I’ve talked about a few solutions for carbonating cocktails, but there’s really only one if you’re serious: the homebrew rig. I call it the homebrew rig because it’s basically the same setup us homebrewers (yes, I am a man of all beverages) use for kegging our beer.
The setup is quite simple. Here are the parts you need. Prices are subject to some fluctuations, but I’m just using current Amazon prices as of October, 2014.
1. A CO2 tank. $68.95. You can get any size you like, but unless you’re running a bar and carbonating drinks on the regular, you won’t go through much of this stuff. Here is a 5 lb. tank on Amazon for under $70. A fill of that bad boy will probably last you six months to a year even if you, like me, like everything with a little fizz.
I got my tank from a dry ice shop near my house. They only charged me $50 for a used 10 lb. tank. They test and replace it when needed too, so I’ll never have to buy another. It’s old and ugly, but I keep it hidden out of sight.
For refills, anywhere that sells dry ice will usually do. Just let them know you’re using it for food. Also, many homebrew shops, which I prefer since they already know what you’re using it for and will sell the acceptable purity exclusively.
2. A dual gauge CO2 regulator. $46.90. This lets you adjust the pressure that you use in your carbonating vessel. Here’s the one I got. It’s decent, and cheap. I’d like it better if it were a little easier to adjust the pressure. It’s quite difficult to turn by hand, but a wrench makes it easy.
I’m getting ready to build a dual keg chest freezer, and am going to upgrade to a dual one so I can get a whole keg of a cocktail and/or seltzer in addition to one of beer going. I’m sure I’ll be posting on this bad boy setup later.
3. A ball lock gas coupler, and a gas hose. $16.29. This one has them both together. The hose needs to be pressure rated, and of the right size for your regulator and ball lock valve.
There are a couple ways you can screw up ordering this part. First, there are two different types of ball lock couplers, one for gas and one for liquid. Usually the gas ones are white and the liquid ones are black. If you are kegging a homebrew, the white one is what connects your pressure regulator to the CO2 inlet, and the black one connects the liquid outlet to your tap. For the purposes of carbonating beverages, rather than kegging, we don’t need a liquid coupler.
The other way is to get the wrong size hose. Usually your regulator will have a 5/16” barb on the end to connect the hose to. Keg couplers though come in ¼” and 5/16” for some reason. (Maybe there’s a ¼” regulator that I just haven’t seen.) Either way a 5/16” hose will probably clamp onto both just fine with a screw clamp, but you’d be safest buying them all to match. I got a 5/16” regulator, hose, and coupler.
4. The Carbonater. $12.64. This little bad boy screws onto any standard pop/seltzer bottle. Everything from the little single serving plastic Coke bottle you get at a gas station up to the 2 liter bottle. They all have the same cap.
5. Plumber’s tape. $3. For making sure to get an airtight connection between the coupler and the tank.
6. A good adjustable wrench for tightening the regulator. You probably have this one already so I’m not going to count it in the total. Also a screwdriver for turning the screw clamps that come with the hose.
7. A standard soda bottle. Just get a 1 liter of seltzer from your grocery store and save the bottle and cap. It’s useful to carbonate things in small quantities, or you’ll just end up re-carbonating the other half after the first one goes flat.
Total cost: $144.78. Not bad right?
The setup is incredibly simple, even if you’re totally inept and handyman activities like I am. Trust me, you’re very likely not as clueless as I am, and I did it in ten minutes.
Step 1. Connect regulator to the CO2 tank. Wrap a little bit of the plumber’s tape around the threads on the tank. Then screw the regulator on, tightening as much as possible with a wrench.
Step 2. Attach one end of the hose to the barb on the bottom of the regulator. Turn the screw clamp until tightened. Attach the other end (if it isn’t already) to the ball lock valve’s barbs, and tighten the screw clamp.
Step 3. Test for leaks. Get a glass and put a squirt of dish soap in it. Shoot water out of your sink’s sprayer into the glass to make a ton of bubbles. Take a sponge or paper towel and wipe those bubbles everywhere there is a connection. Where you screwed your regulator into the CO2 tank. Where you clamped the hose onto the regulator and barb. Turn on the gas. If there’s a leak, you’ll see the bubbles moving.
That’s it. Told you it was easy. Now let’s make our first carbonated cocktail. I’m going to go with an old-school carbonated classic, the Negroni.
In a 1 liter bottle, add:
6 fl. oz. gin
6 fl. oz. Campari
6 fl. oz. sweet vermouth
4 fl. oz. water*
*Note, because we’re chilling in our refrigerator, we don’t get the dilution you’d normally get if you stirred a Negroni with ice, so you want to add water. How much exactly is up to you. I use 25% as a launching point for drinks, but some I like more, some I like less. Let your taste-buds guide you. I find I like a Negroni a tad under-diluted, but your mileage may vary.
Put in your refrigerator until fully chilled. I’ll even go so far as to set the bottle in my freezer for a little bit after that before carbonating if I have time, just to get it extra cold. (Avoid freezing of course.) If you don’t want to wait you could instead omit the water, stir the Negroni with the correct amount of ice until it has chilled (which will give it the correct amount of water) and then pour it into the bottle.
When ready to carbonate, screw the Carbonater cap on most of the way. Squeeze the bottle until you’ve eliminated all of the air, and then finish tightening.
Set your pressure regulator’s gauge to the desired fizziness. I like about 35 PSI.
Attach the ball lock coupler to the Carbonater. You have to push down fairly hard to get the gas to flow through, which is a bit of a pain when the bottle is limp. I am told older Carbonaters were much easier to make work, but the current ones require a good bit of pressure. I thought mine was broken at first, so that is normal.
The bottle will fill and immediately grow from limp to rigid. Shake vigorously. When you do, CO2 will dissolve into the liquid and the bottle will go limp again. This is because dissolved gas takes up much less space than undissolved, forming a semi-vacuum above the liquid.
Keep repeating this process until the bottle no longer goes limp after shaking. Yes, I know, “that’s what she said” jokes abound here.
Place the bottle in your refrigerator for a bit. After a half hour or so, you can remove the Carbonater cap very slowly and replace the bottle’s normal cap if you so desire. Always remove caps slowly, as it will reduce loss of carbonation to foaming.
Your bottle will contain 4 servings of Negroni. If you don’t use it all at once, put the Carbonater back on and charge again, without shaking. Place the bottle back in the refrigerator. This will keep it from going flat.