People have been making homemade alcoholic beverages for at least the past 7000 years. All that is required is a vessel to ferment in, yeast, and sugar. However, things get a bit more tricky if you want to reliably make something that actually tastes good!
Here is everything you need to know to make homemade beer, cider, wine and more!
⇒NOTE: Every country has their own laws about homemade alcohol… and even though I love fermentation in all its forms, I’m not condoning illegal fermentation.⇐
Types of alcoholic beverages that can be fermented at home:
Here is a brief overview of the different types of homemade alcohol, with links to more information and recipes.
Beer: Beer is fermented grain. The grain is malted to increase the sugar content and improve the flavour. Usually hops is added for flavour and preservation. Beer generally ranges from 4%-8%.
Fruit Wines and Ciders: Cider and wine are both made from fruit, using the same basic process. Cider is capped off early so that it is sparkling with an alcohol level of 3%-12%. Wines are fermented until they reach 12%-14%.
Kvass: Kvass is the original form of beer. It is made from fermented bread and is drunk when fresh and sparkling.
Mead: Mead is another traditional form of alcohol. It is made from fermented honey is can range between 8%-20% alcohol.
Rice Wines: There are many types of alcoholic rice beverages, and the fermentation process is more similar to beer than wines. Rice wines are generally 18%-25%.
Simple Fruit Juice Cider: Any juice mixed with yeast will make alcohol.
- Sterilize everything: It’s important to make sure that all your equipment and bottles are completely sterile to prevent a fermentation failure.
- Carbon Dioxide: Yeasts break down sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. For some drinks we want to capture the carbon dioxide to make them “sparkling”, whereas for other drinks we release the CO2 for a still drink. Either way, you need to account for the pressure that will build up during the fermentation process. Airlocks are used for releasing CO2 during the fermentation stage, and plastic bottles, or swing-top bottles should be used for storage.
- Halting Fermentation: As long as the conditions are right, yeast will keep fermenting until most of the sugar is gone or until the ferment reaches alcohol levels of around 17%-20% for champagne yeast, and 5% for wild yeasts. You can prematurely stop fermentation by refrigerating your ferment or adding sulfur dioxide.
- Yeasts: Traditionally all alcohol was made from wild yeasts. However, this doesn’t always result in a tasty brew. Also wild yeasts 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. You can buy yeasts online or at your local brewing and wine making shops.
Beyond a vessel to ferment in, there really isn’t any specialized equipment required for fermenting. However, it is handy to have a little more control if you want to make great-tasting beverages or if you are planning to store your homemade alcohol for more than a week or two.
- Tubing: Food grade tubes and siphons are useful for moving liquid around. They generally run at about $20 and are worth the investment.
- Airlocks: Airlocks are very important if you are serious about making alcoholic ferments. It allows the CO2 to escape, and maintains a sterile fermenting environment. In general I recommend cylindrical airlocks because they are easier to clean than S-shaped airlocks.
- Hydrometer: A hydrometer measures the approximate alcohol levels of your beverage, by comparing the amount of sugar in your mixture before fermenting and after fermenting. Here’s my tutorial on how to use a hydrometer.
- Chemicals: I actually don’t ever use chemicals when making homemade alcohol. However, chemicals are frequently used in wine and cider making to ensure fruit ripeness, total acidity, and pH.