruity flavor like orange or pineapple.

I prefer moderate carbonation; too little carbonation tends to leave a soda too sweet (more carbonation means more carbonic acid, which has a sourness that counters the excessive sweetness of most syrups); too much does uncomfortable things to my upper digestive system (burping is rude, and it's very uncomfortable to have a bubble that needs to be burped up).
2013-08-07 04:07 am
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Jerking Around #0(b) - What is "soda"?

In online chat a couple of nights ago, I was discussing the plan for the Jerking Around series, and someone reminded me that "soda" doesn't have a consistent meaning. So, I decided that I need to clarify: for the purposes of these posts,

a beverage that is both carbonated and non-alcoholic

I had considered adding the qualification "and is not marketed as a replacement for beer", but I decided that even though I'm not a beer drinker, it wouldn't be fair to completely eliminate from consideration such beverages as O'Doul's or Malta. This type of 'soda' is going to be pretty low on the list of sodas to review, though. They'll pop up ... eventually.

2013-08-02 02:03 am
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Jerking Around #0

OK, so I like making really stupid puns. Sue me.

The pun, in this case, is that the “jerk” in the title is a reference to being a soda jerk - someone who makes sodas from syrup and seltzer in an old-fashioned luncheonette (and there really are still some out there).

Future articles in this series are going to be reviews-after-a-fashion of soda, much the way [personal profile] den/[livejournal.com profile] dewhitton has been reviewing beers in his Around the World in 80 Beers posts. Like that ‘quest for beer’, I’m not going to be looking at the ‘big brands’ (e.g., Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, etc.), but will be looking at lesser-known brands and my own experiments with the SodaStream system. Since there is some imprecision with the making of soda in a SodaStream, I’ll make a non-review post in this series explaining certain terms I’ll be using, for those who have SodaStream systems of their own and want to try to reproduce my experiment(s).

Also like the ‘quest for beer’, I’ll post pictures.

Watch the tag ‘soda’ for further developments in this series. It will appear on both Dreamwidth and LiveJournal; my username is the same on both services, and I'll read comments posted to either.

2012-10-22 07:49 pm
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More Thoughtstream on Sodastream

I tried SodaStream's own Sparkling Naturals ginger ale:

  • It's much more expensive than the standard Sodastream syrups. Roughly four times the price per liter. The flavor is not significantly different from the standard syrup.
  • The seltzer has a much greater tendency to foam up while adding a Sparkling Naturals syrup than with standard syrup. When the instructions say to pour the syrup down the side of the mixing bottle slowly, they mean it.
  • The syrup-to-seltzer ratio is pretty close to the 1:5 ratio that Pittsburgh Soda Pop calls for on their syrups, which are billed as all-natural.
  • The standard syrups say to store them in a cool, dry place. They don't require refrigeration after opening. The Sparkling Naturals do require refrigeration after opening.

If all-natural ingredients aren't a fetish for you, stick with the standard syrups. There are a few more flavors in the standards than in the Sparkling Naturals.

2012-09-08 08:44 pm
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Thoughtstream on Sodastream

About three weeks ago, on a whim, I bought myself a Sodastream system. This is basically the latest incarnation of the old make-it-yourself seltzer thingy - it takes water, and injects CO2 into it to make it fizzy. After it makes the water fizzy, you add syrup - it comes with a sampler pack (12 flavors, one bottle each), and places that sell the thingy also sell bottles of syrup good for 12 or 25 bottles each. You're not requires to use their syrups, or any syrup at all. So, I did some experimenting.

First: Sodastream's own syrups are comparable in flavor to commercial brands. However, the commercial brands tend not to be first-line brands - Cola is more reminiscent of C&C or Generic Supermarket Brand than Coke or Pepsi; orange is Fanta rather than Sunkist, Lemon-Lime is not up to the 7Up, Sierra Mist, or Sprite level, and their imitations of Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper are recognizeable, but also recognizeably not MD or DP. OTOH, the Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea and the Country Time Half-and-Half (Half lemonade, half iced tea) syrups aren't bad, though neither one is Snapple or Arizona. But then, neither are their originals.

The selection usually available at the places I can find the syrups (Staples and Target) isn't spectacular, so I'm going to try ordering some other, more interesting-to-me flavors from Sodastream. My expectations aren't high, based on experience, but I do expect them to be acceptable. I'll report any unexpected results.

I'll also be going to some other sources for flavors that Sodastream simply does not sell, period. Again, I'll report results.

Some experiment results I can already report:

Based on my experience with certain Starbucks syrups in their hot chocolate, I tried them in soda. Short answer: Even though Starbucks will put these syrups into their cold drinks, they're better in hot. Specifics:

  • The Cinnamon Dolce is more Dolce than Cinnamon. It's not bad as an accent to another flavor (I've tried it with orange), but it's not a standalone flavor, although a real cinnamon might well be.
  • The Peppermint is ... intense. I like it, but it's not going to be for everyone, and even I would prefer to 'cut' it with other flavors. Chocolate would be good; ginger might work, too.
  • Vanilla really doesn't work alone; it's not intense enough. It's a little better 'cutting' another flavor; the 'creamsicle' I got out of mixing it with orange wasn't quite up to Stewart's, but it was credible.