BYOB: Brew Your Own Booze!

Drinking is an all-American pastime, kind of like baseball (for some…), but it can result in a lot of trash or ridiculous bar tabs.  Enter Mr. Beer:

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Mr. Beer is a home-brewing kit sold at Target.  For just under $45 and 2 weeks, anyone can have a case of D.I.Y. brewskies to enjoy.  Refill packs run about $14-$17 and come in flavors such as St. Patrick’s Irish Stout, Classic American Light and American Devil IPA.  Kits like these can be found at various retail and novelty stores, but I’ll be honest:  I don’t have 50 bucks to spend on such an experiment.  So instead, I searched the interwebs to see who has made their own beer or wine.  I found everything from people who have tried a kit like this, to people who ferment their own wine from plants I had no idea were intoxicating!

David, 28, of New York dreams of owning his own wine cellar some day.  For now, though, he’s stuck with kits like Mr. Beer.

“As a joke, I got one of those “Make Your Own Beer” kits for a buddy’s birthday since he was always mooching off of everyone else’s beer supply,” David said.  “The kit did work and the beer wasn’t bad. Not great, but nothing to write home about either.”

He wondered how good the brew would taste if “you really got into it.”  So did I.  That’s when I found Rich from Ontario.  He’s been making his own wine for six years.

Rich first gained interest in brewing his own booze when a woman he worked with told him about her boyfriend’s dandelion wine.  Thanks to the Internet, Rich found more than enough tips and information about fermenting plants.  Four years ago he joined the Amateur Winemakers of Ontario and has since won several metals for his wines in local competitions.  Two of his wines will be judged this month in a provincial competition.

After witnessing Rich’s success, his family soon got in on the brewing game.  “My whole family makes wine now,” he said, “but they make kit wines at the u-brew shops. I make scratch wines and sometimes , but not often, kit wines.”

Now for my concern: money.  D.I.Y. projects can be really cheap if you happen to already have all the products you need.  If not, however, you might have to put up a chunk of change at first.  Rich has found that if he needs to buy all of his ingredients, it can cost up to $20.  For that much, he says he can make anywhere from 5 to 30 bottles of wine!

Perfectionists beware: making your own wine can vary each time you brew.  “Scratch wines can be trial and error even with a recipe,” Rich said, but  “I enjoy that what I think is a good one, the next person won’t like. It really is a mater of taste.  Also, I don’t withhold ingredients when I give out recipes, as I find it rewarding if the person can make a good or better wine than mine.”  Rich has made wine from yellow tomatoes, beets and lemons.

His wine-making motto is, “IF IT DON’T MOVE, FERMENT IT. “

James W. is also a seasoned D.I.-wino. For 20 years, he owned a wine- and beer-making shop and has kindly set up some rules of all beginner brewers:

1. Make enough to be worth your time and trouble (5 gallons).

2. Get a proper fermenting container: (a) food-grade plastic container with airtight lid and airlock for primary fermentation. (b) Get a 5-gallon glass carboy with stopper and airlock for secondary fermentation.

3. Let your friends know you’re making wine and ask them to save their cork-able bottles for you (screw tops suck) and get a corker.

4. Don’t be in a hurry to bottle your wine.

5. Do some reading on wine-making. It’s a great hobby and you’ll always have gifts on hand for select friends…but make sure you put a few bottles aside for a year or two for comparison.

Not as much of an expert as James, Ian of Michigan is currently working on a batch of wine.

“Recently I tried to make wine,” Ian said, “by combining mashed grapes, simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water) and 4 cups of water. I put all in a 1 gallon jug and fastened a rubber glove over the jar. After one week, the glove was completely inflated.” He says after this first batch he learned that a balloon-like topper is not airtight enough for fermentation to complete (although the image of a milk jug/rubber glove wine container can be seen in many movies), and that adding wine yeast is a must!

Fred of North Carolina, a home-brewer of 25 years, also offered some tips for making wine. First off, don’t fear the mold:

“A mold on the wine does not mean you have lost the batch,” he said. “Some fruits have a downright ugly ‘must’ that rises to the top of the container. That will dissolve in the future if you use a tested recipe.” He also suggests using pure yeast, not cornmeal or any other ingredient that just contains yeast. That’s a sure-fire way to waste a batch of wine.

With summer break approaching, this might be the perfect time for me to take on this D.I.Y. challenge.  If you make or have made your own beer or wine, definitely share your tips with D.I.Y. Samurai.

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