Alcohol is the result of specific type of fermentation in which yeast microorganisms consume starches and sugars and as a by product release alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Basically…If you take a sugary liquid, put yeast into it, and give it some time you will end up with alcohol -and Co2 (carbonation!)
This can be easy as…
Mixing honey and water at a 1:4 ratio and letting it sit out uncovered at room temperature, eventually wild yeast from the honey and the air will begin fermenting the liquid and turn the sugar into alcohol, making a honey wine -or “mead”.
Check this post for more step-by-step details.
Now originally all alcohol was a result of this type of “wild fermentation” which meant simply leaving sugar liquid uncovered until wild yeast hanging out on surfaces of fruits, and hitch hiking around on dust particles in the air, would initiate fermentation. After a while humans wised up to the workings of these micro critters and instead of relying on wild yeast, they started cultivating particular strains that allowed for more consistent ferments, higher levels of alcohol, and more desirable flavors.
Today these specialized super yeast strains are sold in packets and used in nearly all commercial alcohol production.
Update 7/21/16: While I’ve used the method below multiple times with no issues, I’ve recently become skeptical about using “wild” fermentation methods that rely on high amounts of yeast. Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard evidence to back this skepticism. I have just come to believe that high yeast ferments require a bit of extra planning and strategy.
Like I said, the process below has worked successfully for me, but I’m now more inclined to use a more strategic method to ensure everything turns out perfectly.
I don’t personally do a lot of alcohol fermentation, but here is the general method of how to do it yourself at home. Basically the idea is to get a sugary liquid and introduce some yeast microorganisms. This can be done with grapes (wine), barley and hops (beer), honey (mead), various fruit juices, or really anything that has a lot of sugar.
1. Fill a wide mouth container with a sugary liquid
Get a liquid that has a high sugar content with no preservatives in it
2. Introduce yeast*
3. Let sit at room temperature
Cover with breathable material -pillow cases work
4. Stir stir stir!
Every day a few times a day. This is critical to a successful ferment as it gives the yeast oxygen. Continue this step until bubbles form on surface.
5. Transfer to secondary container
Once it starts bubbling- after about 5 days, you should move your liquid from the wide mouth container into a container where you can restrict airflow. I use a apple juice jug and a $3 airlock from my local brewery store.
The key is you need to keep airborne contaminants out, but allow for carbon dioxide to release from the bottle. If you can’t get an airlock you could put a balloon over the top and periodically release pressure as it fills.
4. Enjoy! (Or bottle and age it)
After about 3 weeks in the secondary container you can enjoy this “young” alcoholic beverage as is, or you can move it individual bottles for aging.
If you decide to age it…
be sure that fermentation has come to a complete stop prior to bottling. If you bottle while fermentation is still underway, pressure will build and could explore bottles.
For a more thorough explanation checkout my post on making wild honey wine.
Getting the yeast into your sugary liquid can be done in a number of ways…
- Buy it- Simply buy a packet of yeast from your local brewery supply store
But what fun is that?
- Introduce it- Mix chopped fresh fruit into the juice
Fresh fruit has colonies of yeast on the skin- raisins also work well
- Catch it- Put juice in a large bowl or crock and let wild airborne yeast find their way in. The trick here is to use a very wide mouth container, cover it with a towel to keep bugs out, and vigorously stir a couple times a day. Once it starts bubbling the fermentation is underway!
Although “catching” yeast possible, I have had much greater success with mixing fresh fruit, or at least a handful of raisins into the liquid.