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Jack Wyrick
Jack Wyrick

Why Does Carbonation Make Drinks Taste Good?

Jack Wyrick
Jack Wyrick

What makes drinks bubbly? The science is pretty simple: Carbonation is a solution of carbon dioxide gas in liquid water. If kept under pressure, the carbonation is maintained—normally, the bottle or natural spring serves this purpose.

Why it’s tasty is even cooler. When the bottle is opened, the carbon dioxide gas reacts with water to form carbonic acid. This reaction gives the drink a light acidity, but it's often eclipsed by adding stronger acids. Bubbles within the drink also convey aromatic compounds up to the drinker’s nose, thereby creating a heightened perception of flavor. The bubbles rising through liquid in the mouth also create a pleasant, tingly sensation on the tongue.

Bubbling up

When confined, the air around the liquid and the solution itself contains the same amount of carbon dioxide. If a bottle is opened or the liquid leaves the spring, the liquid is no longer in a state of equilibrium with its surroundings.

At this point, the liquid contains an excess of CO2 compared to the air around it. To restore equilibrium, the dissolved carbon dioxide will escape into the atmosphere directly through the liquid’s surface or through the bubbles that rise up. When most of the gas is expelled, the solution reaches a new equilibrium—flat.

One of the biggest factors in the rate of dispersal is the glass. Using a wider mouth glass like a coupe increases the surface area of the liquid exposed to air which allows more of the carbonation to escape quickly. On the other hand, a thin champagne flute minimizes the amount of exposed liquid, preserving the carbonation.

Within the glass, bubbles are formed through a process called heterogeneous nucleation. Nucleation means a phase change (liquid to gas) that happens at tiny, pre-existing points, which are the gas pockets. These pockets are formed by imperfections in the glass or by pieces of debris stuck to its insides. Utilizing a scratched, dirty or flawed glass will, therefore, create more bubbles.

Making a Fizz

In nature, carbonation either arises naturally (as seen in some famous natural springs) or through the process of fermentation. Since carbon dioxide and alcohol are both natural products of fermentation, many alcoholic beverages become carbonated in the bottle.

In forced carbonation, carbon dioxide is forcefully dissolved into water with pressure. Most mass-produced sodas and sparkling waters are made this way, but some beers and sparkling wines are as well.

Interestingly, few guidelines for ideal levels of carbonation exist. Sodas tend to be highly carbonated, but champagnes can often be up to 1.5 times stronger.

Hit the Lab

One of the most famous fizzy cocktails is the French 75. Depending on who you believe, this cocktail was originally made with gin or brandy. Either way, it packs as much of a wallop as its namesake, a rapid-firing and extremely accurate WWI cannon.

This beverage was most likely named by a Parisian bartender around 1915. Aside from that, its history is pretty murky. Some origin stories suggest that someone substituted champagne for soda water in a Tom Collins. Other assert that it was created some time in the 19th century when a bored member of the upper class spiked the popular champagne punch.

However it happened, the resulting cocktail most likely existed for decades before it was actually named. As a result, many different recipes and variations on it exist. Try out different styles—swap brandy for gin, serve it over ice, use different sparkling wines, and drink it out of different glasses to experiment with its carbonation.

Jack Wyrick

French 75
0.5 oz simple syrup
0.5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1.5 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously for 20-25 seconds or until well combined. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top with one or two ounces of champagne (or the sparkling wine of your choice).

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
iStock
iStock

If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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