I have never liked fizz. My experience with fountain machines usually involves the leftover residue of pink lemonade enveloping my cup of water like Saran Wrap. Still, I’ve held on to a childlike fascination for far too long. Two flavors from one nozzle! Syrup that reacts with water and makes it fizzy! How do they do it?
They use carbonated water. Amazing I can dress myself.
Modern soft drinks evolved from the ‘patent’ medicines of the 1800’s.  Though Dr. Pepper, Hires Root Beer, and many others have long since shed their medicinal pretensions, the method hasn’t changed: make an inexpensive syrup or powder, mix it at the point of sale or a local bottling plant, and sell it cheaply, but at a huge percentage of profit.
The low costs, enormous profits, and scalable business model meant advertising budgets in the millions paid off in the millions. Barns and signs painted with brands and slogans covered the countryside. The flourishing transcontinental rail network allowed products to reach a national audience. And it didn’t hurt to have an addictive product.
Coca-Cola was named for its specialty ingredients: the coca leaf, and the kola nut. It was created in anticipation of Atlanta’s trial alcohol prohibition of 1886-1887, which threatened Dr. John Pemberton’s current product: wine with added cocaine. Cocaine was the wonder drug of the 1860s. It cured opium addicts! Invigorated the mind and body! And had no side effects!  One brand of coca-wine was famously endorsed by an unsleeping Thomas Edison. In 1880s Atlanta, a shot of cocaine-laced water was cheaper than a shot of Whiskey. Cocaine was an obvious choice for a new cure-all. My understanding (and benefit of the doubt) is that there was only ever a small amount of actual cocaine in the syrup. This was eliminated just ahead of the 1903 cocaine ban.  The coca leaves remained, though. Today, Coca-Cola is the only entity permitted to handle coca leaves in the United States, thanks to a federal exemption.
The kola nut, meanwhile, contributed a large amount of caffeine. In 1911, this led to an attack by the nascent FDA. Every over-the-top argument about any drug being the downfall of children and society was hurled at caffeine. But, perhaps due to the acceptance of coffee and tea, and the fact that many children already were drinking soft drinks, neither the judiciary nor the public were convinced. Coca-Cola won the case, but later agreed to reduce the amount of caffeine by half, and never feature children in its advertisements, which lasted until 1985.
Soft drinks are coming under fire again today, but for decades they were a default, distinctly American choice for people of all ages, all over the world. Coca-Cola, the most recognized brand in the world, became a symbol, maybe of a lifestyle, maybe of a worldview. But the tiny dissolved bubbles of carbon dioxide, which some say were added to the recipe accidentally, have a much longer history and a much deeper meaning to our civilization.
The first humans to taste carbonation probably lived around 12,000 years ago. They were also among the first to arrange their lives around cereal grasses. They stayed nearby to guard the fields, systematically harvesting, and eventually cultivating wheat instead of roaming a much larger area. In order to make it more digestible, they would soak it in water. They discovered that the moistened seeds began to germinate, turning their starches into sugars. Drying the grains sweetened by this process is known as malting. And later still, they found that a malted gruel could be saved for long periods of time, and it became slightly fizzy, and slightly intoxicating.
Beer is the original energy drink.
The sugar from a malted cereal grain is food for yeast, which can be found in the air as well as on the grains themselves.  The yeast eat the sugar and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. By killing pathogens, the alcohol made the beer much safer to drink than water. Along with the stored calories, this made it the perfect staple food for early civilization. As time went on, recipes became more advanced, and chaff straining improved. Certain pitch baskets, shells, stone vessels, or leather containers emerged as favorites because of strains of yeast that stayed in the edges in cracks from brew to brew. Different varieties began to emerge: Sumerian cuneiform lists at least 20 different types, all with their own ‘labels’, and Egyptian hieroglyphs list at least 6 varieties.
While a beer proportions different grain ingredients for a consistent result, wines vary from grape to grape, and from year to year. Wine appeared shortly after the invention of ceramic pottery that could be sealed, thanks to an abundance of yeast on grape skins. The juices undergo the same chemical reaction as malted grains, but wines are traditionally degassed before bottling and storage. Champagne is the obvious exception. Traditionally, the bubbles and flying corks were the result of a second fermentation after bottling. Today, some champagnes and sparkling wines are the product of artificial carbonation.
That discovery is usually attributed to Joseph Priestley, who was working with the heavier-than-air carbon dioxide rolling off the top of vats in the local brewery. He collected and pressurized the gas, and found it would dissolve in water sharing the container. Instead of depending on fermentation, later innovators produced carbon dioxide using sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and an acid (say, vinegar). Hence the name: soda water.
Try this at home: Last, combine the two in one bottle, seal it up and shake, Second, connect the caps of two bottles with a tube to allow gas to flow. And firstly, fill a different bottle with any drink of your choice. The result carries the mark of the earliest civilized humans. Our survival, and then our cultures, and then our luxuries have all grown out of and revolved around carbonation. The bubbles were a mark of modernity long before the modern Western world appropriated them. So when the carbon-based aliens land, fix them a fizzy drink.
 ‘Patent’ medicines, as a rule, weren’t patented, because that would require a disclosure of the usually mundane and/or worthless and/or dangerous ingredients. Many non-syrup ‘medicines’ were simply alcoholic. Several daily ‘cures’ targeted at the delicate Victorian women and endorsed by temperance advocates were eventually revealed to be as strong as 40-proof.
 Kurt Vonnegut taught me to be suspicious of exclamation points.
 The health claims had also been quietly dropped by 1895.
 Leave yeast-free dough out in the open to capture local yeast varieties.
Sources, Further Reading, Things I Stumbled Across That Were Too Good Not To Link:
A History Of The World In Six Glasses, by Tom Standage, Walker & Company, NY 2005 – Highly, highly recommended.
For God, Country & Coca-Cola, by Mark Pendergrast, Basic Books, NY 1993
Champagne For Dummies, by Ed McCarthy, IDG Books 1999
Marble Draught Stand, public domain via Wikimedia
Peruvian Wine Of Coca, public domain via Wikimedia
Mesopotamian Beer Tab, via The British Museum
Sumerian Social Drinking, Woolley 1934, pl.200, no.102, via the Cuneiform Digital Library Journal 2012
Moxie Nerve Food, public domain via Wikimedia
Drink, by Sam Andrew
Brewing: A Legacy Of Ancient Times, by David M. Kiefer
Priestly’s Sody Water, by Bruce Mattson, Emily Saunders, and Penney Sconzo