Learning how to make your own alcohol from basic ingredients is easy to do. Just gather some equipment, make sure your containers are sterilized, and enjoy homemade and low-cost wine, liqueur, and beer.
There are quite a few tricks to homemade alcohols and each type requires a different approach. Begin by following a trusted recipe so you become familiar with the process and all the factors involved. Take your time, be patient, and write down detailed notes along the way. This will allow you to repeat a successful batch or make adjustments if something goes wrong. Once you learn the basics, you can feel free to experiment. Whether you're making beer, wine, or liqueur, it's a journey and one that should be fun and enjoyable. The end result will be a tasty beverage that you can take pride in knowing is all yours.
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It's surprisingly easy to make good wine. You just need to understand the fundamentals of the process and be absolutely rigorous about keeping your home winery spotlessly clean at all times.
At its most basic, wine is fermented fruit juice. Grapes are used most often in wine production, though other types of fruit (and even flowers like dandelion or elderflower) can be used as well. Fermentation is just as simple and easy to undertake as any basic chemistry experiment. A solution called must—comprised of water, sugar, fruit juice, and fruit pulp—is created in a clean container before introducing wine yeast to the must.
Wine yeast is not the same as the baker's yeast used in baked goods. Instead, wine yeast leaves no taste in wine and can withstand up to a 16 percent concentration of alcohol. It's available at home brewing stores and online. Some wine recipes don't require wine yeast. For instance, this strawberry wine recipe relies on wild yeast that the fruit produces naturally.
The actual process of making wine can be either complex or simple. The wine can be ready within a couple of weeks or it may take several months to a full year. Some wines are best when left to bottle age. It depends on the recipe you're following and the amount of work you want to commit to the process. Whichever approach you take, it's rewarding and fun.
To make wine at home, you'll need a few supplies, though not every recipe requires the full list:
- 8-gallon container
- 25 screw-top wine bottles with plastic caps
- 2-gallon stainless steel bowl or pot
- 2-quart, small-mesh sack
- 9 1-gallon, small-mouth jugs
- 1/2 gallon, small-mouth jug
- 6 feet of flexible, clear plastic tubing
- Plastic food wrap
- Rubber bands
- Acid titration kit
To help you get started, here are a couple recipes to get a good idea of the various approaches available:
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Beer is a fermented alcoholic beverage that's not much different than wine. Instead of fruit juice, beer is made by using the sugars derived from malted grains, better known as malt extract (it's available for sale in either dry or liquid form). The essence of beer is the brewer's yeast, which is what consumes sugar to produce the byproducts of carbon dioxide and alcohol. While yeast will “eat” most sugars, malt sugars are ideal for their chemical components.
Homebrewing can be as complex or as basic as you wish to make it. All you really need is a brewing bucket, a bubbler, and a siphon hose. The beer needs to ferment for a week or two. You'll accomplish this by putting your unfermented beer in the bucket, inserting the bubbler into the little hole on top (allows gas to escape without contaminating the beer), and letting it sit. When you’re ready to drink, just open the spigot and pour a glass.
However, if you want to bottle more beer for long-term storage, it makes sense to purchase a basic home-brewing kit. These are available at home-brewing stores and online and include the basic supplies you need to get started:
- 6 1/2-gallon primary fermenter with lid
- 6 1/2-gallon bottling bucket with bottling spigot
- Siphon and bottling setup
- Twin lever capper
- Bucket clip
If you really get into home-brewing (many people do), there are many recipes to try and styles of beer to pursue. You can add adjuncts like chocolate, coffee, fruits, and spices for flavor, and explore different combinations of hops.
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Homemade liqueurs are easy to make. They're terrific gifts and can be used to replace many store-bought liqueurs for your favorite cocktails. The basic premise is that you'll combine a base liquor (e.g., brandy, rum, or vodka), sugar, and the flavoring ingredients. Let the combination steep for a specific amount of time, strain out the solids, and bottle your creation.
The alcohol content is usually about 20 percent to 30 percent (40 to 60 proof) for fruit and berry liqueurs. In general, liqueurs should contain about 1 cup of sugar per 3 cups of finished liqueur. Since sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold liquid, many recipes use a simple syrup as the sweetener, and that's very easy to make as well.
All you need for supplies are washed and sterilized bottles or jars, and some cheesecloth for straining. You'll also want to designate a cool, dark place for the liqueur to rest during the infusion. This can take anywhere from a week to a few months or more, depending on the ingredients and how intense you want the flavor.
The flavor possibilities with homemade liqueur are as vast as the cordials you'll find in any liquor store. You can make a coffee liqueur that rivals Kahlúa, a homemade amaretto that's ready the same day, or a traditional Italian walnut liqueur that's utterly delicious. Fruit liqueurs can range from berries to peaches. You can substitute any fruit you like into those recipes, though you will have to make a few adjustments to the infusion time.
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It's illegal in most places to distill your own liquor, so building a still in the backyard is out of the question (and, it's not easy or discreet). However, you can add flavor to any liquor for use in mixed drinks. They're like liqueurs, but no sweetener is added.
Liquor infusions are the easiest homemade alcoholic beverages to make. It simply requires steeping the flavoring ingredients of your choice into a base spirit for a few days to a few months. Vodka is the most popular base spirit, though brandy, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey are fair game, too. The only equipment required is a large jar for the infusion and a strainer to remove the solids once the infusion is complete.
The flavor possibilities with infusions are endless. Apple brandy, coffee whiskey, vanilla vodka, habanero tequila, and mango rum are just a few favorites. The real beauty is when you start combining flavors, such as apple-pear gin, rosemary-lavender vodka, and lemongrass-ginger tequila. You can even make your own bacon-flavored vodka or whiskey.