Summer seems to have started a little early this year here in Colorado, and brought along all of its pleasant side effects. Abandoning the socks and shoes, gathering with local friends to play in the park and watch the sunsets, and of course an increased consumption of cold beverages.
Long ago, I wrote a post about brewing your own beer. It was an amazing experience and it produced great beer. Many readers are advanced brewers and they wrote in with advice and encouragement. It is still a great hobby for the many people who enjoy it. But unfortunately for my friends and me, we found that after a few batches the habit just didn’t stick.
It was all in the practicalities: the brewing process takes a couple of hours and involves quite a bit of repetitive labor that can be guilt-inducing for those of us who like to use all our time productively. Bottling is a particularly slow chore, and the more efficient alternative of keg storage encourages excessive beer consumption because you end up with your own refrigerated beer tap taunting you at all hours. To top it all off, the home-brewed beer was only slightly cheaper than the local microbrews, which can be found for just over a dollar a bottle around here if you pick them up during a sale.
To create a winning home brewing situation for lazy people like myself, I needed an impossible combination of attributes: a low time commitment, small batches, low cost, no major research, and no bottling. I didn’t think such a thing existed, but a local friend of mine who is known on this blog as The Honey Badger has proved me wrong. He has rediscovered an age-old method to convert good fruit juice into very good summer party beverages with about 30 seconds of work (plus of course two weeks of fermentation).
The end result is a sparkling beverage that is extremely tasty, much drier (less sweet) than the original fruit, and contains about 6% alcohol – the perfect level for adult relaxation and a factor in the easy breezy style of this very article which is being written with a large mug of cider right next to the laptop.
At less than 60 cents per 12 ounce serving, this is a truly frugal way to get the party started. Replacing a portion of your microbrew consumption with some innovative drinks you ferment yourself could save you hundreds per year. And pulling out a fresh gallon jug of this fine hard cider from the fridge is a prestigious way to impress your party guests. As long as you don’t use it as an excuse to consume more, something we laid down the rules for in the old Beer ‘o’ Clock article.
So let’s make some right now.
1: Procure the largest, fanciest bottle of juice you can find
I chose this lovely one-gallon jug bottle of North Coast Sonoma County unfiltered apple juice from the new hipster market in town called Lucky’s. It runs about $5.99 for a bottle this size. The key is to look for something without preservatives, and with a very good natural taste. You can ferment pretty much anything with sugar in it, but we are fancy people here, so we use fancy juice. Apple, grape, mango, pineapple, pear, and berry juices work beautifully.
2: Take off the cap and dump in 1/2 teaspoon of Champagne Yeast
You might give it a little swirl or shake to disperse the yeast nicely through the juice. Save the cap, for you’ll be putting it back on once the brewing is done.
3: Put a cork with an airlock* in it.
Then put an ounce of clean water (or a sterile liquid like whiskey as shown here) into the airlock. I recommend setting the bottle in the center of your kitchen table at this point so you can watch the show. Within 24 hours, it will start gently bubbling and fizzing, as the yeast works its incredible alchemy of turning the useless sugar molecules into useful alcohol ones. This bubbling will go on for about two weeks. At that point, you may notice that it slows down as the yeast runs low on sugar.
And you’re done! After those two weeks, put the cap back on, and put the jug in your fridge. A small amount of additional fermentation will happen, which will release more carbon dioxide that gets forced back into solution to make the mixture slightly bubbly. It will store well for many weeks in the fridge, or you can use it immediately. Dispense freely to self and friends, and watch the pleasant results.
Update: In response to the idea of in-bottle carbonation, some readers brought up the concern that it is possible to break certain bottles if the pressure grows too large. The thing is, you don’t know what “too large” is. Therefore, I will start a new dangerous experiment today that may cost me a whole bottle of cider: I’ll brew a new batch, cap the bottle tightly after two weeks, and leave it in a a protected enclosure in my warm garage for several additional days. Then see if it explodes, gets extremely fizzy, or just ends up perfectly carbonated. Plastic bottles will also eliminate the risk of dangerous explosions, because they have a great capacity to stretch. Update 2: I tried it and the bottle did not explode. But others report that explosions do occasionally happen (especially with larger/thinner glass bottles), so make sure you do it in a safe place if you try this.
The key to this whole deal is that we have eliminated the time-consuming parts of beer and wine brewing. Instead of boiling grains for hours and adding multiple ingredients, we use just one ingredient. Instead of washing carboys and siphoning from one to another, we ferment in just the bottle supplied with the juice. And instead of sterilizing and capping dozens of bottles afterwards, we just throw that same bottle in the fridge and serve directly from it. The result is obviously not beer, but the variety of fruits and other sweet things that Nature makes available will still keep your taste buds entertained.
I just started this experiment two weeks ago. We cracked the first bottle last night, and it was such a success that I decided to share the results with you as well as start a few more bottles for future use.
*The Honey Badger has been brewing interesting concoctions to share at his own parties for several years now, and he even started a website called Simple Brew Kits to sell the extremely simple parts needed to ferment beverages like this at home. A rubber stopper/cork, an airlock, and some yeast. Under 15 bucks and you’re set for the summer.
** Mr. HB is also the guy I teamed up with for The Foreclosure Project, and the one who introduced me to the Badass nature of Fasting. He is also known occasionally as Poppa from Poppa’s Cottage and Hirsute Pursuit.
How much does the fermented beverage taste like the original fruit juice?