We have discovered the most amazing tool that every homebrewer needs. It might even go beyond “tool.” It’s probably officially a “contraption.”
Before we dive in and tell you why you absolutely need one of these, we should definitely say that we’re not affiliated in any way with Soda Sense. We happily buy from them and pay full price!
So, without burying the lede any deeper, what is this contraption you ask? It is the Soda Sensei from the folks at SodaSense.com.
We’ve been getting Soda Sense CO2 cylinders for years. During the height of the pandemic it was so nice to A) not have to go to the store for CO2 refills, and B) have something to drink while working at home (something that wasn’t alcohol, of course).
Although we love the mead we brew, we’re all catholic (not Catholic, though some of us are that, too) in our drinking. Beer, wine, cider, sake, cocktails, you name it! Originally, we actually got a modern seltzer maker when our 1920s soda siphon finally gave up the ghost. It was really handy, but they didn’t have canister replacements at any of the normal places we shopped, so we were regularly making special runs just to get cylinders.
Cue the pandemic. Going out to the store just to get CO2 was not only impractical, it was now impossible. It seems that with the uptick in drinking during the early days of the pandemic, CO2 was in short supply. All of the local stores ran out of 60L cylinders, and try as we might, we couldn’t figure out a way to fill them off of our 2250 pound CO2 system at the meadery. (Trust us, we tried. The fittings appear to be proprietary.)
(Better living through chemistry)
While it’s always possible that there were millions of avid Club Soda drinkers out there who had to start carefully mixing sodium bicarbonate with other salts, then carbonating it at home to get their Jones, it’s more likely that supply chains were stretched and more people were making cocktails at home. Either way, we were high and dry for a while there.
Then, one glorious day, we discovered Soda Sense with their home delivery CO2 system. If you’re a seltzer drinker, you seriously should join their club. It’s so convenient. (Full disclosure, Ricky the Meadmaker was mere days from retrofitting our Jockey Box to dispense seltzer along with mead, but CEO Kelly put the kibosh on that.)
Then, one glorious Black Friday, we saw the deal of a lifetime! They had a special soda maker called, very cleverly, the Soda Sensei and it was on super sale! (They also call it the Sensei Soda Maker, but we think “Soda Sensei” is more euphonious.)
We already had a Soda Stream which had served us faithfully for years, but we thought we deserved one Black Friday splurge, and with some people working from home and others at the meadery, this seemed like a good one.
It took a few weeks because apparently many, many people associate the holidays and seltzer, but when it arrived, our minds were blown.
Soda Stream was always very clear that only water could go into their bottles, and if you wanted to add anything, it had to go in after the carbonation was complete.
Not so with the Soda Sensei. (I know we already said it, but that’s really an awesome name.)
(Carbonate milk? We don't know why you would, but now you can!)
No, the Soda Sensei says right on it: The Carbonate Anything Edition. Amongst other things it lists: water, juice, wine, milk (this one seems like a bad idea), cocktails (seems like a bad idea for different reasons), and more! They did not specifically list eggnog, but the implication is that you could carbonate it if you wanted to.
Well, right away Nora (the four-year-old) wanted to test it on wine. Weird, right? You’d think she’d want to make something she could drink, but no, she wanted to make something for Mommy.
It worked perfectly!
So, this got us to thinking, what if we could skip the step of bottle priming (using sugar to carbonate in the bottle) our test batches and just use the Soda Sensei? Guess what… it worked perfectly again!
What used to be a whole freakin’ thing with getting proportions measured, doing enough bottles to make it worth it, hoping that our carb would be right, waiting two weeks, and so on… all became as simple as taking a base mead, adding an ingredient, chilling, and carbing it up!
We went from getting around to a few test batches a year to doing a few every week!
This is especially useful if we have an idea that we want to iterate. For example, what if we wanted to taste what twelve different cranberry mead blends would taste like? First we brew a cranberry mead, then we can add lemon, lime, cherry, ginger, and so on!
Meadmakers, more than almost any other subclass of homebrewers, seem to want to try a million different ingredients and never have the time, space, funds, or full support of their spouse. One member of our team - not naming any names - was given an ultimatum by her spouse about bringing one more glass jug into their home. Now she can make one larger batch and add other spices right before carbonating it! Marriage saved!
Additionally, if you’re not into sulfiting and sorbating, the Soda Sensei deals with refermentation issues as well! If you want your mead a little sweeter, go ahead and chill it in the fridge, then add some sugar, shake it to dissolve, then carbonate it!
The Soda Sensei itself handles 750ml at a time, so it’s a pretty good size to make a drink for two people. They also sell spare bottles, so you could do a whole bunch of meads and keep them in your fridge to do tastings with friends.
In house, we make one small batch at a time, then all taste it in sample cups, but we might grab a few more bottles so we can do triangle tastings with different ingredient additions.
To be completely honest, in order of contraption usefulness (excluding things like the canning line and glycol unit), it goes:
- Hydrometer (might not qualify as a contraption)
- CIP System from Nolin Control Systems
- BrewMonitor (You can learn about how we use that here and here!)
- Soda Sensei
We have a really cool surprise coming out later in the summer, and we did the entire design process with our Soda Sensei.
So, we might have exaggerated when we said that every homebrewer needs a Soda Sensei, but at such a reasonable price, it’s an absolute game changer when it comes to being able to do experiments.
If you’re thinking about going pro and you want to do lots of experimental batches, after you read How We Brew Everything We Brew, you should grab yourself a Soda Sensei. It will pay for itself in weeks!
Want to get started brewing something while you wait for your Soda Sensei to arrive? Go ahead and check out our recipes! As an Open Source company, our recipes are always free and available online!