Why “Bubbly Water?”
It’s refreshing, tingly, effervescent, and cool, and the Trudelle family can’t drink enough of it. If I took a poll at a family gathering as to how many people have awkwardly asked the restaurant waitstaff if they serve “bubbly—I mean soda—water on tap,” the hands would fly up in unison. People often inquire as to why we call the beverage “bubbly,” rather than club soda, or sparkling water. In the past, the term has deceived many a high school friend into thinking my parents were offering them champagne as an after-school snack. Understandably so, people also inquire as to why we crave it so much. I have considered the possibility that maybe we were born similar to plants and require some carbon dioxide for photosynthetic growth, but the real answer behind the nomenclature can be traced back to our upbringing. A drink made of dissolved gas bubbles, you see, serves as an ever-present science lesson.
Summertime Science Lessons
During my days at home, a good summer night dinner on the patio was always accompanied by a large, cold bottle of bubbly. We didn’t care much about the brand, as long as it was carbonated with two atmospheres of pressure rather than one. Walking to the table, my Dad would twist off the cap ever so slowly, as if attempting to release just a single bubble at a time. And then, without fail, he made a remark about the chemical reaction.
“Did anyone else catch that temperature drop?” he enthused. “That’s what happens when you release carbon dioxide! The gas expands and then quickly cools. Hand over your cups!” With eager urgency, the rest of us would thrust our glasses his way for a fill up before digging into dinner.
Bubbles Below Freezing
Bubbly is best served at roughly 40 degrees Fahrenheit and anything too far outside that temperature range will flatten the bubbles and the taste. One Christmas in Lake Tahoe, I learned this lesson the hard way. Feeling resourceful and innovative, I nestled the bottle in a bed of snow, intending to retrieve a chilly mountain fresh beverage, later. Unfortunately, I got distracted by snow activities, and mismatched mittens, and forgot all about it. Later, during the after-dinner hearts game, everyone started asking Dad for fill-ups to supplement their salty snacks.
Facepalming, I couldn’t believe I had neglected such a simple chemistry rule. Bubbly basics 101 states that freezing denatures bubbles beyond the point of a salvageable return. Immediately, I dashed outside in my slippers to retrieve the now frozen solid bottle of bubbly water. When he saw it, my Dad’s jaw dropped. “You froze the bubbly?” He uttered the phrase almost as if the plastic canister was an expensive bottle of champagne. After the initial moment of horror passed, he placed a hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “everyone makes mistakes.” We all laughed it off and resumed the card game happily with tea. But to this day, “you froze the bubbly” remains a family quotable as common as the viral youtube video “ouch Charlie.”
Air Bubble Travel
When traveling by airplane, the collective hydration strategy is to proactively, and repeatedly, request a can, not a cup, of bubbly water with a wedge of lime. This works well when traveling alone. But if all together, like the time we flew to the east coast for a wedding in 2011, we run into supply and demand problems. On this particular cross-country flight, I sat near the back of the plane next to my sister, Marie. When the flight attendant circled through for her second round, our bubbly orders bounced. She reported that, while this rarely happens, the airplane had completely run out of bubbly water. Gritting our teeth and feigning cheer in acceptance of consolation tea, we waited until the cart passed to comment.
“Who does Johnny think he is?” Marie said, shaking her head in disbelief.
“What do you mean?” I asked, still piecing the situation together. “He and Dad definitely requested more than one can.” She spoke, as though a serious family rule had just been broken.
I looked up to see Johnny from five rows forward, staring back at us with a mischievous grin that required no explanation. He heard about it after the flight.
Northwest La Croix
As children, we learned sharing and distribution fairness through girl scout cookie squabbles and trampoline bouncing battles. As adults, we applied the same principles with bubbly water. Two years ago, during a spring break in Seattle my sister-in-law, Rachel, being the thoughtful hostess that she is, supplied us with a large pack of the fancy flavored bubbly water “La Croix.” After butchering the pronunciation to “la crux,” or “la craw” multiple times, we eventually resorted to our usual standby, bubbly. On our last night, after tucking the toddlers in bed, we sprawled over the couches exchanging funny stories about the kids. The evening of pleasant company and conversation simply begged for a fizzy beverage. Unfortunately, we only had one can remaining, and four people making a bid of interest. Thus, in the interest of fairness, we devised a plan.
We poured the first 10% to my Mom as an “honorary tithe,” because she only wanted a few sips. The remaining three bidders, however, had to participate in a numerical guessing game to fight for the last 90%. The game singled out Marie as the loser, and my Dad and I were left to enjoy a whopping five ounces each. “Cheers to the winners,” I said, drinking deeply from my hard-fought victory water. I expected my Dad to do the same, but instead, after the entire distribution protocol hassle, he walked over to Marie’s chair and offered her a generous pour. She refused the charity, but we considered my Dad to be the team player of the night.
Today, even though my family is spread out through multiple geographic locations, I believe there will always be a sense of interconnectedness through bubbly water. If I receive a strange look while asking the waitress about their carbonated water options, I know that Johnny in Indiana, and Laura in Irvine, are probably doing the exact same thing. And so today, on my Dad’s birthday, I would like to raise a toast with a glass of the finest—bubbliest, 2 atmospheres of pressure, always chilled but never frozen—bubbly.
Happy Birthday, Dad!