A Canadian’s Guide to the Basics of Alcohol Fermentation and Booze Making

My goal here is to lay the groundwork for any basic fruit-based alcohol fermentation that you may want to do at home. I know I was overwhelmed when I first started, and I want to make it as simple and direct for you dear reader.

The process is simple. Our species has been fermenting sugars since time immemorial. You just need some basic equipment and to follow a few simple steps.

A Very Brief Explanation of Fermentation

So what is fermentation anyway?

Yeasts are little fungi all around us and they love to eat sugar. And when they eat sugar, they excrete alcohol and carbon dioxide. There are different kinds of alcohol produce, but the main one that we get in fermentation is ethanol. All the little guys need is enough oxygen and nutrients and the right pH and temperature range.

The carbon dioxide is how beer and sparkling wine traditionally got their carbonation before the advent of artificial gas injection (and sometimes still do like Champagne in France or traditional abbey-style beers ‘on lees’). And it’s how you can get carbonation in your home brews!

Making Booze in 3 Easy Steps

The following process is for cider. If you buy a wine kit, it will come with similar, though slightly more elaborate, instructions:

1) Fermentation Stage:

  • Sanitize your equipment with your choice of safe sanitizer (the food-grade plastic pail with lid, stirring stick, thermometer, hydrometer with a test jar)
  • Pour apple juice (your “must”) into the primary fermentor.
  • Add yeast (you can either rehydrate the yeast in warm water for 15 minutes or simply sprinkle the dry yeast on top of the must).
  • Add 500g – 1lb of regular table (cane) sugar if you want a drier, higher alcohol cider.
  • Take your hydrometer reading for future reference, to calculate the alcohol percentage.
  • Wait 4-7 days. This depends mainly on the temperature. If you still see a lot of bubbling activity, you can leave it to continue fermenting.
Apple Juice and Yeast
Apple Juice and Yeast

2) Clarifying Stage:

  • Sanitize all of your equipment again (thermometer, hydrometer with a test jar, hose & tube, carboy), like in step 1.
  • Rack cider to your secondary fermentor, leaving the yeast sediment behind.
  • Attach air-lock to keep dust out.
  • Wait 1 – 3 weeks for the rest of the yeast to convert the remaining sugars, enter into hibernation and settle to the bottom of the carboy.
Cider & Wine in a Carboy
Cider & Wine in a Carboy

3) Bottling Stage:

  • Sanitize all of your equipment (thermometer, hydrometer with a test jar, hose & tube, bottles, plastic pail, stir stick).
  • If you want a carbonated cider, you will need to add sugar. I find that about 100g is good for 23L of cider, but experiment to figure out your desired amount of carbonation. Air on the side of caution when it comes to this secondary fermentation! Pressure will built in the bottle. If there is too much carbonation, the corks could pop, or worst, the bottles could explode.
  • Add the sugar to the plastic pail and siphon the cider into it. Mix the sugar with the stir stick.
    Bottle and cork or cap the cider
  • Age: the cider’s flavour will change overtime, especially if there is residual yeast in the bottle to continue minor fermentation. If you cleaned your equipment well and you keep the cider in a cool, dark place, it can last for years in the bottle.

Wine bottles

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