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Q: Where does alcohol come from?

A: Alcohol is produced when a one-celled organism called yeast eats sugar as its food source and excretes alcohol. Two grams of sugar will produce 1% alcohol. There are many thousands of yeast strains. An optimal fermentation results from matching the right yeast to the right sugar source and fermenting in optimal temperature conditions. A beverage that starts at 16% sugar will produce a beverage of 8% alcohol, fully fermented. Use of a hydrometer will allow you to measure sugar and alcohol contents. You can have fun experimenting with different yeast strains.

Q: How can i ensure a good fermentation?

A: Most fruit beverages under the right circumstances will ferment very easily. Using your airlock will prevent stray organisms from getting into your batch. Sanitizing your containers, while not required, will also control stray bacteria or yeast. The most important factor in a good fermentation is a strong, appropriate yeast and the right temperature. The single most important thing you can do is check on your fermentation frequently and make sure that you are fermenting in the right temperature range. If your fermentation gets too cold it will stop. It is very difficult to restart a fermentation that has gotten “stuck”. If your fermentation is nearly finished, this may result in a pleasant beverage with some residual sugar. If it happens early in the fermentation it can be quite difficult to save the fermentation. Temperature can be adjusted by moving the location of your fermenter into a warmer or cooler place.

Q: Can I ferment bottled apple or other juices from the supermarket?

A: Any beverage that has fruit juice and no additives that could interfere with fermentation can be used. Bottled, pasteurized and UV-treated juices are all fermentable. We feel you will get the highest quality fermented beverage from fresh raw juice. If you are passionate about this, you can go to a local orchard and sometimes even press your own. For the committed, there are small scale apple presses readily available. Farmers are very willing to discuss their pressing methods with you. Many states now require cider makers to either pasteurize or UV- treat their ciders. Pasteurized and UV ciders will still ferment. Some farmers treat their juices with SO2, which is anti-microbial, and can inhibit the yeast, and delay or prevent fermentation. For this reason we prefer to use juices that don’t contain preservatives.

Q: How to handle a stuck fermentation?

A: The best way to handle a stuck fermentation is not to have one! However, once you have reached this point, the first strategy is to get your beverage back into a happy fermentation range. This could mean warming it up slowly. If you fermentation is far along, you can rack off and drink the beverage, and just accept having higher residual sugar and lower alcohol content. In an extreme case, add more yeast and see if you can get it going again. This is a tricky procedure, but sometimes it works. Believe it or not, many European ciders, particularly Spanish and French ciders, have quite a low alcohol content, (sometimes 2-4%). They are fermented naturally with naturally occurring yeast, and because the yeast in the beverage has simply died, it leaves some residual sugar and the fermentation stops.