Soda Club
Whether it's seltzer or soda pop, Soda Club's system is easy to use.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 8/23/2005 12:58:45 PM ET 2005-08-23T16:58:45

I consider myself an expert of sorts on soda. Not because there’s some faux gourmet aura surrounding the stuff, but because I drink a lot of it. There are some flavors I like and a whole lot I don’t. What gets me is the wide variance in prices of the big brands, from 89 cents for a 2-liter bottle to $1.69 for the same exact item in some stores.

Same goes for seltzer, also known as club soda or soda water. This is water with a little fizz. Why are bottled prices so high?

I used to make seltzer at home. My parents owned a machine which purportedly was able to make seltzer with small, one-use CO2 cartridges about the size of your thumb. The idea was fill the metal and glass bottle with tap water, screw on the top, then screw in the cartridge, which then did its stuff under pressure. 

What came out was carbonated water. Most of the time the bubbles never made it into the water. I guess that’s why my parents never bothered -- they used to get those beautiful (now-collectable) glass seltzer bottles delivered to our home.

Fast-forward to the present. I was very excited when I heard about Soda Club – and its 21st century seltzer making machine. I was hoping that after all these years technology might be able to improve home soda making. In short, my dreams were answered.

The Soda Club system of making seltzer and flavoring that seltzer to make soda pop delivers 110 percent. Not only does it make it easy to create great seltzer, but the soda flavorings they offer range from very good to amazingly great. And no electricity is needed.

I was sent the Edition 1 machine (sliver and black) to play with, along with a bunch of Soda Club bottles and all 28 flavors (regular and diet) to test. There is also a white machine called the Fountain Jet. They both work in a similar manner. 

This time around, the CO2 cartridge is huge -- more than a foot tall. The Alco2Carbonator is a tad smaller than the machine itself and fits right inside. It’s capable of making as many as 110 liter bottles of seltzer/soda before needing replacing or recharging.

The machine uses proprietary plastic bottles which are actually dated. That’s because after awhile they may not be able to withstand the pressure generated when injecting bubbles into the water. Bottle caps are either heavy-duty plastic or metal and do a terrific job of keeping the fizz inside. Bottle bottoms are reinforced with heavy-duty plastic.

Making the seltzer is easy. First you fill the bottle up to the water line, screw it into the front of the machine, press the large button on top until it makes a rude noise three times (like a whoopee cushion), unscrew the bottle, put on the cap and enjoy!  The whole operation takes about 40 seconds.

So far, I’ve used the Soda Club system to make something like 50 bottles and I’ve yet to encounter a problem.  I’m not sure I can say that about many other gadgets or appliances.

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Now for the soda part. There are 28 flavors available. Eight are diet (sweetened primarily with Splenda). Most of your favorites are there, including a bunch of colas (with and without caffeine), ginger ale, lemon-lime, root beer, cream, grape, tonic water, a bunch of fruit flavored concoctions and an energy drink with vitamins.

The soda mix flavorings come in 500 mL (slightly more than a pint) plastic bottles. The bottle cap is also a measuring cup. Once you’ve made your seltzer you only need to fill the flavoring cap to the one liter line and pour it in slowly -- some flavors bubble up more than others. 

Finally, you should shake the bottle slightly to spread the flavor through the seltzer then loosen and tighter the cap to relieve some of the pressure. That’s it.  It actually takes more time to write about it than to do it.

The cost
So, is it worth it?  Prices for starter kits (machine, CO2 cartridge, bottles and soda flavors) currently range from $79.99 to $149.99 (plus shipping and handling) depending on contents.

Once you have the machine and the bottles the main cost of your seltzer is the CO2 and soda mix flavorings.  Refilling the canister costs $18.99 and is good for 110 liters. Rounding that off (and taking shipping into account) it costs about 25 cents a liter. That comes down to 17 cents or so when your order is more than $50 because you get free shipping.

Soda mix flavors sell for $2.99 to $3.99 a bottle depending on the flavor. (Warning: the energy drink costs $9.99 per bottle). Each bottle is good for 12 liters of soda. That adds as much as 25 to 33 cents per liter. Flavorings are much cheaper when you buy them in multi-bottle flavor packages (highly recommended). 

So, taking everything into account, Soda Club soda pop should actually cost you somewhere around 40-50 cents per liter -– lower than most grocery stores charge for name brands. Also, when you factor in not having to waste gasoline to go to the store, carry large bottles or return empties and Soda Club is starting to look like a bargain. 

The bottom line though is quality and taste and that’s where these sodas excel.  I haven’t found a clinker flavor yet. Diet root beer and pink grapefruit are my personal favorites. The diet cola is pretty great too. Soda Club is highly recommended.

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