Depending on your space, money and time constraints, anyone can take up brewing, vintning or cordialing. I'm going to cover the basics of equipment, cleaning and some sample recipes for many different styles of alcohol. Some of these are ready the same day you make them, while others can take months to years to be truly ready. The recipes and suggestions are not necessarily "period", unless so noted. That is not to say that something like them would not have been made though.
So let's get started.
Yeast is our friend. Heat is yeast's enemy. Try to keep it below 80-85° at all times. This should generally be 65-70°. Check your yeast to see what temperatures it works best at. (Higher temperatures can cause unwanted alcohol types to form.)
Fermentation is the creation of alcohol by yeast and sugars.
Fermenter is a container to do fermentation in.
Rehydration is done by putting the dry yeast in a cup of lukewarm water for about 15 minutes.
Wort is the raw beer before fermentation.
Must is the raw wine, cider, mead, etc. before fermentation.
Steeping is the extraction of flavors by soaking the item in the work/must. This is similar to the making of tea.
Lees are the junk left on the bottom of the fermenter. This is typically dead yeast and other things that have fallen out during fermentation.
Racking is the transfer of the beer/wine from one fermenter to another. When racking into class containers, be careful not to rack while the liquid is hot or the glass may shatter.
Filtering is the transfer of the beer/wine through a filtering agent, such as cheesecloth or coffee filters. There are much fancier filtering methods as well, but they can be expensive.
Of all the equipment out there, some is needed, some is nice, and some is only used by the experts. Below I've listed what you need as well as what is useful.
"Cleanliness is next to godliness" is import to remember, but don't get too paranoid.
Some people say never to use bleach, but it's more of a common mistake to
use too much bleach or to not rinse well enough. If one uses bleach, never use
more than one teaspoon per gallon of water. I use about one tablespoon per 5
gallons of water. After soaking in this solution, rinse (I completely refill
the container in question) with warm to hot water at least three
From your local brew supply you can get B-Brite or C-Brite - a cleanser safer than bleach, Iodophor - a "no-rinse" antiseptic that is iodine based, or One-Step Cleaner - an O2 based cleaning agent. Another wonderful item they, as well as others, have is a jet spray bottle cleaner that can be attached to your faucet and bottle/carboy brushes. Other items for disinfection around your house include the dishwasher and stove. (~170-190°)
My personal cleaning regiment for carboys is one tablespoon of bleach and hot water in the carboy. Soak for 5-10 minutes, clean with carboy brush, then empty it. Refill and empty the carboy three or more times with just hot water. After this, use the jet sprayer with hot water and then spray the inside with iodophor. For bottles, I soak them in a gallon or more of hot water with about one teaspoon of bleach. I then clean them with a bottle brush and then rinse three times with hot water and use the jet sprayer before putting them in the dishwasher with the heat dry turned on. (No detergent!!!)
When racking (a term used for siphoning the wort/must from one fermenter to another), remember to clean all of the equipment well. This will reduce the chance of getting contamination or an off-taste. The benefit of racking is that you leave behind the dead yeast and other dregs (lees) that have collected at the top and bottom of the carboy. This makes for a clearer drink, as well as a better tasting one. The more often you rack, the quicker it will clear. Personally I'm very patient and rack about once a month for nine months to a year when making cider or mead. Typically it will be clear and ready to bottle by then. A couple more months in the bottle and it will start being ready to serve. Others are more than willing to drink it before this point. Unfortunately I've not always followed my own advice in the past.
Beer is the old reliable. It is ready quick, usually within a month or so, and lots of people drink beer. I honestly find it more difficult than meads or ciders, but it is more forgiving and gives quick results for those wanting something soon. You rack it two or three times two weeks apart and then put it in the bottle. I recommend a final racking right before bottling onto the bottling sugar dissolved in a cup of water.
There are three basic methods of making beer: all-extract, partial grain, and all-grain. These are listed in order of difficulty as well as amount of time needed to start it. We typically make partial grain beers since they give the best flavor for the amount of time/effort expended. These typically take about two hours of prep instead of the 4-7 hours for an all-grain. All-grains have the additional headaches of precision temperature ranges needing to be maintained for proper sugar extraction.
Steep the grains in 1 gallon of water and bring it to 180F then remove the grains. Add extract, sugar and Nugget Hops to the wort and boil for 1 hour. 5 minutes before the end of the boil add the Kent Golding Hops. Cool it to ~80° and pour into fermenter. (I try to leave the hop sludge behind to help clear quicker and improve flavor.) Top to 5 gallons and add rehydrated yeast. People recommend using a wort chiller to drop the temperature quickly to avoid contamination, but I've had good luck just leaving it covered well overnight.
Mead is basically a honey wine. There are many modern forms of mead that include different additives to the fermentation. Some common modern definitions/types are:
During period there was a lot less of a difference than there is today. They seemed to use the terms mead and metheglin interchangeably. As well, although what a lot of us make is technically a metheglin, it is easier to call it mead since most people know what that is.
The mead recipe that we use is a slightly modified Damaris of Greenhill recipe, which I believe originally came from Lord Alexander of the Many Minds. This is a good base recipe that can be modified to do most of the varieties easily. In my opinion, the most important modification that we made is to stop using granulated sugar and use another 4-8 lbs. of honey based on availability. The problem with using granulated sugar in meads and wines is that, despite a wonderful flavor, it can impart a winey, cidery or vinegary odor, which is undesirable to many people. A minor modification to the recipe is not bringing the mead to a full boil, but only to a simmer. This will still allow you to remove the proteins (sudsy stuff) without "damaging" the honey flavor as well as lessening the chance of making rock candy. Other brewers have stated that you don't need to remove the proteins at all. From period recipes, it's clear that honey was either simmered/boiled or not without apparent rhyme nor reason.A typical mead
To make it, bring one gallon of water to a boil and add honey. Bring to a simmer, stirring to keep from scorching, and skim the foam off. Squeeze the juice from the lemons and orange; place the rinds in a cheesecloth bag with the tea and spices. Remove from heat and place the cheesecloth bag in to steep. Let cool to ~80° and remove seasonings. Pour into a 5-gallon carboy and top to 5 gallons. Pitch the yeast. (Remember to rehydrate it if it is dry yeast.)
NOTE: The lemons, oranges, tea, etc, give the necessary nutrients to the mead without using chemical additives.
To move on, cider is one of the easiest drinks to ferment with very simple ingredients. The simplest recipe I use is simply 5 gallons of TreeTop juice with 2-½ lbs. of sugar. Time to completion varies upon many things, including your patience. The great thing is this same method can be done with about any juice to make a cider or wine type beverages.My favorite cider
To make it you bring 1 gallon of water to a boil then add the concentrate and sugars then bring it back to a boil. Make sure to stir intermittently while adding the ingredients and until it boils to keep from scorching to the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat and add the spices. Allow this to cool covered for at least 2 hours or, preferably, overnight. Place into a 5-gallon carboy and top to 5 gallons with water. Pitch the yeast and add an airlock.
Hypocras, and its many spelling variations, is a spiced wine that is named for Hippocrates. There are typically three kinds, although I have only included two of them. Those that call for white wine and spices, red wine and spices, and wine and spices with milk/cream. The nice thing about hypocras is that they require no special equipment and is ready in a matter of days, if not immediately.
Both of these recipes were taken from Cindy Renfrow's A Sip Through Time, which is a collection of historical recipes for brewing. The first one was originally taken from Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and is dated to between 1550 and 1625. The second is from The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin and is dated to 1594.Hyppocras #259
Take 3 quarts of sweet wine & one quart of swee[t] sack, 2 pound of lofe sugar, 2 ounces of cinnamon, halfe an ouce of ginger, halfe an ounce of corriander seeds, 4 numeggs, beat yr sugar ve[ry] well, but ye others spices must be onely crusht. yn put [in] ye other halfe of ye sugar & a pinte of new milke. stir them [well] together, yn put them in a bagg yt is small at one end, [&] put a whalebone on ye top yt may hang even. when it [is thoreough (?)], bottle it close. it will keep a quarter of a ye[ar].Note: The whalebone serves to hold open the mouth of the hypocras bag. The spices are put into the bag (as we put coffee into a drip coffee pot), and the sweetened wine is poured through the spices to gather their flavor. Items in brackets were reconstructed by the author.
Break the cinnamon into small pieces. Grate the ginger. Break the coriander and nutmeg. Mixed the wine and spice and 1 pound of sugar. Mix the milk and the other 1 pound of sugar. Mix it all together and let sit for 24 hours and then filter.White Ipocras
Take a gallon of wine, an ounce of Synamon, two ounces of Ginger, one pound of Sugar, twentie Cloves bruised, and twentie cornes of pepper big beaten, let all of these soake together one night, and then let it run through a bag, and it will be good Ipocras.
Peel and slice ginger, bruise cloves and crush peppercorns. Combine all ingredients stirring well. Let sit for 24 hours and filter.
All and all, I was very pleased with both of these recipes. I had specifically picked Hyppocras #259 due to the fact that I thought milk/cream was an odd ingredient, but it was fairly common throughout the period recipes. To be honest, I thought Hyppocras #259 was a lot better than the White Ipocras.
Cordials in their basic form are flavored distilled alcohol. Since not everyone can distill (not to mention that it's illegal without a license in the US), the recipes we use call for store bought alcohol. As with hypocras, cordials require no special equipment and they are ready in a matter of days, if not immediately.
These are all from Cordials from Your Kitchen by Pattie Vargas & Rich Gulling. We don't claim they are period, just that we thought they would be good.
Liqueur of Love (or maybe Love Potion #9)
Coarsely grind coriander, cardamom, star anise, cloves and rose hips in coffee grinder or food processor. (We just used a mortar & pestle.) Bring 1 cup water and honey to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Add spice mixture and boil for 4 minutes more. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Place hibiscus flowers in bowl. Use a fine-mesh strainer to strain syrup into bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, then strain into a clean 1-quart container. Add orange zest, vodka, and brandy. Top off with remaining water. Cover and let stand in a cool, dark place for 1 month. Use a coarse sieve or colander to strain out orange zest. Discard.
Rack or filter liqueur into final container and age for 1 month before serving.
Rico's South of the Border Coffee Liqueur
Combine 1 ½ cups water and coffee to make a very strong brew. Set aside. Make a simple syrup by bringing remaining 1 cup of water, white sugar, and brown sugar to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. When clear, remove from heat and let stand until just warm. Add vanilla, chocolate syrup, and coffee. Combine vodka and brandy in clean 2-quart container. Add coffee mixture. Cover and let stand in a cool, dark place for at least 1 month before serving.
You may find some sediment at the bottom of the container. If you prefer a clearer liqueur, rack or filter into a clean container.
Make a simple syrup by bringing sugar and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. When clear, remove from heat and let stand until just warm. Combine syrup, coconut milk, and coconut extract in a sterile 1 quart container. Mix thoroughly. Add vodka, cover, and stir or shake until blended. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 month.
We waited a week before starting to drink it. It's great!! Btw, yes, it means it needs to be drank within a month.
You now know the basics of the majority of styles of making alcohol on your own. I hope that you found this useful and take up this art that I enjoy so much. Of course it helps that others get to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
Remember that this is not difficult and anyone can do it.
Renfrow, Cindy.A Sip through Time. A collection of old brewing
Spence, Pamela. Mad about Mead! Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1997.
Vargas, Pattie and Rich Gulling. Cordials from Your Kitchen. Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, Vermont, 1997
-. Bryn Gwlad Brewers' Guild Log Book. 1996-Present
Gervase, Phelim "Pug". Pug's Brewing Log. 1995-Present
Master Phelim "Pug" Gervase - firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 206-0884