Switched On: The rules of Soda Club (Part 1)

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

The first rule of Soda Club is: beverage companies do not talk about Soda Club. Many Switched On columns have addressed devices that quench the thirst for digital entertainment. This one addresses a thirst that often develops while enjoying it, one that Americans often quench by drinking more than 55 billion liters of soda and seltzer each year.

That statistic comes via Soda Club, which offers a system for making your own soda at home. It consists of one of three carbonating devices, specially designed reusable bottles, and a selection of 25 SodaMixes that, when combined with carbonated water, produce various flavors of soda. The company touts a number of advantages to this approach, including cost, convenience and environmental benefits. Soda Club, which requires no recurring membership fees like a music club, was started in 1991 but came to the US five years ago.

The second rule of Soda Club is, supermarkets DO NOT TALK about Soda Club. Since everything in Soda Club is shipped to you, there's no more heavy lifting of cases or two-liter bottles. A stubby bottle of SodaMix can make abut 12 liters of soda and costs between $3 and $5, excluding shipping. Soda Club promotes that homemade sodas are less expensive than store-bought brands such as honk honk and honk honk (that's Coke and Pepsi). Soda Club also claims that even its non-diet soda mixes have 2/3 less sugar than store brands.

The priciest part of admission to Soda Club is one of the company's carbonators. Two are available for $79 whereas the bulbous but oddly not-too-kitschy Penguin model -- which uses glass carafes for an upscale soda serving experience -- is $249. The model I tested, the Edition 1, looks something like a mixer designed by Alenware. It is likely to be the tallest appliance on your counter and probably the only one that needs no electricity or batteries.

The third rule of Soda Club is: if someone says "stop" or your finger goes limp, soda making is over. Some of you may already be thinking, "Make my own soda? What are you going to want me to do next, turn on my own TV?" However, after attaching the small carbon dioxide container to the carbonator, making soda is quick and fun. Fill a bottle with cool water, screw it into the carbonator, press the fizz button five or six times, add the mix to the bottle (I recommend doing this over a sink), close the bottle and shake a few times. Even my two-year old enjoyed pressing the button on the carbonator, which often makes a "raspberry" sound when you add extra fizz. If the water was refrigerated beforehand, you'll have nearly instant soda.

While the instructions are easy, though, there's room for error. Once I absent-mindedly put a bit of SodaMix in the water before I tried to carbonate it. When I unscrewed the bottle from the unit, I joined "Exploda Club." Sticky soda went everywhere; there was no damage to the device, the bottle, or any part of myself -- except for my dripping ego. Therefore, it is worth noting that sodas that have gone flat can't be recarbonated and that customers will void their warranty if they try to carbonate any liquid other than water.

Next week's column will address the final rules of Soda Club, including some of the more creative aspects of soda making and the all-important question of taste. Remember, you may be a supply clerk, the kind who couldn't remember whether you ordered pens with blue ink or black ink -- but you can be a god for ten minutes when you make your own soda.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group,. His blog can be read at Views expressed in Switched On are his own.