How To Carbonate Cocktails At Home

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Jeffrey Morgenthaler is Food Republic's new Contributing Cocktail Editor and author of the occasional column, Easy Drinking. Jeffrey is an industry veteran, having worked at many styles of bars for the past two decades. He currently manages the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon and is the author of  The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. In this space, he will talk about making excellent drinks at the home bar — which, as the name suggests, does not need to be difficult  as well as suggest favorite products, gear and maybe tell you where you need to drink when not perfecting the Blood and Sand at home.  

Joseph Priestly was a Unitarian minister with a bit of a problem: he could barely speak without a stutter. As a minister's primary function is to speak to the masses, he was forced to do what any good English gentleman at the time would have done: marry rich, and use one's time conducting science experiments. Priestly's curious appetite led him to the neighboring brewery, where he spent his days generally sniffing around in search of interesting gasses. One of those gasses he discovered blanketing the tops of the fermentation tanks.

That gas had some interesting properties: candles extinguished in it, mice died in it and water, poured back and forth between two glasses held in it, became full of tiny bubbles. Joseph Priestly had simultaneously discovered carbon dioxide and carbonation.

Carbonation is nothing more than the solution of carbon dioxide in a liquid, and in the case of anything we'd put in our bodies, that liquid is water. Carbon dioxide is pretty cool in that it's only weakly soluble in water, so when the pressure is released, say, from the cork being taken out of a bottle of Prosecco, the gas begins to come out of solution and we get to enjoy those millions of tiny bubbles on our tongue.

The professional bartender and home enthusiast have several options for carbonating both cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. On the cocktail front, carbonation adds a fizzy effervescence to cocktails that might, traditionally, be drunk still. Plus, they are fun to make.

The first, and most basic model I recommend is a carbonation system designed to add bubbles to any single-serving cocktail: the Perlini by Perlage Systems. And ingenious sort of plastic cocktail shaker, the cocktail is built in the unit, ice is added and the unit is sealed. Carbon dioxide is added from a tank, and the drink is shaken. It even contains a built-in strainer, so your perfectly carbonated cocktail pours right out.

For carbonating water, and water alone, the best bartenders in the world are using vintage Sparklets Soda Siphons, fully restored by a German company and sold according to the era and location of their original birth. They're expensive, but for the consummate professional there is no other. Just be warned that, like, the SodaStream system, this unit is only intended for carbonating water, nothing else. Got that, no SodaStream with cocktails.

On the other side of the spectrum is the keg option; I use the five-gallon soda kegs known to home brewers as Cornelius, or 'Corney' kegs. These small kegs are easy to clean, simple to set up and great at serving a small army of guests with cocktails on draft. The only drawback I've found is that they can be a little large and unwieldy — as a cocktail needs to be well-shaken while carbonating in order to force CO2 into the liquid.

One of my favorite options for carbonation is a medium-sized option, one that allows the bartender or some entertainer to carbonate a decently-sized batch of cocktails, but without all of the hassle of a keg system. And that is an brilliant little tool called the Carbonater. The Carbonater is a little cap with a one-way valve, that fits any standard plastic soda bottle. The drink is prepared, poured into the plastic bottle and chilled (always chill your cocktails to be carbonated, as carbon dioxide is much more soluble in cold water than warm). The cap is attached to a CO2 tank using the same quick-release valve that would fit the Cornelius keg – see photo. The unit is then charged at around 40 PSI, the drink is shaken and served — now full of bright bubbles.

One of my favorite cocktails to carbonate and bring to a party is a two-liter bottle of French 75s. I don't bother using Champagne, as the original recipe calls for, since we'll be carbonating the drink anyway. And what is Blanc de Blancs Champagne, anyway, but carbonated Chardonnay?

Two Liters of French 75

12 oz London dry gin

12 oz fresh lemon juice, finely strained

8 oz 2:1 simple syrup

1 750ml bottle unoaked Chardonnay

10 oz water

Combine ingredients and chill overnight. Pour into a two liter bottle and seal with the Carbonater Cap. Attach the unit to a CO2 tank at 40 PSI, and shake until the drink can hold no more gas. Slowly remove the cap, and pour over ice into tall glasses. Garnish with lemon peel.