It appears a lot of you degenerates are interested in making your own alcohol (or rather, using yeast to do it for you).  Thankfully, this is legal in the US (as long as you’re not making more than 100 gallons). I’m going to start with the basic equipment you’ll need and some starting tips:

  1. Cleanser – Cleanser is needed to clean up all of your items that will be used in the process.  You can buy PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) or any of the knock offs. Personally, I generally use OxyClean free for my cleaning needs.
  2. Sanitizer – Here, I recommend StarSan.  While you can use bleach or other household products, StarSan is cheap, effective, non-toxic, and no rinse.  Sanitization is a critical item, everything that touches your beverage needs to be sanitized. This will keep the risk of infection low.
  3. Fermentor – This is where the magic happens.  You can use food grade buckets (7 gallons) or carboys (glass or plastic).  You can find fermentors in almost any size you want, but the standard sizes in the US are 1 gallon, 3 gallon, 5 gallon, or 7 gallons.
  4. A siphon – This will be used to move beverages between containers and minimize oxidation.
  5. An Airlock – There’s two basic styles, a three piece and an s-shaped one.  I prefer the s-shaped ones, but if anything gets inside of it, they’re impossible to clean.  Thankfully, they’re cheap. These allow gas to escape the fermentor while preventing outside air (and bugs) from getting in.
  6. Empty bottles – You can buy them, or save up from your other ones.  If you’re planning on capping, realize that you can’t use screw top bottles.  If you like Grolsch, the swing top bottles will mean you don’t need the last item on the list.
  7. Capper/Corker – Depending on what you want to make, and how you want to serve it.  You’ll need to either cap or cork the bottles at the end (yes, you can cork beers, and cap wines if you wish).

Keep in mind the difference between clean and sanitized.  Items need to be cleaned before they can be sanitized, and cleaned items can still cause infections.  Anything that comes in contact with your must/wort (unfermented wine/cider/beer) needs to be sanitized.  Don’t skimp on this step, follow the instructions on your sanitizer, and understand it.

Keep notes.  Write down everything.  Almost every brewer has a tale about this really great beer/mead they made where they made a mistake part way through the process, and it made the best beverage they ever had… but they forgot what they changed in the process, and haven’t been able to reproduce it.

Relax.  People have been accidently making wine and beer long before they knew what they were doing.  The worst you’ll do is make a batch that doesn’t taste good that you’ll have to dump.

Don’t expect to save money right away.  This is a hobby with large upfront costs.  If you keep doing it, you’ll eventually be making beer/wine whatever for cheap, assuming your time costs nothing.

 

It seems a bit of a waste to talk about fermentation without giving a recipe or project, so here’s a great starter recipe:

Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead

Makes 1 gallon.

3.5 lbs honey (clover or a blend)
1 large orange
1 small handful of raisins
1 stick of cinnamon
1-2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon Fleishmanns bread yeast
Water to fill to a gallon.

Wash the orange, and cut into eighths.  Clean your 1 gallon carboy (glass jug) and dissolve the honey in warm water.  Once it’s dissolved, put it into the carboy, along with the orange (push it right on through the opening), the raisins, the cinnamon, and the cloves.  Fill up to about 3 inches from the top with cold water. Shake it up (with a lid on, or not, but it’ll go better for you with a lid). Once it’s all mixed up and at room temperature, add the yeast and put on an airlock (or a balloon with some holes in it).  Stick it in a cupboard in the kitchen in the dark. After about a week, you can top it off with more tap water. Then just leave it alone for a couple of months, it will eventually drop clear (and the oranges will eventually sink as well). Once it’s clear, it’s done.  Just siphon into bottles and cap or cork them.