It’s football season! Which also means it is tailgating season! Which means you have to make and bring things to eat and drink in parking lots (Maybe you don’t watch football or tailgate, but I’m pretty sure this will still be of interest).
Or you could just get everybody drunk.
My favorite thing to bring to tailgates has always been homebrew. I once used my homebrew to convince my principle investigator that I wasn’t a bad person. It worked really well. But then I got so drunk on my own beer that I negated any forward progress I had made. Classic Claire.
But homebrew takes at least several weeks (not to mention a lot of money dollars to get started) and, if you’re anything like me, you are very busy and very important. So I’m going to show you how to make your own alcoholic beverage in less than three days for 10 dollars or less (including initial equipment investment)!
There are two ways to do this.
The first is to buy a product called Spike Your Juice; a magic powder (spoiler: it’s yeast) that turns your boring old Welch’s into something alcoholic and exciting! For 10 dollars, you get six tubes (each containing a gram) of the yeast powder, an airlock, and instructions.
It’s a pretty straight forward little kit.
However, people have been doing this for years with champagne yeast, which is seventy five cents for five grams, and can be found at any brew supply store (or, you know, the internet). You can also obtain an airlock pretty cheaply.
I had never tried either method, but I suddenly NEEDED to know which one would produce the more delicious result.
Just kidding, I wanted to know which one produced the most alcohol in the shortest amount of time.
So I contacted the good people at Spike Yo’self and told them that I would make them famous and they sent me some of their product.
Then I went to this brew supply place which is really just a trailer in Pinellas Park and bought five packets of champagne yeast.
I met this cat there. He was really swell.
Then I bought two large bottles of 100% fruit juice that had a fairly high sugar content (it is recommended that the juice contain at least 20 g of sugar per serving and it should be free of preservatives). Other juice requirements/instructions include:
Before following these very clear and enthusiastic instructions I took an original gravity reading so I could calculate the alcohol by volume of each at the three-ish day mark.
Then and only then did I pour the Spike Your Life yeast packet into my jug of juice and seal it in with the airlock.
For the champagne yeast, I weighed out a gram (so that the mass of champagne yeast was equal to the mass of the MAGICAL SPIKE YOUR FACE powder. You could call this "stoichiometry" if you really wanted to stretch the definition) and pitched that in the other bottle.
Then I waited.
After almost seventy-two hours, both juices were still fermenting pretty hard. The Spike sample had bubbled over, but this could have been avoided by pouring a little juice off the top before beginning. I had taken the specific gravity aliquot from the champagne sample, so that one had remained contained.
The champagne sample was much cloudier and seemed to be fermenting much more vigorously (though you can't tell from the pic). I measured the specific gravity of each, and YUP the champagne sample was much more boozey.
The formula for calculating ABV (whether you care or not) is:
ABV = (Original Gravity – Final Gravity)/ 0.736
I used the “wine formula” because this is definitely not beer.
According to my calculations, the juice fermented with champagne yeast will get me drunk faster.
Yeah, that’s a Diablo III notepad. Wanna fight about it?
It’s worth noting that both juices are STILL FERMENTING. So with either method you can try some and, if you deem the sample not alcoholic enough, you can pop the airlock back on and keep going. I transferred the champagne sample to a glass bottle, but some of the yeast made it over, so it too is still going, though at a lesser rate. I’m going to let the Spike one keep on keeping on.
But which one tasted better?
The juice fermented with champagne yeast tasted like cheap, dry, peach-scented champagne. “Not bad” is the most accurate way to describe it, but I mean “not bad” in the most literal sense of the phrase. It is drinkable, proven by the fact that I have drunk (drank? drunken?) most of it.
The “Spiked” juice still tastes like a delicious fruity juice, and only tastes mildly alcoholic (due to the fact that it is only mildly alcoholic).
So taste is really in the tongue of the beholder here. Do you like dry or sweet? Do you like to taste your alcohol?
I liked mixing them.
So. Which method should you use, cats and kittens?
Costwise, the champagne yeast method is more efficient. One seventy-five cent packet of yeast could be used to ferment five 64 fluid ounce bottles of juice. An airlock will set you back $1.29, so for barely over two dollars, you have the supplies to create up to 320 fluid ounces of peach-scented alcohol (with an ABV of 7%) in about three days.
The Spike Your Juice kit (which includes enough yeast to make up to 384 ounces of “spiked” juice), costs 10 bucks (almost 5X the money!) but it does include very specific instructions and neat labels for your creation. The six pre-sealed tubes of yeast also mean no measuring; you just open and dump. It could be argued that because your juice will ferment more slowly using this method, you have more control of the outcome. But really that just means you’ll have to wait twice as long for as much alcohol.
Per ounce of alcoholic beverage: it's less than a penny using the champagne yeast and about two cents using the Spike business (not including the cost of juice, which is the same for each method).
Really, the decision is yours to make. I prefer the champagne method, but I like lots of alcohol in a short period of time. If the results are too dry, I can always back sweeten with more juice.
But if you can’t be bothered to measure, don’t like too much ethanol, and like cute little kits with stickers and really excited copy, this Spike Your Juice kit is for you.