Back when I was in high school, I developed a hobby of making various types of alcoholic beverages from raw materials that I could actually buy legally. This isn’t to say that what I did with them was legal, but I luckily made it to age 21 without ever getting caught.
I started out by fermenting sugar water, which is ridiculously simple and is the epitome of frugality. Eventually, I advanced to making wine from frozen juice concentrates, following a similar process. I will describe both of these methods, providing a basic formula that can be used to make your own variations, if you choose to be creative. Just follow these simple steps, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a vintner (or to drunkenness).
Most importantly, you will need yeast, which is what actually produces the ethanol. There are many types of yeasts, including those that are used specifically for making alcoholic beverages, but they are somewhat difficult to find in most grocery stores. It is much easier and cheaper to just use active dry baker’s yeast if you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of quality.
The second thing you will need is sugar, which the yeast will convert into alcohol, once it is activated.
You will also need some type of juice, unless you’re in the mood for some thrifty “sugar wine,” using water instead of juice. Whether you choose to use regular juice (one gallon) or the frozen concentrated kind (two cans), you should make sure that it doesn’t contain any artificial preservatives, which would prevent fermentation.
Finally you will need a gallon-sized jug or two and a balloon that can be pulled snugly around the mouth of the jug (I’ll explain that later).
First and foremost, you must make sure everything is sterile and squeaky clean to avoid bacterial denaturization. If you bought a jug of juice or a gallon of water, then it should already be sterile. Just be careful not to leave it exposed to the air for too long without the cap on.
Next, the sugar must be dissolved. If you are using a gallon of juice, pour yourself a glass to make room in the jug, and add about a cup of sugar to the jug. If you bought the frozen concentrate, thaw it out and add it to a half gallon of hot water, along with two cups of sugar to your jug. If you’re making sugar wine, use more water and about 3 cups of sugar.
After this, the yeast must be activated and added to the mixture, once it has cooled down to about room temperature. You could always take your chances and simply add the yeast packet to the jug, but it would be smarter to follow the instructions on the packet to activate it first. If you don’t know how to do this, just add the yeast to a few tablespoons of warm water and a teaspoon of sugar, and stir it until everything dissolves. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until it starts to froth up, then add it to the rest of the jug mixture. Make sure the cap is screwed on tight, then shake it up until everything is thoroughly dissolved.
Now, the balloon comes into play. Slightly unscrew the cap of the jug just enough to be able to let air out, then pull the mouth of the balloon down over the cap and all. Then you will need to poke a tiny hole in the thickest part of the balloon with a needle or something that’s equally thin. When the yeast begins to ferment the concoction, it will start to bubble up with CO2 gas, which needs a way to escape the jug without exposing it’s contents to the air, hence the ballon.
This is the waiting part. Store the jug in a dark place, preferably where it’s odor won’t be an issue.
If you don’t see bubbles rising in the jug by the end of the second day, then it should probably be thrown out. Instead, you should see a steady flow of carbonation rising into the balloon for at least 3 days. This can last for up to two weeks before the alcohol content finally kills off all the yeast. I would not recommend letting it ferment for too long, however, since the yeast causes it to have a bad taste if it’s in there too long.
Once the jug stops bubbling and becomes more clear, or if you would like to stop the fermentation process, leave the jug in the fridge overnight to kill the rest of the yeast.
After a night in the fridge, the jug should be more clear, with a visible layer of dregs (dead yeast) at the bottom. To protect the flavor of your beverage, pour or siphon off the clear portion into another sterile container, leaving the dregs at the bottom. If you want to improve the quality even more, leave it in the fridge another night or two, and repeat the process of separating the dregs from the mixture as many times as you want to.
Secondary Fermentation (Optional)
Now, your drink is officially ready to drink if you would like.
Another option is to keep it sealed to let it age, which will give it a better quality. You could even bottle your beverage and cork it to ensure it ages properly.
You can ferment almost anything, as long as it doesn’t contain chemicals such as preservatives that kill the yeast. Try experimenting with various juices to see how they turn out. Most fruits naturally have a thin layer of yeast covering their skin, usually visible as a fine white powdery substance. If you extract juice from fresh fruit, you might not even have to add any yeast.
If you want your drink to have higher alcohol content, one simple method to do this is freeze distilling. If you freeze the drink for awhile, the water in it freezes before the alcohol, and you can remove the ice portion to make it stronger.
Enjoy! If there is anything else you would like to know about making alcohol, please feel free to make a comment. This is my first article, but I would be happy to share more of my knowledge on this subject if people are interested.