This could be a Cafe Society question, I suppose, but I am principally interested in the chemistry involved, so I’ll post here.
If you Google “homemade wine,” a plethora of sites come up, most of which offer some variation on “add yeast to fruit juice, leave it at room temperature for a while, and drink.”
That seems safe enough, if gastronomically unsatisfying, but how does that mesh with reports (sadly common in Egypt, where I used to live) of the dangers of drinking homemade alcoholic beverages (temporary sickness at best; blindness or even death at worst)? I had always assumed that impatient/unscrupulous makers of home brew were adding methyl alcohol to their concoctions, and that’s where the poisoning comes in.
But if I follow these Internet recipes, is there any genuine danger that goes beyond producing a ghastly concoction that no one of discernment would care to imbibe?
Aside from that, I am interested in any commentary about making homemade brew drinkable enough that it could be served to guests. (Indonesia is experiencing a severe alcohol shortage right now, and I want to have a party in a couple of months, but while something like “homemade mango wine” is potentially charming, I don’t want to endanger my guests or give them something truly unpleasant.)
Somebody gave me a bottle of raspberry vinegar. It was supposed to be wine. I always chicken out on trying to make wine, because I’m afraid I’ll kill people or at least blind them. I would try it if it was highly improbable and didn’t have to spend much. I can’t afford all the gadgets people buy for making wine, but I can get gallons of grape juice.
I’ve heard its a long series of trial and error disappointments. If you keep at it, you can get something that resembles wine, but the grapes you use are all-important, so you’ll never get more than “sody-pop” unless you have access to the good grapes.
Making homemade wine safely is entirely possible - my in-laws used to make really good stuff from locally grown soft fruit and, sometimes, from bought in grapes (lots of people in the UK do) - but it seemed to be pretty hit or miss, although they did improve with practice Don’t expect to get it right first time and the wine did improve with a bit of bottle time.
Like **DrFidelius **I think the dangers come if you try and distill the wine - as well as it being illegal in most countries.
I’ve had a few experiences with both homemade wines and beers made by others.
The wines are usually pretty decent, particularly if they are kept on the wet and sweet side. You can also try all sorts of interesting variations with fruits and fruit juices that would be very hard to find in a local commercially available wine.
My father made some wines, didnt seem to be particulary expensive or hard to do with some level of success.
Homemade beer on the other hand…
Most of those I’ve been offerred are nearly undrinkable, and cheap ass crappy commercial beer is my staple, so that ought to tell you something.
When most home beer brewers give one they really want you to try from that new batch, the excitement seems to come from the fact that this batch is almost drinkable rather than it is actually good.
Making homemade wine and beer are not only relatively easy to do, as long as you follow the directions, maintain cleanliness, and don’t screw up, you can easily make very palatable drinks. Most likely the reports of danger you’ve heard about involve people distilling alcohol, which is a whole different thing. IIRC it is hard to impossible to poison yourself making beer or wine at home, unless you add something to it which is, well, poisonous.
Right at this moment in our upstairs there is 6 gallons of Una’s Olde Tyme Rhubarb Wine aging in a glass carboy, and about 62 bottles of Fierra’s East India Pale Ale undergoing aging as well.
I’ve done beer, wine and mead in my basement though I found the wine production the easiest.
While you can use grapes and stomp them I use wine kits that cost about $75. They come with a varietal grape concentrate, yeast, elderberries (maybe), oak chip (maybe) and instructions. Typically it takes 4-6 weeks to go from box to bottle giving you roughly 25-27 bottles of wine.
I consider it my french peasant wine :). For drinking at dinner or night when you really do not need to have a fancy one. I’d say that it tends to give me a $10-$15 product so I’m reasonably happy with it.
Note that I’ve found American wine prices to be lower than Canadian so if you’re doing this to save money it may not be as telling. But it is fun, easy after you’ve done it once or twice and gives a reasonable result.
Okay…I’ve tried Googling for this but work server is blocking all “Tobacco & Alcohol” websites.
What is the danger of home distilling? Is it actually possible for ethanol (which I would assume you would have after making wine or beer) to be converted to methanol in the distillation process? If not, where does the “blindness” (which I assume happens due to ingestion of methanol) come from?
Note that this is a purely intellectual exercise for me. I don’t drink, and I don’t have the patience for the whole process of wine- or beer-making, let alone distillation, if I did.
Yes, homemade wine is safe and it can be good too. You can make wine from anything that will ferment but most of the wine we all love to drink is made from grapes because grapes made a good, well balanced wine. So, if you want some wine to serve your guests I would suggest a kit to start with. These are really easy to use and, depending upon the quality of the kit, can make some pretty good stuff.
It’s possible to make drinkable wine from almost anything though. I once made some pretty decent dandelion wine with just sugar, bread yeast and a whole ton of dandelion flowers. I never tried to serve it to any guests except for my brewing buddies.
If you decide to make your own I would suggest at least getting some good wine yeast. The yeast type controls how much alcohol your wine will have and differenet types add different tastes to the finished wine.
I think some of the stories of people going blind are from odd additives that might have been put into cheap wine to make it taste better or more complex. My cite is the Simpsons episode where Bart travels to France and is forced to doctor wine with antifreeze.
The part about the cleanliness is key. If you want to get something that’s fit to drink, the only biological process going on should be anaerobic respiration of sugar by yeast. Anything else, you’ll be making vinegar or something equally unpalatable. That’s why you use airlocks - to let carbon dioxide out and nothing in - and Campden tablets or some other source of sulphur dioxide - to kill off unwanted organisms at start-up.
There is no reason why you should not produce something drinkable first off, but get some recipes and follow them.
Note that if you use an actual barrel, once it’s grown “mother” (yeast) you can just keep reusing it without adding more yeast, as long as it never gets dry.
At least that’s what professional winemakers near my home town do. We had a small barrel that Dad bought to be able to buy wine in 20L batches instead of by the bottle; when he died, we asked the people from the winery if they’d take the barrel back and they said they would if it was in good health. The guy took a sip, said “(long impolite string involving several saints), this thing doesn’t just have mother, it’s got grandmother!” and didn’t only take it back but pay Mom for it…
I’ve made copious quantities of both wine and beer at home, and won awards with both. Very easy to do, and you can get quite a good product if you are careful about ingredients and sanitation. billfish just has incompetent friends. I’d put my brew up against any commercial product, any time.
You ask about making something palatable… Do you mean something that doesn’t taste horrible or something that takes like decent store-bought wine made from grapes?
If the latter, I’d suggest you start off with a kit, rather than start from fruit. (I’ve so far only made wine a few times from kits, rather than directly from fruit, though I hope to try that eventually too.) It is far less touchy to start from a kit since you can start with good juice that has the right mix of grapes to make any wine that you happen to enjoy. With the most expensive kits, I find that the wine seems to be on par with $15 bottles of wine (for comparison, an ultra-cheap bottle of wine over here is about $9).
Aerobic respiration by yeast, not anaerobic. You want lots of oxygen at the beginning of the fermentation - that’s why you have to aerate the wort when pitching the yeast. It’s later, when the yeast have all died from alcohol poisoning and you’re worried about other beasties getting in on the process, that you want to avoid adding oxygen to the beer.
If you want to try making your own alcohol without making a huge investment, try making a batch of homemade honey wine. Take some honey, and dilute it with the same amount of water. Pour it in a wide bowl and cover it with something that lets air in. Stir it once a day. In a few days you’ll have something alcoholic. It doesn’t really taste great, but it’s hard to beat the satisfaction for your effort.
Homemade wine is certainly safe and can be good, but IMHO it’s not really worth it unless it is your hobby. It can get pretty expensive and be a lot of work when you can probably pick up a superior product for half the price at the supermarket.
My grandfather used to make dandelion wine every spring with no fancy equipment, just rubber plugs and tubing forming an airlock in gallon jugs.
I have made decent wines and very good beers from kits bought at a local brew shop … not difficult at all; just follow the instructions, paying strict attention to the sanitation part. If a batch gets infected, you will know it.
Agreed that the stories of poisoning and blindness are regarding distilling, not fermenting. If yeast can live in it, it won’t hurt you, even if it doesn’t taste or smell very good.
I’m no expert in this field at all, but I’m fairly sure that the danger of home distilling has been exaggerated a bit.
Ethanol is not converted to methanol in distilation, the methanol is a natural bi-product of the fermentation, it exists in small quantities in all fermented drinks.
A small amount of methanol in a weak alcoholic beverage isn’t harmful, but if you distil it and get the method wrong, you could end up with a batch of concentrated methanol, which would be toxic. I understand this is pretty easy to avoid and quite hard to do by accident, but the risk exists.
The other danger of moonshine would be batches that were intentionally adulterated by unscrupulous bootleggers with methanol or some other toxin to make it seem stronger or to make it go further.