Let’s set a few things straight: anyone can homebrew in any size apartment with a stockpot, a bucket, and a jug. I promise you this is true. You don’t need a lot of space. You don’t need fancy equipment. You won’t stink up the apartment or be forced to hide homebrew in the bathtub. And as long as you use common sense, you don’t need to worry about exploding bottles. You want to homebrew? Let’s do it.
Sodas run the gamut from the simplest of ginger ales to the fanciest fancy-pants fresh fruit- and herb-infused sparklers. There are kombucha scobys and kefir grains that have traveled the world and back over the course of generations. Homebrewers and winemakers will argue into the wee hours about the merits of this brewing technique with that temperature variance and using this particular piece of hand-welded equipment.
But every single one of these brews, from that basic soda to the finest Pinot Noir, shares the same fundamental process. If you take a sugary liquid, add some yeast or friendly bacteria, and let it sit for a while without bothering it, this beverage will transform into something fizzy, flavorful, and quite often, alcoholic. That, my friends, is fermentation.
Sugary liquid + yeast (and the occasional friendly bacteria) + time = delicious fermented beverage.
It really is that simple. Right this very minute, you could buy a gallon of grape juice from the store, add a teaspoon of yeast, and in a few weeks, you’d have wine. Not very good wine, but wine nonetheless. If you want better wine, there are some details that need to be discussed. Lucky for you, those details are right here in this book.
I started brewing beer in 2009 with my husband. We were newly married and newly settled in a city far away from friends and family. We thought that brewing would be a dandy project to tackle as we settled into our new life together.
Our first batch was so terrible that we poured it straight down the drain. Our second batch was slightly better. Our third was downright drinkable. By our fourth, we had upgraded our equipment, collected a small library of brewing books, and reserved the domain name for our imaginary future brewpub: New Low Brewing Company. (Its tagline: “When life reaches a new low, grab the beer that’s right there with you!”)
As was probably inevitable, I started looking around for more things that we could transform into alcohol using this magical process of fermentation. I grilled a friend about making mead and started obsessing over the idea of brewing sake. Yeast-carbonated sodas in recycled plastic bottles started collecting in our fridge. After a second move, this one to California, I discovered kombucha and kefir. I loved these beverages immediately for their snappy flavors and centuries-old fermentation process—plus their payload of probiotics and antioxidants didn’t hurt.
At a certain point, it became obvious: I was addicted to brewing. Which, in the larger scheme of things, is not really so terrible.
All of the recipes in this book are tailored to batches of 1 gallon or less. That goes for the equipment as well as the ingredients. I have only ever lived in small city apartments, and so I sympathize with the limits on kitchen and storage space.
Small batches are also good for learning the brewing process. Temperatures are easier to control, pots are easier to lift, and mistakes are easier to catch. And if a mistake does happen somewhere in the process, it’s less heartbreaking to part with 1 gallon of funky brew than 5 or more of them.
The Brewer’s Pantry, Brewer’s Toolbox, and Brewer’s Handbook sections are meant to introduce you to the basic ingredients, equipment, and procedures you’ll encounter in the recipes that follow. Flip through them before you get started so you know what you’re shopping for. Later on, use these sections for refining your skills and tweaking your process.
The ensuing chapters start with the easiest and quickest brewing recipes and move gradually to the more lengthy: soda pop, kombucha, kefir, hard cider, beer, mead, sake, and fruit wine. Interviews with some of the top brewers and artisan makers in the country kick off each chapter, giving you expert advice and inspiration as you dive into your own brewing projects.
The master recipes are there to guide you through the individual quirks and procedures for each brew in extensive detail. They are also your template for making your own recipes. If you discover an abandoned apricot tree or find yourself unable to resist a flat of olallieberries at the farmers’ market, you can adapt your bounty to these master recipes and feel confident in the results.
And of course, there are the recipes themselves. I’m probably not supposed to pick favorites, but promise me you’ll try the Watermelon-Mint Soda (page 29) this summer along with the Apricot Wheat Ale (page 104). The Strawberry Wine (page 162) and Summer Melon Wine (page 171) are also excellent for sipping in the middle of winter when you need a reminder of what sun feels like. One more? Make the Sweet Spiced Mulled Cider (page 75). You won’t regret it.
I hope these recipes and this book as a whole inspire your brewing and give you the tools to start experimenting on your own. Your tastes and my tastes may not be exactly the same all the time, and you may very well encounter brewing snags that I couldn’t anticipate when working on these recipes in my own kitchen. But stick with it. Talk to other homebrewing friends. Experiment. And most of all, have yourself a grand old time. There’s nothing more rewarding than pouring yourself a glass of homebrew and drinking every single drop.
Makes about 8 cups
(enough to fill a 2-liter plastic soda bottle)
Ginger ale was the first soda I ever tried homebrewing, and it was an epiphany. The flavor of the ginger was so bright and clean. The squeeze of lemon complemented it perfectly, and the sugar rounded out the edges. It made my tongue tingle in the best possible way. I can’t help but think that this is what ginger ale was meant to taste like.
2-inch piece fresh gingerroot
1 cup water, plus more to fill the bottles
9 tablespoons / 4 ounces white granulated sugar, plus more if needed
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons), plus more if needed
1⁄8 teaspoon dry champagne yeast
1. Peel and finely grate the ginger (I use a Microplane). You should have about 2 tablespoons of grated gingerroot.
2. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan on the stove top or in the microwave. Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve. Add the ginger and let stand until cool. Stir in the lemon juice.
3. Pour the ginger water into a clean 2-liter bottle using a funnel. Do not strain out the ginger. Top off the bottle with water, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace. Give it a taste and add more lemon juice or sugar if desired. The extra sugar will dissolve on its own.
4. Add the yeast. Screw on the cap and shake the bottle to dissolve and distribute the yeast. Let the bottle sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight until carbonated, typically 12 to 48 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Check the bottle periodically; when it feels rock solid with very little give, it’s ready.
5. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 weeks. Open very slowly over a sink to release the pressure gradually and avoid bubble-ups. Pour the soda through a small fine-mesh strainer to catch the ginger as you pour.