I’ll admit it. I’m an addict. My friend calls it liquid crack, and I personally have a 12-can-a-day habit. I’m not talking about Red Bull, Coca-Cola, or any other canned incarnation of a beverage. I’m talking about fizzy water, that heavenly drink consisting of nothing more than plain-old H20 infused with C02 and maybe a little bit of fruit flavor.
Living in New York, it’s impossible not to become addicted to seltzer water. It’s a mainstay of the Manhattanite’s diet, a birthright, and an institution, from the hallowed seltzer delivery guy to the Brooklyn egg cream. It’s everywhere, and all you have to do to get a fix is walk to the corner bodega and grab a bottle of Canada Dry in a rainbow of mouthwatering flavors. It’s rejuvenating on a hot day, rehydrating when you are ill (ahem — hungover), and all around the most awesome beverage that ever lubricated the parched throats of humankind. After a decade on the island, it became a must-have for me, like that morning cup of joe, or the air I breathed.
When I first moved to San Antonio five years ago, it seemed impossible to find flavored seltzer. Sure there were carbonated-water drinks loaded with sugar, or the low-gas “sparkling” versions like the obnoxious Perrier, but none of the crisp stuff I was used to having at my fingertips. I went through withdrawal, forced to drink mixer seltzer with a twist of lime. It’s only of late that some new brands of gassy have appeared that even hint at the goodness of a bottle of Canada Dry seltzer.
It’s not just ex-New Yorkers who have the jones. San Antonio is littered with seltzer addicts — most easily identified by their overflowing recycling bins on pickup day. My best girl swears by it. One guy on our block practically bathes in it. But of all the seltzer addicts in town I know, one has taken his love of the wet stuff to the limit. Tonio Athens claims his wife Debbie got him hooked on the bubbly some 20 years ago. Back then, they were into a local brand called Artesia. When it ceased production, the two bounced around from Ozarka to Pellegrino to Whole Foods’ store brand, but never really felt satisfied.
A few years back, a miracle of sorts landed on the shelves of local grocery stores — La Croix. “I’m not sure what it is about La Croix that makes it different,” says Tonio. “Maybe it’s partly because it is in the can so it seems to get extra-cold.” It comes in a handful of flavors and quickly became a case-a-day habit for Tonio’s family.
This spring, inspired by a New York Times article about fine restaurants such as California’s Chez Panisse banning the bottled stuff to shrink their carbon footprints, Tonio took a look at his size 24-to-a-case carbon shoes and decided there had to be a better way. “What I read in the article just jibed with thoughts I’d had for a long time,” says Tonio. “I thought, there’s gotta be another way to satisfy our addiction.”
After some soul searching and internet surfing, Tonio came upon “Carbonating at Home” at
truetex.com, and caught a glimpse of his future.
The article’s author, Richard J. Kinch, is a seltzer addict as well, and back in the 1980s he used a cartridge unit at home, but grew tired of buying and throwing out the little cartridges. Like Tonio, he figured there must be a better way. “I went through several improvisational designs before settling on the bulkhead cap idea,” Kinch writes.
The “bulkhead cap idea” being that all you need to make fresh seltzer at home is a tank of carbon dioxide, a regulator, a shutoff valve, a gauge, a makeshift bulkhead cap, ice, and tapwater — all stuff you can find at your local hardware store, gas distributor, and Pep Boys. (For those who don’t want to go with expensive or wasteful professional seltzer-makers, Richard’s article gives the blow-by-blow for building your own.)
Tonio’s homemade rig is out in his garage, neatly harnessed across from the washer and dryer. “Just put filtered tapwater and ice cubes into a 3-liter bottle, apply the C02 and agitate,” he says. Agitating assures that “the C02 touches the maximum amount of the surface of the water, so it stays extra bubbly.” Tonio loves his little setup, and doesn’t mind lugging the bottles in from outside as long as he has a constant stream of that effervescent elixir. He’s even experimented with a medley of syrups from Ali Baba market like
mulberry, mint, and pomegranate to recreate the La Croix experience.
In recent years, Tonio’s seltzer guru Mr. Kinch has set his sights a little higher: “I’ve since upgraded to a McCann’s carbonator and bar gun, so I have seltzer on tap.”
Ahhh … on tap. The seltzer addict’s wet dream.
It was Tonio who originally turned me onto La Croix, and I have to thank him for it. Call me a nihilist, but while we are switching out our light bulbs for compact fluorescents and contemplating buying a hybrid, the recycling man will continue to hate us, as nothing beats the crack of the can and the twist of the cap for me. In a last grasp at recreating the New York experience, one ex-New Yorker turned San Antonian I know suggested I phone Canada Dry directly and ask them what’s up with not distributing the stuff locally. Alas, my call to the Cadbury-Schweppes press agent went unreturned. For now, La Croix (and the H-E-B brand knockoff) will have to do until I can get back up to New York and properly refresh. •
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