Procedure

Those of you who are familiar with the making of beer and wine will find the fermentation of supermarket sugar with baker's yeast in a laundry tub a rather simple and crude procedure. Don't be disconcerted by this. All we are doing at this stage is producing the alcohol we need. Not being the final product, and not being intended for drinking, our concern is simply to make the alcohol as rapidly and as cheaply as possible. Taste is of no importance. The sophistication comes later on when we take this noxious beer and purify it by distillation.

The laundry tub fermenter described in the equipment section is washed with soapy water and then rinsed. Also wash the accessories such as circulating pump, immersion heater, thermometer and glass cover. Avoid the use of scouring powders as they tend to mar the polished surface of the polypropylene tub.

After rinsing, close the drain valve and insert a rubber stopper in the drain hole of the laundry tub. Add 10 kg of sugar, about 50 litres of warm water and stir with a wooden spoon until most of the sugar has dissolved. Then start the circulating pump, making sure that the inlet to the pump does not suck in grains of sugar as this could lead to damage. Cover with the glass plate, install the immersion heater and thermometer in their respective holes in the cover, and switch on the heater.

Yeast: There are two forms of active yeast the instant, dry, powdered type and the active, moist variety which comes in blocks. Either one sort or the other will be obtainable from the baking section of your local supermarket or perhaps from a delicatessen and it makes little difference which you use. The powdered yeast is about three times as active, pound for pound, as the moist yeast in block form, so work out which of the two sorts is the best buy. If there isn't a great deal of difference in price choose the dry type because of its much longer shelf life but do check the "use-by" date to ensure that it is fresh. The yeast should be vacuum packed and have a "use-by" date at least several months ahead. Yeast obtained from a bakery is almost certainly fresh and active because of the rapid turnover.

To ferment 10 kg of sugar use 450 grams (1 lb) of the moist yeast in block form or 150 grams of the dry, powdered variety. In the first case, to prepare it for use you will need to make it into a cream. Use a stainless steel bowl and two wooden spoons. Break the block into walnut size pieces and let them stand for about 15 minutes in a small amount of water before attempting to cream them. The chunks of yeast will swell in the water and be far less sticky as a result. Work at it gently until a lump-free cream is produced and then pour the cream into the sugar solution. The dry powdered yeast can simply be sprinkled slowly on to the top of the sugar solution.

With this amount of yeast and the time being allowed for fermentation (5+ days) there is no need to add nutrients. Do not be seduced by claims that special yeasts will allow you to produce a 15% alcoholic solution instead of the more normal 12% because this does not mean that you get more alcohol, only that you can use less water. The amount of alcohol you get will be determined solely by the amount of sugar you have used and the yeast has nothing to do with it.

When the temperature in the fermenter has reached 30 to 35 oC. adjust the thermostat or light dimmer control to hold it in this range. For the next five days or so the only attention required is a periodic check of temperature.

The completion of fermentation can be judged in several ways. One is the absence of foam on the surface of the solution; this foaming is quite vigorous at first but diminishes steadily with time until eventually the fermentation ceases and the beer looks dark and still. The best way to know when fermentation is complete, however, is to float a hydrometer in the sugar solution. At first, the specific gravity of the solution will be so high — about 1.06 — that the top of the hydrometer may be pressed against the underside of the glass cover. As the sugar is converted to alcohol with a specific gravity of 0.8, the hydrometer will slowly sink until it shows a specific gravity below 1.00. With a little experience you will know exactly when to expect fermentation to be complete (e.g. 5 to 6 days) and can make a closer examination at that time.

When fermentation is complete, switch off the pump and heater and remove them for washing. Reach down into the beer and remove the rubber stopper, substituting a short (perhaps 1/2 inch) length of 11/2 inch copper tubing in the drain-hole. This will act as a dam and help to hold back some of the yeast when you drain the beer into the beer-stripper.

Allow the beer to stand for several hours or preferably overnight in order to give the yeast a chance to settle to the bottom of the fermenter. At the end of this settling period, connect a hose between the drain valve under the fermenter and the inlet at the base of the beer-stripper. Open the valve and allow the beer to flow by gravity into the stripper. Chase it with a little water to clear out the beer in the hose. Close the valve at the base of the beer-stripper, remove the hose and wash the spent yeast from the fermenter to drain.

Note: Some yeast will inevitably get into the beer-stripper. It will do no harm, but be alert to the possibility that it may accumulate in the bottom of the stripper over a period of months and start to clog the drain valve. Back washing with water after each run is therefore quite important.

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