If you want to do a party where people really pay attention to what they're drinking, try making your own craft sodas. These are the sodas that you can describe like wine; you can talk about the remarkable body, the delicious aftertaste.
The guidebook is Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss, a cookbook author who has never just skimmed a subject.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Nobody makes homemade soda as gifts, so get us started. What should we do?
Andrew Schloss: They're really easy, and you can make a lot at once, which is convenient for making gifts. One that comes to mind is spruce beer, which is a rendition of root beer and seems sort of Christmassy, because it's sprucy.
What you do is make a traditional root beer (which basically is a sassafras tea), then add to that oil of spruce. Oil of spruce has a kind of wintergreen flavor that is very delicious in root beer. That would be a very unusual, old-fashioned soda that you just can't buy.
LRK: What does spruce beer taste like?
AS: It tastes a lot like root beer, except it has this wintergreen aspect to it. It's minty and cool.
Root beers are very complex flavor systems. We think of them as pretty simple, but they're woodsy, tart, highly aromatic and almost floral. Root beers can be very complex and delicious. They're a lot like more sophisticated root beverages.
Because it's wintertime, another great idea is a coffee soda: espresso jolt. You just take brewed espresso, sweeten it with some sugar, and then carbonate it.
Another one we could do is chocolate ginger ale. You make a syrup with cocoa powder, sugar and ginger, and then dilute it with water and carbonate it.
Really easy, very spicy, chocolatey and delicious.
LRK: How long will these things keep?
AS: If you carbonate them in a siphon, they'll keep about a week. If you do a brewed method (adding yeast to the bottle), they will keep 2 or 3 weeks in refrigeration.
The danger isn't that they will go bad. The danger is that the carbonation will keep building in the bottle and you'll get a "gusher." That means, when you try to open it, it's going to explode a little bit. If you feel that's going to happen, put it in a sink and just unscrew the cap very, very slowly. The carbon dioxide will begin to leach out without letting liquid out.