Yesterday I wandered across a few things fermentation, or at least home microbiology, related. In the first couple, alcohol is the point of it all, in another the big deal is not ethanol but lactic acid, and in another there is some alcohol but the real point is carbon dioxide.
Years ago I would occasionally read the goofily named site kuro5hin, but it pretty much disappeared and after a while I didn't really expect it to come back. Turns out it's still around after all and there are a few interesting articles (and a lot of nonsense) there. A couple recent ones were on making wine, of sorts, and beer - both with the emphasis on simplicity. I like simplicity. But I also like quality, and those don't always go together. For example, the wine article is Brewing Your Own Hobo-wine on Today's Subprime Mortgage Budget which isn't exactly encouraging. Hobo-wine suggests, well, not quality. And the line, "let's just get lit!" makes it plain that taste isn't a big consideration. That it's just water, sugar, and yeast says it's purely about alcohol, though the author does actually include fruit juice concentrates and uses table sugar as a boost so there is something to it. Still, it doesn't seem terribly appealing except on a "prove to yourself you can do it" level. I also can't help but think of the hideously bad homemade wines mentioned in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.
A bit earlier the same site had an article, Brewing Beer on Today's Subprime Mortgage Budget which also was more about simplicity or at least being on the cheap, than anything else. The memorable lines were: "Throw out any preconceived notions of style or brand. We're going to make the AK47 of beers - cheap, reliable, and works with sand in it." This is likewise not encouraging. Simplicity is great, and lack of expense is wonderful, but taste is important.
Later, I happened across a web site mainly about dairy products. Various pages tells how people can make their own buttermilk or at least extend a culture of it, and the same thing with yogurt, and once a person can make yogurt it's not a very big step to a simple cheese. Interesting, but while jmaynard likes buttermilk, I don't see the appeal. And he's content to let others deal with its production. I have about the same opinion (let others do it) with yogurt. So it'd most likely be more of an experiment than anything useful for either of us.
However, that site isn't just about dairy products. There are also pages about ginger ale and root beer and the mention that other flavorings can be substituted. The batches can be rather small: a single two-liter plastic bottle's worth. This seems if not more interesting, perhaps more reasonable to do. Granted, I hardly need a sugary drink around, but at least it would be a sugary drink and not a corn syrup thing. And I get to choose the flavor. First would be something mentioned, such as the root beer, ginger ale, or vanilla cream soda (the root beer article suggests that). Then once I've proved to myself that I can do it and it works, I can play with the flavorings some. As the author mentions, there is some alcohol in the end product, but so little that unless one has a medical or religious restriction it can be ignored.
Thus tonight I bought a couple 2 liter bottles that will be emptied in time, some sugar (I had run out a while ago and made a conscious decision not to get any more just then), and some yeast. Chances are in a few days I'll start with an attempt at vanilla cream soda.