Call it a soda siphon, a syphon or a seltzer bottle—it's a pressurized container for dispensing carbonated water. Remember The Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers shaking bottles and spraying each other in the face? Same thing. But why would you want one? Can't you just buy club soda? You certainly can. In fact, I used to buy cases of San Pellegrino, and if you are making a bunch of drinks, screw-top bottled soda water works just fine. But what if all you need is a couple of ounces to top up a Collins? Maybe you made some fantastic ginger syrup and you want to have some ginger beer? You could open a bottle of club soda, but most of that water is going to go flat. Once it's open, you need to use it or lose it.
That's the real benefit having your own siphon in the refrigerator. Each time you use it, you are not actually opening the bottle. You are merely opening a valve to release only the amount you need. Pull it out for your next round or ignore it until next week—it remains cold and pressurized until it's gone. No more half bottles going flat and ending up down the drain.
Using a siphon also allows you to drink whatever water you choose. If your tap water is good, go ahead and use it. Do you filter your drinking water and want to use that? No problem. Fill your siphon and charge it with gas. You do that by attaching a carbon dioxide capsule specifically made for the purpose. Give it a good shake and the gas will start to dissolve into the water. The carbonation works best on very cold water, so leave the capsule attached while you chill the bottle. After a few hours or on the following day, you can remove the capsule and the water is ready to use. A one-way valve prevents gas from escaping and a hand lever allows you to dispense the water whenever you need it. Capsules are small and recyclable so you aren't buying more plastic or glass. The resulting seltzer ends up costing a fraction of the price you would pay for individual bottles. It saves money, storage space and the environment. If you drink sparkling water, I don't know why you wouldn't want to use a siphon.
Can I use the gorgeous siphon I found on eBay?
The antique seltzer bottles are beautiful, but they aren't exactly useable at home. First of all, most of them require filling at a special facility. The fittings allow for commercial companies to charge the bottles, but don't fit the carbon dioxide capsules. Second, most of the antique bottles were made in Czechoslovakia and parts are scarce. Old rubber seals get hard and crumble, and valve springs and gaskets can be difficult to replace. Finally, the opportunity for accidents are far greater with old glass bottles than with modern metal ones. You don't want to drop a heavy glass bottle under that much pressure on the kitchen floor or your granite counter tops unless you feel like dodging the exploding glass fragments.
Most modern siphons are made of aluminum with heavy plastic fittings and solid metal parts. The safe, metal canisters are durable and have a low thermal capacity often making them cool faster in the refrigerator. Some are enamel coated and come in a variety of colors, but my favorite is made out of stainless steel and will last a lifetime. If you buy one second-hand, be sure that the seals are good and that it does not leak water or pressure over time. I used a siphon from the 1950s for years before I finally replaced it with stainless steel, but any modern siphon with good seals will work fine, since they all use the same charging mechanism.
There are a few people out there that love to make their own ginger beer, root beer or other flavor of soft drink right in the siphon itself. They add syrup and water to the siphon, seal it and charge it with CO2. This works, but dedicates your siphon to one specific flavor. Because the carbonation will survive a long time in the bottle, you won't be able to use the siphon for anything else until it's empty. A more versatile approach is to keep your siphon filled with water, not a complete drink. That way, you can use homemade syrups to mix your ginger ale, root beer or tonic water when you need it and still be able to add seltzer to your Collins or Mojito. The syrups will keep better at full strength and you only use what you need. A good ratio is one part syrup to 3 or 4 parts seltzer water, but you can obviously adjust to your taste. This is exactly how soft drinks are mixed into your glass at fast food restaurants. It also saves you the trouble of cleaning your siphon of a sugary mess.
There's a lot you can do once you start using a soda siphon, even if it only comes out of the refrigerator occasionally. Having carbonated water when you need it is so convenient, you will wonder why you didn't get one sooner. Still not sold on the idea? Here are some of the reasons I love having a siphon with links where appropriate:
Ginger Beer (SO useful for Moscow Mules, Dark and Stormies, Pimm's. . .)
Ramos Gin Fizz (or any Fizz for that matter)
Fresh soda flavors: You can mix almost anything with simple syrup to make the most amazing soda pop flavors. How about honey soda? Amerena cherry pop? Fresh lemon lime? Vanilla? Cinnamon?
Do you already own a soda siphon? What do you make with it? Let me know in the comments below.