Making alcohol is essentially easy!
All you need is a liquid, sugar and a little yeast, chuck them together in a warmish environment, give it a while and there you have it, alcohol. It will taste awful but will none the less be alcohol. I believe that the science is that the yeasties reproduce converting the sugar into CO2 and alcohol, but the art is in making it taste good. This post is just going to cover the very basics.
Everything must be clean and sterile. If there are any bugs in there you risk ruining everything. The last thing you want to do is take the time to make something for it to turn out like vinegar. Now this may seem like a pain but once you get in the habit it becomes second nature. You can use boiling water to sterilise, which I do at times, but I normally just use Milton fluid or any supermarket brand of steriliser for baby bottles. Its cheap and must do the job well as I’m yet to have a wine or beer spoiled.
Next you dissolve your sugar/juices together and add the yeast. The yeast must be brewing yeast and not the baking kind. The reason being that the baking yeast is made to produce more CO2 than alcohol which makes your bread rise, perfect for a fluffy loaf but not so good for wine or beer! There are many other chemicals and flavours you can, and should, add at this stage if you want something that tastes good and has balance but this first post is just the basics. The liquid should be tepid when you add the yeast, if its too hot then the poor little yeastie’s won’t survive and you don’t want that. Fit an airlock or some other means of stopping any baddies from getting in and leave it to do its magic. Quite often this first stage of fermentation is quite vigourous and your brew can foam up considerably so make sure you have plenty of headroom.
There are several ways to tell if your fermentation has finished, you can taste and if the wine is dry that should be you, but I would advise using a hydrometer. They are very cheap and make the whole job much easier. I’ll do a post later on about how to use one but essentially it measures the sugar in the water. It not only tells you when the beer or wine is safe to bottle but if you take a reading at the start and at the end you can calculate the alcohol levels.
When the wine has the sweetness you desire your next step is to kill off the yeasties. This means that they won’t continue to ferment in your bottles and therefore won’t blow your corks out, or worse.
Then you bottle. If you are making beer don’t kill of the yeasties but allow them to ferment a little more in the bottles to get your fizz.
And that’s basically it.
In the next post I’ll tell you how to put together a very cheap wine kit and then how to make a very basic wine using it.