Quite by accident, I discovered last year how to make fizzy drinks using natural wild yeasts and have been making them since. The bubbles are small and soft, not large and sharp like those in artificially carbonated drinks. The flavours are wonderful and the drinks incredibly thirst quenching on a hot summer’s day. And they’re ridiculously easy to make.
In a bid to persuade teenage daughter that homemade iced tea could be every bit as good or better than the stuff out of Lidl (not to mention being much better for you) I made some lemon iced tea. It was an epic fail as far as teenage daughter was concerned (tasted too much like tea), so it got left for a while under the sink until one hot afternoon I thought I’d better use it up before it went off and got it out for afternoon refreshments. It had not only turned fizzy, but the excess sweetness had gone and all the separate flavours had melded into a deliciously refreshing drink. It was a huge hit.
Since then I’ve experimented with methods and proportions until I’ve got a reasonably fail-safe and easy to remember technique.
Fermenting drinks using yeast does, of course, mean they have some alcohol in them. How much alcohol they contain depends on the vigour of the fermentation and how long you leave the drinks to ferment but if you keep the sweet fresh flavour of soft drinks then the alcohol percentage isn’t going to be any more than 1-2% at a guess. Nobody is going to get drunk on them.
Basic fizzy drink recipe
6 litres/12 pints of water
Steep the chopped/sliced/crushed fruit – the object is to extract as much of its flavour as possible – in 4 litres/8 pints of water in a warmish place for 24 hours, covered with a tea towel. This 24-hour steeping period is to allow the natural wild yeasts in the air and on the fruit to start working on the fruit sugars.
Fruit can be citrus, soft fruits, or anything that lends itself to making a drink, but it needs a bit of acidity to work properly, so I usually include a lemon or two. Quantity of fruit depends on the intensity of the fruit flavours, but as an example, for fizzy lemonade I would use about 8 average-sized lemons, thinly slicing 2-3, zesting and juicing the rest.
Soft berry-type fruits can be crushed and tied in a muslin bag for steeping.
You can also make a tea or herbal tisane and substitute it for some or all of the steeping water. Experiment!
After 24 hours, dissolve the sugar in the remaining 2 litres/4 pints of water over heat. It’s not necessary to boil the syrup. Just heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the sugar syrup to the strained water the fruit has been steeping in.
You could also add a tablespoon or two of cider vinegar if acidity levels are not particularly high.
Bottle in clean 1½ or 2-litre plastic soft drink bottles and allow to sit for about a week at ambient temperature.
After 3-4 days, unscrew a bottle top to see if there’s any fizz. Depending on the amount of yeasts you’ve ‘captured’ and the ambient temperature, the fermentation may only just have begun, or may have already turned the bottles into lethal weapons. If there’s a lot of gas, then depressurise the bottles once a day or so until the drink is ready. Every batch is different, but the drink is ready when it’s got a good fizz to it and still tastes sweet, fresh and fruity. Serve chilled with cut herbs like mint or borage.
If the fruit is unsprayed and organic, or better yet from your own organic garden, it will probably have many more natural yeasts than supermarket fruit from non-organic sources. A recent batch I made with our redcurrants and lemons started fermenting from the moment I added the sugar and the resulting drink was so fizzy bottles of it had to be successively depressurised for a good 15 minutes before I could even think about opening them. It was worth every minute though!
I haven’t tried making these drinks in a city environment, so I have no idea whether there are the same concentrations of wild yeasts there as there are in more rural areas, but if you can make a sourdough starter, then these drinks should also be no problem.
If you leave the drinks to ferment longer, they become progressively drier in taste and more alcoholic as the yeasts consume the sugars in the solution. Personally I find them less palatable when they get to this stage.