Home made alcoholic drinks.

I started as a boy but my efforts were not really rewarded so gave up. My wife collected hedgerow produce, and made some wine, but it was a lot of effort for very little wine. However about a year ago she started again, all stuff put in a fermentor, but then abandoned, and I then took over. I was rather surprised it had turned out quite nice so I set about repeating the exercise.

To begin with it was rather haphazard no air lock, and no idea of alcohol levels, but as time went by, and more brews were made more care was being taken.

One problem is to know when ready to bottle. Two methods one hydrometer the other is air lock activity. With the hydrometer if expected reading is given on the instructions then this must be the best. However not all kits tell you what to expect. If we look at the formula for ABV = (Grams of sugar + Grams of concentrate/2.5)/20/litres of water approx. It is clear not all the concentrate is converted to alcohol on average about 40% is used to make alcohol, which is where the 2.5 comes in with the formula this is an approximate figure and will vary concentrate to concentrate, and the 60% not turned into alcohol is what means the s.g. reading likely will be above one. The more alcohol the lower final figure will be also the more of the concentrate that is turned to alcohol the lower final figure will be. So final figure can be anywhere between 1.010 and 0.980 with beer unlikely to get below 1.005 but the sugar yeast and nutrient mix before flavours are added for very high alcohol liqueurs can drop to 0.980.

Using the air lock activity is often the best way, but as temperature drops fermenting also drops and at about 16ºC it seems to stop. I have not as yet killed the yeast but clearly there is a upper limit too so aim at not exceeding 24ºC although I have had it above that without any real problem. So a stick on thermometer to show approx temperature is also really required.

5 gallons or 22 litres of liquid both takes some cooling and heating so simply insulating is enough to see it through the night when central heating is off. Found my body warmer fits nicely around the fermentor so I just use an old one around my beer. Since the brewing produces heat don’t over do the insulation in summer the reverse is the problem so again body warmer this time sitting in a tray of water which when it evaporates cools down the beer. However with the exception of Larger there is latitude and where I live no real problem.

Taste is hard to quantify by adding extra sugar or reducing water the alcohol level can be adjusted so 13.5 litres of water with 1kg of sugar will produce 6% ABV as will 25.5 litres of water with 2.5kg of sugar and clearly they will taste different. Also adding other than plain sugar will also change the taste, honey, golden syrup, molasses or any other sugar. Also taste changes with age so a beer bottled for 10 days may not taste that good, but same batch a month latter is great.

Accidents can also change the taste a bottle was used which once contained orange cordial, and the result was great, but adding orange cordial to beer as poured did not do the same thing.

Time is also a problem the ginger beer took a very long time, the mild was shorter, but still much longer than it said on the can, and the bitter was very quick in comparison. Slow brews are a problem as all too easy to bottle before ready, slightest leak on air lock and you can be mislead. I now use an electrical stuffing gland on the fermentor, as really the lid is too thin to take a rubber bung.

I now use at least one old plastic pop bottle for each batch, as one can feel the pressure without releasing it. Also use petroleum jelly to seal bits.

The fermenting seems to go in stages. Up to 12 hours after starting a batch one can have no reaction. Then is seems to go mad and a large amount of foam arrives at the top and the air lock is quite active. This then gradually tappers off until nearly stopped, at this point, if the fermentor barrel is changed, it will carry on with last bit, but reduce the sediment, so when bottling there is less sediment in each bottle. The brew remains in second fermentor for 4 or more days at the end. The end s.g. reading will depend on the ABV aimed for, with for example 6% ABV the reading likely will be near 1.000 but with 2.5% ABV the reading more likely around 1.006. Once down to 1.010, then swapping fermentor is OK. Adding items like liquorish root can enhance or destroy a batch this is again down to personal taste and experiment.

Cider was completely different as made from apples. The process seems to vary in time with no know reason why using a juicer rather than pressing the liquid was put in demijohns. At first it separates leaving a clear liquid in centre with the apple bits going both to top and bottom. Then the centre starts to cloud over and then starts to clear again. The top and bottom floating and sediment of apple bits slowly reduce in the end leaving only sediment. The thickness of the sediment varied from batch to batch in some just leaving yeast like sediment others looking more like apple bits. The liquid starts to clear from the top down, the colour varies from a pale sandy colour to a rich ruby colour and the process is rather slow.       

Wine in kit form varies a lot. There are two completely different ways to make wine. First is get fruit or concentrate and like beer add sugar and yeast as required and allow it to ferment. The second is fill a container with loads of sugar add some nutrients and yeast allow to ferment add stuff to remove flavour leaving a liquid of about 21% ABV with no flavour then add a flavour to it.

The kits sold to make first type produce a nice wine but you really have to ask if worth the effort. Unlike the beer with 40 pints the wine makes more like 7 pints and price although cheaper than off supermarket shelve is still around £2 a bottle not the 40p for beer. Clearly collecting your own fruit is very different, but kit wise although my Cherry wine worked out well it was hardly worth the effort.

However the second method was another story the result was more a liquor than a wine still £2 a bottle, but to buy from supermarket it would cost £10 a bottle not £3 so worth the effort involved. I am sure you could buy all the ingredients and make it yourself, but quantities is very important and really would you want to spend £7 on bits with no idea if it is going to be any good or £14 to buy a kit and sugar. I would go for kit every time. 21% ABV is about the maximum yeast can make to exceed that some method of extracting the alcohol is required. Two basic methods distil or freeze. With distillation there is a real problem with temperature and methyl instead of ethyl alcohol can be produced so forget that idea. Freezer method is tempting but as yet untried.

Kit List the Younger's Harvest Bitter has been main one, others tried also listed.

Coopers Ginger beer bottled second 8th Aug third 28 Aug 2013

Young's Harvest Bitter many no dates started 9th Aug, 20 Aug, bottled 8th Sept 2013

Young's Harvest Mild started 12th Sept plus 25th Sept 2013.

Young's Scottish Heavy started 3rd Oct 2013.

Young's Yorkshire Bitter started 16th Oct 2013.

Geordie Bitter started 4th Sept 2013 bottled 4th November 2013 plus 19th November 2013 started second batch s.g. 1.048 added liquorice root near end plan on bottling on 5th December 2013 last batch before Christmas.

Geordie Winter Warmer no date likely July start.

Geordie Yorkshire Bitter started 5th November 2013 s.g. 1.042 Bottled 19th November 2013.

Geordie Scottish Export started 13 November 2013 s.g. 1.038. Bottled 29th November 2013.

Solomon Grundy's Cherry wine likely July 2013 no date. Nice nothing special.

Prohibition Orange started 31st July 2013 to approx 14 Sept very good sweet, Coffee Rum started 27 Oct 2013 bottled 29th November 2013 50/50 sugar and sweetener.

Early December all beer bottled and brewing stopped until after Christmas with the exception of cider, one can of Geordie Mild ready to start after Christmas. Taste does seem to improve with time so need a large stock to be able to keep for three months.

Although some pictures of the hydrometer have been taken so some idea is know early records were not well kept. Starting in January 2013 first brews were rather hit and miss and as it was realised they were being mixed up and drunken out of order records started to be kept. The sugar level was raised up to 3kg in some cases but it was found taste suffered and was dropped to 2kg by 2014. On average I can produce 6.5 pints a day using 2 fermentors far more than I can drink.

Brews made data
Brew Name Start Date Transfer Date Bottled date Start s.g. ABV Notes  
Young's Harvest Bitter 30 June 2013   12 July 2013 1.040 5% From pictures  
Geordie Winter Warmer 12 July 2013         Finish 1.004 s.g. 12th July  
Coopers Ginger beer     8th Aug   3.5% 1.010 s.g. 4/8/2013 Labels made 15/8/13  
Coopers Ginger beer 28 July 2013   28th Aug 1.020/1.030 3.5% Two pictures for 28/29th One finished 19/8/13 plus 28/8/13 think poured back into formenter?  
Geordie Bitter 4th Aug   22nd Sept 1.044 5.5% Marked Gbitter seems error?  
Young's Harvest Bitter 9th Aug   8th Sept        
Young's Harvest Bitter 20th Aug     1.052 6.5%    
Young's Harvest Mild 12th Sept 25th September 2013 3rd October   5% 2kg sugar Moved to shed 10th Oct  
Young's Harvest Mild 25th Sept 3rd October 14th October   5% 2kg sugar  
Young's Scottish Heavy 3rd Oct 2013 14th October 23 October 2013 1.054 6% S.g. 0.004 on 14/10/13 2.5kg sugar  
Young's Yorkshire Bitter 16th Oct 2013   4th November 1.052 6% From pictures 2.5kg sugar maybe s.g. 1.056?  
Geordie Bitter 4th Sept 2013 11th September 2013 27th September 2013 1.048 6% 2.5kg sugar  
Geordie Bitter 5th Nov 2013 13th November 2013 29th November 2013 1.048 6% Guess work on bottled date.  
Geordie Bitter 13th Nov 2013 29th November 2013 5th Dec 2013 1.048 6% Not sure if one started 19th Nov  
Geordie Yorkshire Bitter 5th November 2013   19th November 2013 1.042 5.5%    
Geordie Scottish Export 13 November 2013 19th November 2013 29th November 2013 1.038 5%    
Brewmaker Mild 27th Dec 13 3rd Jan 14 17th Jan 14 1.042 5% Took longer than expected.  
Geordie Mild 3rd Jan 14 17th Jan 14 22nd Jan 14 1.042 5% Delayed because of first brew.  
Geordie Lager 17th Jan 14 22 Jan 14 1st Feb 14 1.042 5% s.g. not measured 2kg Sugar 25 liters water.  
Geordie Yorkshire Bitter 24th Jan 14 1st Feb 14 9th Feb 14 1.046 5.5% 2kg Sugar 25 litres water.  
Geordie Lager Young's Yeast 1st Feb 14 18th Feb 14   1.050 6% Aiming at max temp 14 degs C transfer 1.020 s.g.  
Geordie Bitter 20th Feb 14 27th Feb 14 11 March 14 1.044 5% Some in demijohn  
Geordie Scottish Export 6th March 14 13 March 14 24th March 14 1.040 5% Ferm
25th March 14 Demi added Licorice Root
Geordie Mild 19th March 14 27 March 14 1st April 14 1.046 5% 1.010 on transfer  
Geordie Bitter 27 March 14 5th April 14 16th April 14 1.048 5.5% 1.026 on 3rd April Label 12th April Jump Beer  
Cider my tree October 20th march 14 30th March 14 Added sweetner just 4 bottles made.
Geordie Scottish Export 19th April 14 26 April 14 16 May 14 1.050 6% Used yeast from Lager intend to put in shed once started.  
Geordie Bitter 15th May 14 22nd May 14 30 May 14 1.048 5.5% 1.010 on transfer  
Geordie Scottish Export 25 May 14 30 May 14 7th June 14 1.045 5% 6th June s.g. 1.010 airlock about 1/3 of second batch.  
Geordie Scottish Export 2 June 14 9 June 14 18 June 14 1.048 5.4%    
Cider with rhubarb 12 Sept 14     1.044 5.2% Boiled then yeast added.  
Geordie Scottish Export 8 Oct 14 24 Oct 14 27 Oct 14 1.044 aprox   In fridge in garage. To be finished off in kitchen.  
Geordie Scottish Export 24 Oct 14 7 Nov 14 15 Nov 14 1.044 aprox   In fridge in garage.  
Cider wind fall 28 Oct 14     1.048-50 6%  
Cider wind fall 02 Nov 14     Not as much as with 28Oct mainly mothers apples.  
Geordie Scottish Export 15 Nov 14 23 Nov 14 28 Nov 14 1.048 5.5%    
Geordie Lager 28 Nov 14 5 Dec 14 14 Dec 14 1.048 5.5%    
Brewmaker Bitter 14 Dec 14 20 Dec 14 4 Jan 15 1.048 5.5%    
Geordie Scottish Export 07 Jan 15 13 Jan 15 22 Jan 15 1.042 4% Just 1kg sugar and 22 litres. Mixture started at 18º the fridge was 12º in garage 2º above ambient. Set controller to 19.5º to avoid over shoot. Keeping as close to instructions as I can. After first day lifted to 22º after 6 transfered s.g 0.020. Loads of form produced during transfer.  
Young's Harvest Stout 22 Jan 15 2 Feb 15 08 Feb 15 1.054 6.2% Only 30 pints. Started 20º moved to 21º after 24 hours.  
Bitter/Lager mix 13 Feb 15     1.058 7% Full fermentor. Started 19ºC moved  

Although one can work out alcohol by volume (ABV) by subtracting the finish gravity from start gravity this means you wait until finished before you find out what the ABV is going to be. I want to know before I start again on my hydrometer there is a scale to show expected finish ABV but this means the mixture must be very well mixed, better if one has some idea what needs to be added before you start. The calculation is only rough as yeast types will alter how much of the brew is reduced, and the amount of the concentrate that is fermentable will also vary, but this calculator gives one a rough idea of what the finish ABV will be before you even start. The common values for a kit are already entered change these to what your using.

Enter as percentage amount of concentrate that's fermentable, normal figures auto entered for single can kits. %
Enter Water amount of water in litres :- Enter weight of Concentrate (grams) :- Enter weight of sugar (grams) :- %

Enter start gravity Enter final gravity %