Growing up, I remember my dad drinking a six pack of Coke every day—sometimes more. When it became a health concern, we switched him to seltzer (all the bubbles, no high fructose corn syrup), and it's been the miracle diet that could. The only catch? Now the rest of my family drinks seltzer with him, and they go through more 12-packs a week than I'd care to count. It's a clear expense, and it would seem you could put bubbles in your water for a lot less than the shelf cost. Enter the Sodastream.
For those of you who haven't heard of it yet, the Sodastream ($159.95 for a starter kit at sodastreamusa.com) is a home carbonating unit: fill the included bottles with water, twist one into the base, pull a lever, and your water becomes fizzy. All models work the same way and differ only aesthetically. They operate with a thin, tall tank of CO2, and much like the propane tank for your outdoor grill, the refill system is easy: Bring it to any Sodastream retailer when it's empty, and for the cost of the CO2 alone, they'll pump it back up. Given that the CO2 lasts at least 8 weeks when used regularly, and that retailers include most major department stores, it's kind of a breeze. Simplicity is clearly one of Sodastream's selling points: It takes less than five minutes from the time that you take it out of the box to the moment you can enjoy your first liter of soda, assembly and all. Impressive.
If you're like my parents, you won't need any flavors (other than a twist of lime) in your fizzy water, but if you're like me, you'll probably wonder how wild you can go with your soda concoctions. The answer's a little complicated. Sodastream sells flavor concentrate for all mainstream soda flavors, and for the most part, they hit the spot. My gripe is that even the ones that aren't labeled diet (and yes, there are several diet flavors) use aspartame, a taste I absolutely can't stand. Not only that, but their most interesting flavors are limited to their international clientele—syrups like yuzu-mandarin and dragonfruit-apple reach European and Australian customers, but the best we get is cranberry-raspberry or Pete's Choice (another name for Dr. Pepper).
That considered, I took matters into my own hands. Against the bottle's clear warning, I filled my bottle with something other than regular water to see what would happen. After raiding my supermarket for interesting beverages to bubble up, I tried Ceres lychee juice. Since it's not a pure fruit juice and doesn't have pulp, it approximated water pretty well and resulted in a fantastic soda. It fizzed up more fervently than water, which simply meant I had to be more careful in removing the bottle to prevent a mess. After that, we tried passion fruit juice—fizzier still, with a head like beer that was much more persistent. It seems that sugar content and viscosity are factors in how well random beverages will carbonate, but they're worth trying. The winner, though, was white wine: a cheap bottle of Sauvignon Blanc became instant Prosecco (or close enough), and when mixed with my leftover juice, it made for a perfectly fresh bellini. If a gadget can help me make mimosas from Two Buck Chuck, it's definitely earned its spot in my kitchen.