Hey everybody, spring is just around the corner and it’s a great time to gather those fermenting supplies and to start your home distilling project. Here is something I stumbled upon that I thought you all might find interesting. The following information is intended to be a simple guide to basic fermentation procedures and is not meant to be a comprehensive manual. Most of the information below is based on my own personal experience making meads, wines and ciders. My intent is to provide fermenting instructions that use items easily obtainable at a grocery or hardware store. However, some recommendations are intended for items that may be bought at a beer or wine making supply store, but all of these suggestions are optional.
On Fermentation and Yeast
The process of fermenting is basically feeding the correct amount of sugars and nutrients to yeast, which returns the favor by producing carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. This process goes on until either all of the sugar is depleted or the yeast can no longer tolerate the alcoholic percentage of the beverage. Different yeasts produce different results and have different tolerance levels.
Here is a table of yeast tolerances:
|Yeast Type||Approx. Max Alcohol %||Ideal Temp. Range|
|* Can go higher with time, but slows down greatly at this point.|
|** Can ferment at ale temps, but tends to leave cloudy results.|
|*** baking yeast can be used in a pinch and in fact works well with citrus wines, but can leave a bread-like smell and taste that some find objectionable.|
Yeast can’t live on sugar alone. It’s happiest when it has a real organic soup of acids, nutrients and minerals, like any other living thing. Yeast actually does “best” in an aerobic (oxygenated) environment, but then won’t produce alcohol, just CO2. Bacteria also likes oxygen, so while it’s good to agitate the solution before yeast is added, it’s best to keep as little oxygen from getting to your beverage as possible after fermentation has started. Honey has a lot of what yeast needs, but is somewhat resistant to being fermented by itself. A pure honey solution will ferment, but it can take anywhere from three months to a year. However, yeast nutrients and certain acids will speed up this process greatly, taking closer to a month to ferment, depending on the concentration of honey in the solution.
Fruit juices often have all that yeast needs all by themselves. Notably grape juice is a favorite, as it has the required acids, tannins and sugars. Apple juice stands on its own quite well too. Other juices may need acids (not just for the yeast, but for flavor!) and many commonly need tannins to be added as well. Watch out when using rasins for tannin, they’ll add sugar and color to your beverage, so they might throw off your sugar/volume estimates. Also, I gather that the color change is not that positive.
Yeast is very hardy and will get by with almost anything but plain white sugar (though sugar can be added to honey or fruit juice to increase the alcohol yield). You can even ferment white sugar with the right acid and nutrient blend, but this is difficult to do.