Beyond a vessel to ferment in, there really isn’t any specialized equipment required for fermenting fruit into alcohol. Like most forms of fermentation, it is one of those things that happens naturally, which is why people have been making fruit into alcohol for centuries. However, poorly made alcohol can contain the wrong types of bacteria and yeasts, which can make your ferment taste bad or become poisonous. So it is handy to have a little more control over the fermentation if you are aiming to make a particular beverage or if you want to store your beverage for any length of time.
Luckily, these tools are easy to find at your local homebrewer store or online. They are also rather cheap, as everything in the photo above probably cost me less than $20. I also have a hydrometer, which is a bit more pricey but I recommended getting one if you are going to be making alcohol regularly.
Yeasts: Traditionally all alcohol was made from wild yeasts. However, this doesn’t always result in a tasty brew (depending on regional variations in wild yeasts). Also wild yeasts tend to die out at 5% alcohol, so they aren’t ideal for stronger beverages. Over time, specific strains of yeast have been cultivated to make beer, wine, etc. These specific strains of yeast are selected to ferment at particular temperatures, and influence the flavour of the end product. You can buy yeasts online or at your local brewing and wine making shops.
Siphon and Tubes: These are food grade tubes that you need to move liquid between vessels. Handy for filtering out the sediment and bottling.
Airlock: This is very important if you are serious about making alcoholic ferments. It is worth investing in a few airlocks because you can also use them for other types of ferments as well. An airlock allows the CO2 to escape, and maintains a sterile fermenting environment for the duration of a ferment. In general a cylindrical airlock is easier to clean than a S-shaped airlock but either will work. You just need to make sure that your airlock fits snugly into the mouth of your fermentation jug. In my case I use these 5 liter jugs that I got from buying apple juice. If you want to make large batches of wine or cider you will need to invest in large carboys.
Hydrometer: This measures the approximate alcohol levels of your beverage, by comparing the amount of sugar in your mixture before fermenting, and after fermenting. The level of alcohol is assumed by the decrease in the sugar levels. It can help you determine when enough sugars have been consumed, and your beverage is ready for bottling. I will do a post on using a hydrometer as part of this series.
Sanitation Chemicals: It’s important to sterilize all equipment, and my next blog post will go into the different methods for doing this.
Optional Additives and Chemical Tests
There are a number of chemicals that you can use to help perfect your wine and cider. I’ll admit to not actually using any of these at this point… however, if I really get into wine/cider making in the future I will definitely invest in making sure that my beverages are perfect. (My perennial excuse for my lack of fermentation sophistication is that I live in a tiny townhouse in the middle of a city. I can only ferment things in small batches in a closet.)
These chemicals are used for a number of reasons: to test fruit ripeness, total acidity, pH of any fruit you want to ferment. You can add preservatives, enzymes, classifiers. Ultimately, none of these are necessary. However, if you want to make something that has a reliable flavour and is shelf-stabilized then you will probably need to delve into the world of wine making additives and chemicals whether you’re making wine or cider.