My Seltzer Conversion

By Corby Kummer
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From Argentina With Love/flickr


Sarah Elton's lovely post today makes me want to see Seltzer Works, the documentary she mentions about one of Brooklyn's last seltzer men, Kenny Gomberg—and wish we had a seltzer delivery service in Jamaica Plain. I can't find one, but I do find Give Me Seltzer, a blog I'll start reading, by one Barry Joseph, who's at work on a history of seltzer he intends to make definitive. He's got seemingly everything about current brands, and also equipment and its history.

My own seltzer revelation came last December, when my stepdaughter, Jess, who always gets meticulously well-suited and thought-out gifts, bought us a seltzer-making machine from SodaStream. Even if I spent two years of my life researching bottled water and came to appreciate the nuance in different brands of soda water—and learned how little of it is naturally carbonated, despite the romantic spring-y brand names—I became a right-minded member of the tap water brigade several years ago. And was embarrassed to keep bringing home bottles of Pellegrino (in glass, always better) and six-packs of "Italian mineral water" from Whole Foods, in undesirable but lighter plastic.

Of course, I had long—long—ago bought an iSi siphon, which even today looks little different from the one my father kept in our living-room bar. It denoted Europe and sophistication, and also his own Hungarian love of seltzer, as Sarah brings out in her post. But anyone who's bought one and stocked little boxes of the shiny black mini-H-bomb carbon-dioxide cartridges knows, it's a constant annoyance to swap them out. And really constant, too: a standard size makes only 32 ounces, which I can go through at supper with barely a perfunctory offer of any for my spouse.

Ignore the vile-colored, vile-seeming flavor cartridges that come with the starter pack—they may be more "natural" than other sodas, but seltzer's what you want.

Jess intuited this at our table, and decided to help out her father by giving us the SodaStream. And it changed our lives. The difference is that the CO2 cartridges are big, about the size of a small fire extinguisher, and last for a couple of weeks. It's easy to swap them in and out of the plastic-cased machine, which is about the size of a home-use milk-shake/cocktail blender (and completely mechanical, no power required)—unlike with iSi cartridges, which always seemed not to want to come out or go in either. The SodaStream makes a satisfyingly rude noise when excess CO2 is pumped into one of the hard-plastic or glass bottles that screw into the top. So satisfying that we always overfill, because we like heavily carbonated water and because making the noise is fun.

I recommend the glass rather than plastic bottles, which store the seltzer better and can go into the dishwasher, as the plastic can't. (Ignore the vile-colored, vile-seeming flavor cartridges that come with the starter pack—they may be more "natural" than other sodas, but seltzer's what you want.) And I recommend lining up more replacement cartridges than you think you'll need—it's easy to go through them fast, in say three weeks. Many communities have a modified version of the seltzer man/woman: a service that picks up spent cartridges and delivers new ones, after you've ordered and paid for them.

Living in the enlightened capitol of Jamaica Plain, we have an independently owned, excellent kitchen-ware store called Gadgets, which stocks new cartridges and takes back the old. Proving the frequent Brooklyn comparisons I make, apparently everyone in JP has decided to forgo bottled seltzer and make their own. When I brought in a used cartridge last week, the co-owner, Douglas Witte, said, "The woman who called and asked for two will be disappointed," but he sold me one anyway and saved one for her. Why doesn't he have enough? I asked. "I can't keep them in stock," he replied. "They're on fire."

Apt for our current weather! Try one yourself. And, soon: notes from Brooklyn about the only way to make an egg cream, brought to you by sidewalk old-timers interviewed by enterprising friends of ours as they were opening their new Ecopolis Cafe in Cobble Hill on the border with Boerum Hill. Till I reveal their secrets, go visit Ecopolis when you're in the neighborhood—the egg cream is their proud signature drink, and they're the first outside cafe to serve Maury Rubin's ecologically-minded pastries from his Birdbath Bakeries. And now, back to practicing the technique our friends showed me with his their fine Brooklyn-born hands.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/06/my-seltzer-conversion/58846/