- Food and Cooking
How To Make Alcohol At Home: An Introduction to Brewing Your Own Alcohol
Brew Your Own Alcohol
Man has enjoyed Alcohol since the dawn of time. Its been banned, celebrated, villianized, and pontificated about for just about as long. We all know alcohol abuse is bad, but (as with most things) in moderation alcohol has many beneficial properties. Producing alcohol in modern times is something we generally leave to big businesses, but there is no need for that. You can produce a good quality beverage in your own home for a low price, and relatively little actual work.
Learning how to make your own alcohol at home is quite simple actually. You need some form of sugars, some water, yeast, and a little patience.
image is a stock image from sxc.hu, rights have been granted
What Can you Brew
Really the only limit to what you can brew is your imagination. Anything with sugar can be fermented (turned into alcohol), and any grain can be broken down into sugars in order to be fermented.
- Wine: Alcohol with grape juice as the primary source of sugars.
- Meads: Alcohol with honey as the primary source of sugars
- Fruit Wines: Alcohol with fruit juice as the primary source of sugars
- Beers: Alcohol with grains as the primary source of sugars
- Fruit Beers: Alcohol with a mix of fruit and grains as the primary sources of sugars
- Maple Wine: Alcohol with maple syrup as the primary source of sugars.
Yeast Yeast the Magical Beast
In making home brew pretty much any yeast will do, you can use baker's yeast, I've tasted some mighty fine concoctions made from simple baker's yeast, but different yeasts have different properties so it depends on what you want your yeast to do.
Want the highest concentration of alcohol go for Lalvin EC-1118 Champaign yeast, it will ferment fast and dry, which means it will suck every last drop of sugar and make a very poten brew. Lalvin claims it will go to 18% but treat 1118 good and you can easily get 20% with the right conditions.
Beer has a lower alcohol content, but it also is a slightly different sugars which wine yeasts won't ferment effectively so for this you are better finding a good quality brewer's yeast.
In short, choosing the right yeast for the job is a research project all its own. You need to know what temperature you are going to keep your carboy (fermenting pale, or other container for fermentation) at, what the sugar content of your must (liquid before fermentation) is, and what type of sugars are it. Then you need to look at a variety of yeasts and find the one that fits your ideal.
Image from Lalvinyeasts.com, used with permission
Sanitation, Sanitation, Sanitation
It's All About Sanitation
The single most important thing to know about brewing your own alcohol is you need to clean your equipment before using them. And I don't mean just wipe it with a rag, I mean sparkling clean no little bugs on the inside. None, zip, nada, completely sterile. Anything infecting your brew will change its properties, and it can range in results from turning to vinegar to producing toxic chemicals. Your equipment needs to be kept to scientific lab protocols, or you risk too much.
There are a number of ways to sterilize your equipment. The easiest is to boil it for 10 minutes, but this isn't really practical for a 6 gallon carboy, so you other methods must be used. There are all sorts of sterilizing chemicals on the market specifically for the home brewers, they are usually non toxic and fairly effective. I tend to just use bleach, and rinse a lot. A 5% bleach solution should be more than enough, so i just fill the carboy almost full then top up with bleach and let it sit for 10 minutes if the carboy was pretty clean to begin with, longer if there is any residue still in, if there is persistent residue I may repeat until clean. I rinse until no bleach smell remains and then rinse three more times. To rinse I fill the carboy completely full with hot water and allow it to sit for at least 5 mins but no more than 15 mins.
The bleach method probably takes the longest but it leaves no trace of microorganisms, which is the whole point.
image is a stock image from sxc.hu, rights granted
Quick and Dirty Brewing
Quick and dirty alcohol, not the most appetizing name is it? Its a great way to start to learn how to make alcohol at home though, it requires little investment in equipment, and uses easy to find ingredients. This recipe will get you started on the road to making great alcohol at home.
- 1 food safe 1 gallon jug
- 2 Cans of concentrated frozen fruit juice that has no preservates thawed to room temperature
- 2 cups sugar or 1 cup of honey
- Boiled and cooled water
- or reverse osmosis filtered water
- 1 tsp bakers yeast
- 1 balloon with a hole pricked in it from a needle
- Sterilize the jug
- Pour the juice into the jug
- Pour the sugar/honey into the jug
- Top up with water leaving a good airspace
- put in the yeast as per the yeast instructions
- seal the jug and shake to mix
- remove jug lid
- seal jug with balloon (as shown in image)
- Leave the jug somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight. The balloon will inflate on its own, this is the escaping CO2 from the fermentation process, and is normal, leave the jug alone until the balloon deflates (about 10-14 days). The concoction will go from cloudy to clear, this is when you know its done. Carefully pour into another container trying not to get any of the stuff that settled into the bottom (this is the yeast lees, or dead yeast hulls). Enjoy!
- This won't be an award winning mix, but it will show you that you can make your own alcohol with little effort and will encourage you to experiment.
You can purchase kits with the juice ready made to make your favorite wine varieties. here are some popular ones.
What are you looking to brew?
Experimentation Breeds Success
And success is good, failure is good too though!
In the past several years I have made some stellar batches of mead, my oak aged chai mead was one of my favourites, but the Rum fortified banana mead gave it a run for its money, both are award winning meads, both I hold up as the paragon of my mead making skills, however memorable the successes are, its the failures that will always ring truest in your memory. My garlic mead is undrinkable (who would have guessed), and my chocolate strawberry masterpiece didn't survive the two year aging process. Those two failures remain ahead of even the chai in my memory, but all is not lost.
Failures are just speedbumps, and even the worst failed batch is a learning experience. At worst you learned what not to do, at best you've got a product which you have to get a little creative to use. My garilic mead may be the foulest tasting thing I ever put in my mouth, but I still use it frequently to cook with. As a cooking wine in sauces its quite nice, as a beverage to sip and enjoy its a cup of pure evil.
My chocolate strawberry masterpiece was heartbreaking. I had to dump it down the drain. I had it fermented to 00 dryness, which is a feat for a strawberry based wine since strawberries are so sweet, and adding honey increases it, I balanced it just right (by pure luck I assure you) and never have I had happier yeast (so happy I had a strawberry chocolate volcano in my kitchen (much to my fiancee's chagrin). The final flavour was a dry wine with hints of both the strawberry and the cocoa, exactly what I wanted. The trick came in the clarification, when making a chocolate based wine with pure cocoa you are left with a cloudy substance resembling chocolate milk that has been allowed to go just slightly off..
The solution to this is to age it and allow the cocoa to fall on its own, there are methods for quicker clarification, but the you actually want to allow the alcohol to absorb as much of the cocoa oils as possible, so leaving the suspended cocoa to fall on its own is the best way to get a perfect product. However this process takes 2 years. I didn't want to have to constantly change the water in my airlock so I got a solid bung to seal the carboy it was aging in. Unfortunately I got one slightly to small and enough air entered to spoil the batch. Lesson I learned is always make sure you buy the right equipment for the right job, and also don't be lazy, just add water to the airlock.
Bathtub Gin, Moonshine, and Heartbreak
In most regions, including Ontario where I live there are strict restrictions on distillation. There are very good reasons for these restrictions, and I don't recommend anyone try distillation. While a bad batch of home brew will taste bad, a bad batch of distilled alcohol can easily kill you.
© 2012 Jeff Johnston