DIY Carbonation for Cruisers
When provisioning for our first cruise to the Bahamas, we were considering what to use to mix with the copious amounts of rum we expected to encounter. Sure - we could just keep visiting the local house/grocery/liquor store, but that presents problems of cost, storage, and disposal of the cans. It seemed the SodaStream was a perfect solution, but upon further review it didn’t really address those concerns - it just moved them to a different form factor. You see - once you get into the SodaStream ecosystem, you’re hooked. The CO2 canisters are proprietary and need to be changed often and must be disposed of and while you can purchase mixing syrups from other vendors, most folks don’t. So the SodaStream option is now a bit worse than just buying cans. It may be a little cheaper, but Amazon doesn’t (yet) deliver everywhere.
A quick search on ‘DIY SodaStream’ revealed a whole cottage industry around this idea. With little bit of research, a few days and a few dollars spent, we had our own system aboard Aquamarine. Not only is the DIY version less expensive to operate, but it’s more versatile than the SodaStream due to a regulator and higher pressure potential. We can make a really hard seltzer, fine tune it for club soda, or even use the system to charge a keg of beer. Here’s the build.
Empty plastic bottle
Syrups, fruit juice, or other flavoring
Attach regulator, hose, and carbonation cap
‘Charge’ the mix
After getting the kit together you’ll need to find someplace to fill up your CO2 tank with “food grade” gas. It sounds daunting, but remember - this is the stuff they use for kegs and any fountain drink. It should be readily available-just ask around. Some suggest that you may use industrial grade CO2 from a welding supply company with no ill effects. I haven’t tested this theory and choose to stick with food grade gas. Once filled, you can attach the regulator to the tank and the hose to the regulator. Use PFTE tape and a wrench. Make sure all valves are off.
Now it’s time to mix! Start with COLD water. The colder the better - especially if you want a really hard seltzer. Water will absorb more gas the colder it gets. Our refrigerator is generally at 38 degrees F and makes fine soda. Next add your syrup mix, fresh squeezed juice or any other flavoring you like in the bottle. Be sure to leave a little head space in the bottle - an inch or two (depending on bottle size) - so the gas has room to work. Squeeze the bottle until the air is gone, the liquid is at the rim and carefully screw the carbonation cap onto the bottle leaving as little air in the bottle as possible. Now connect the quick connect hose fitting to the carbonation cap.
Time for the fun part. After double checking all valves are off, S L O W L Y turn on the main tank valve. S L O W L Y turn on the main regulator valve(see photo below. S L O W L Y increase pressure (round knob in center with + -) to about 30 PSI for a mixed soda orb 45 for a zesty seltzer - experiment with it. Now shake the crap out of the mix for about 10 seconds. Check the PSI and adjust if needed. It’s normal to see it drop a bit after shaking it because the gas is being absorbed into the mix. Continue shaking it for 30 seconds. Turn off the main tank valve and the main regulator valve (and pressure valve if desired) and remove the quick connect hose fitting.
OK…NOW time for the fun part…drink and enjoy!
Our favorites are Organic Fair and Picketts Ginger Beer. Are you a LaCroix water drinker? Just add the juice of a lime or lemon to your cold water and charge it to about 40 PSI. Simple, natural, and cheap!
Use any size bottle you like, 1L, 2L, etc as long as it’s plastic. It’s a built in safety measure. If you make a mistake and over charge the mix you’re much less likely to be injured than if using a glass bottle.
It costs about 15 bucks to get a 5LB bottle of CO2 and that should make roughly 200 - 220 liters of fizzy water. SodaStream charges 15 dollars for a 14.5 oz canister of CO2 that makes about 60L of fizz. So - your up front costs may be more expensive, but you’ll quickly recoup that amount in the consumables.
Cleanup is minimal, but you will need to clean the carbonation cap and quick connect ball valve occasionally as syrup is sticky and may clog the connection.