Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

Look, SodaStreams are great for their convenience and ubiquity, but there are some drawbacks. For starters, you can only use them to carbonate water. On top of that, the cost of the replacement CO2 cartridges (which you need to keep yourself “in bubbles”) is higher than it needs to be. We’ve explored other systems that let you carbonate cocktails, but they’re prohibitively expensive and very inconvenient. We knew there had to be a better way.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler is here to show you that way.

It’s time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo’s weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science and alcohol.

If you’re at all keyed into the modern drinks scene, then you already know who Jeffrey Morgenthaler is. He’s a legendary bartender based in Portland, and he’s widely acknowledged as one of the fathers of the craft cocktail movement. Today, he’s going to show you how to build a rig that can carbonate anything you want, and do it on the cheap. Jeffrey, take it away.

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

DIY Carbonation Rig

Sometimes, when I put up a new post, it’s because I have what I think is a good idea and I want to say, “Hey world, here’s an idea I came up with and I’d like to share it with you.” Other times I put up a new post because I want to say, “Hey, quit emailing me and asking me how to do this.

So, like a million years ago I put up a couple of blog posts on this site, one about making your own ginger beer, and one about bottled carbonated cocktails, both of which require some pretty tricky methods for making bubbles: one called for using ever-unpredictable yeast, and one used a device that was recalled shortly after my post for exploding. Oops.

So about once a week I get an email from someone asking me how to do one of several things:

  1. Carbonate cocktails in a way that won’t result in exploding equipment.
  2. Carbonate ginger beer or other mixers without resorting to yeast.
  3. Carbonate cocktails for draft delivery.

So here are the two systems that can do all of those things. Here we go.

Thanks to the fine folks at my local homebrew shop, I was able to put together a kit that takes less than five minutes to assemble, cost me around a hundred and 50 bucks to build, and costs next to nothing to operate. A bit cheaper than a top-of-the-line SodaStream, but with a lot more versatility (you can carbonate more than just water with mine) and a hell of a lot cheaper to operate long-term. Here’s what you need:

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything


You need a regulator in order to do this. What a regulator does is maintain an exact pressure coming from your CO2 tank. If you’re not using a regulator, you’re dumping the contents of your CO2 tank into your container, and your container can explode. Don’t ever think of hooking a CO2 tank up to anything without a regulator, ok? They cost about $US60 bucks and you can buy one here.

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

Carbonator Cap

This is about the coolest thing ever. It’s a device that screws on to any two-litre bottle and allows you to carbonate whatever’s inside that bottle. I have this system at home and use it primarily for soda water (I’m a nut for bubbles) and sometimes sparkling lemonade, but you can also use this to carbonate cocktails. It’s especially handy for making bigger batches of bottled cocktails, and sometimes in the summer I’ll make a case of Americanos for backyard parties. Anyway, it’s part of the system I’m describing, so you need to pick one up here.

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

Carbon Dioxide

There’s one good way to get carbon dioxide (CO2) into a beverage, and that’s by using a tank of the stuff. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful, and it’s real easy to find. I’m not going to tell you to buy it online, though if you want an empty tank that you can have refilled cheaply at a homebrew shop any commercial gas place, pick it up here for around $US50 bucks. Otherwise, hit up your gas dealer or homebrew shop.

Putting It All Together

Getting the tank connected to the Carbonator Cap is easy; you just need a few small things. First off, get yourself a Quick Disconnect to attach to the Carbonator Cap. This allows you to take the hose on and off the bottle with ease. They’re like 10 bucks and you can get one here.

Next, you’ll need some hose and a couple of hose clamps to secure either end to your equipment. I use about five feet of hose for flexibility, and I found one online that actually comes with two hose clamps, which will save you a trip to the hardware store.

That regulator doesn’t have a barbed connection for your hose, so you need to pick one up here. They cost about a dollar. Now this is important. Your regulator will come with a small plastic washer taped somewhere inside the packaging. It needs to go between the regulator and that hose barb so that your gas doesn’t leak through that metal-on-metal connection. Place it in between the hose barb and the screw mount on the regulator. Here are the pieces, I think you can figure out how they go together:

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

Now all you need to do is connect one end of that hose to the quick disconnect, and the other to the hose barb. Use those hose clamps to get it good and secure on either end, and then screw the regulator to the CO2 tank. Open up the tank, flip that valve on the regulator so that it’s parallel to the hose, and crank your PSI up to 25.

Happy Hour: How To Build Your Own Carbonation Rig That Adds Bubbles To Anything

Time For Bubbles!

Get your empty two-litre bottle and fill it with the beverage you want to carbonate. The most important thing here is that your liquid is as cold as possible, because carbon dioxide is much more soluble in cold water than in warm. So chill your drink overnight in the fridge if you need to.

Once that puppy is cold, screw on the Carbonator Cap, connect the quick disconnect to the cap, and make sure everything is on there good and tight. Now, while the tank is connected, you’ve got to shake the shit out of your bottle. Shaking will increase the surface area between the gas and the liquid, which is where the transfer of CO2 happens. Shake it hard until you can’t feel or hear any more gas being delivered to the bottle. This usually takes between 30 seconds and a minute.

Disconnect the Quick Disconnect valve and you’re done. If you’re only carbonating water, then you can unscrew the Carbonator Cap and you’re ready to go. If you have anything with sugar in there (and yes, booze and fruit juice all have sugar in them) then you’ll want to unscrew that cap really slowly so that it doesn’t fizz up all over your counter.

And that’s it! Now you can pour it out into glasses, or fill some bottles and cap them if that’s the route you want to take. For reference, here’s your shopping list.

  1. CO2 tank: $US68.40, $US15 to refill.
  2. Tap-Rite Regulator: $US58.99
  3. 5 feet of hose and two hose clamps: $US5.24
  4. Screw-on hose barb: $US0.95
  5. Ball Valve Quick Disconnect: $US9.99
  6. Carbonator Cap: $US12.65
  7. Empty two litre bottle: $US0.05

Total cost: $US156.27

Jeffrey also has details about how to make a system for draft cocktails, but for that you should click on over to his original blog entry.

Big thanks to him for giving us permission to republish this. We hope to have more from Jeffrey in the near future. In the meantime, check out his blog for other great cocktail tips, tricks, and recipes.

Picture: Shutterstock/Ivan Mollov

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