The Absolute Easiest Way to Make Your Own Homemade Hooch
I am what one spirited wine blogger refers to as a “reverse wine snob.” In other words, I drink cheap shit and I’m kind of proud of it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t enjoy higher class wines—I drink them on special occasions, particularly at fancy pants restaurants where Franzia is not on the menu—but more that, for my day to day drinking, I like to go as inexpensive as possible. That’s not to say I drink Mad Dog or Wild Irish Rose. My thing is getting the cheapest thing that meets a certain minimum of quality, a threshold none of the cheap booze classics like bottom shelf vodka and fortified wine can achieve.
Expensive wines are often a scam. Some of my biggest wine disappointments have come when drinking an expensive wine (and by expensive I mean $20 or more; I’ve probably never drank anything that would retail for more than about $50, at least not to my knowledge). Plus, there’s ample evidence that even experienced wine enthusiasts can’t tell the difference between the cheap and the expensive. For a long time, this pursuit of the cheapest acceptable booze has inevitably brought me to Franzia, that classic stalwart of the cheap boxed wine aficionado’s kitchen “cellar.” Now, make no mistake: Franzia is not good wine. But it’s also not as bad most wine snobs would lead you to believe, and I have come to enjoy it. Better yet, it’s one of the cheapest ways to get fucked up the world has ever known. In fact, on a price per milliliter of pure alcohol basis, it’s often cheaper than malt liquor and handles of bottom shelf vodka, two other time-honored ways to get fucked up on the cheap.
The thing is, it’s only one of the cheapest ways to get fucked up if you’re one of those poor saps who buy their alcohol. No, I’m not talking about stealing. I’m talking about making. The cheapest way to get fucked up by far is to make your own booze. The problem, though—or at least I had always assumed—is that making wine, even bad wine, is difficult, time consuming, and requires all kinds of equipment. Turns out, that’s not true at all. Sure, making good wine is difficult. However, making passable wine is actually really easy, quick and can be done with practically no equipment besides a bottle of store bought juice and a packet of yeast.
Best of all this wine isn’t just cheap, it’s crazy cheap. Like cheaper than bottled water cheap. In fact, it’s cheaper than anything you could buy at a store. It’s cheaper than the worst vodka. It’s cheaper than Wild Irish Rose. Hell, it’s even cheaper than drinking mouthwash (seriously, see the calculation below). And I’m not talking Listerine or any premium, name brand mouthwash, mind you. I’m talking the generic Wal-Mart shit. Yeah, think of the financial possibilities if you could get effed up for the price of Equate Antisepetic Mouth Rinse. You’ll be doing almost as well moneywise as those smug straightedge assholes.
This knowledge was a revelation to me, so I am currently proselytizing with all the fervor of a recent convert. I am thoroughly convinced minimalist homemade wine concoctions have the potential to change the world for the drunker. In this spirit, I present to you the NFFHC guide to making what I lovingly refer to as “Bum Wine” something that is going to save you the maddest of stacks of Benjies. Put those savings in a low-cost index ETF and enjoy your Bum Wine knowing you’re making a responsible financial decision.
Let’s compare three cheap ass options:
Franzia boxes contain 5L of the good stuff and cost $16.99 at my local supermarket. How much alcohol is in it depends on which variety you get, but I’ll use 13% ABV since that’s around what most dry wines come in at. 5L = 5000 mL; 5000 mL x 13% = 650 mL pure ethanol (booze alcohol); $16.99/650mL = $0.0261 or 2.61 cents per mL of alcohol.
A Handle of Cheap Vodka
A handle of cheap vodka costs $19.99 at my local liquor store. You might be able to do better. I suspect my liquor store is overpriced, but where I live you can only buy booze under 21% in grocery stores, so I’m kind of stuck since this is the only liquor store in my area. This handle is 1.75L of 40% ABV booze. 1,750 mL x 40% = 700 mL; $0.0286 or 2.86 cents per mL. Even if you can find cheaper vodka, the fact that it’s even competitive is remarkable considering that Franzia is somewhat drinkable wine and cheap vodka is absolutely disgusting. Talk about value!
1.5 L of 26.9% ABV Equate Mouthwash is $2.98 at Wal Mart. That’s $0.00738 or 0.738 cents per mL. Damn cheap, but will it be cheap enough?
A gallon of concord grape juice can be had for $2.99 at my local supermarket. The ABV you’ll get depends a lot on your yeast and your technique, but using some wine yeast I bought on Amazon (Red Star Pasteur Red) and a little added sugar, it’s entirely possible to get it to 15% ABV. However, by the half-assed method I use I would estimate more like 13%. I don’t have a hydrometer, so I can’t confirm this for sure. I’m just guesstimating based on how messed up I get from a glass of it. Adding in costs for wine yeast (50 cents a packet; you could lower this cost significantly if you wanted to by not using the whole packet since it’s designed for a five gallon jug, but I’m lazy) and added sugar (10 cents; adds to ABV by giving the yeast something else to ferment; just be sure not to use too much or it will kill the yeast), our total price is $3.59. A gallon is 3.79 L or 3790 mL. That means we get 3790 x 13% = 493 mL pure ethanol for $3.59. That amounts to $0.00728/mL or 0.728 cents per mL. In other words, we’re talking less than a freaking penny per mL and roughly 1/3 the cost of Franzia. Better yet, it’s cheaper than the cheapest mouthwash money can buy at one of the cheapest stores in America.
1 Bottle o’ Concord Grape Juice (I’ve tried grape juice, grapefruit juice, fruit punch, cranberry juice, and apple juice. Let’s just say there’s a reason almost all the wine you see at stores is made from grapes. Apple wine is okay, but grape is better. Any fruit juice can work, though, if you really don’t care about taste.) Make sure it’s preservative free (read the ingredients list). Pasteurization (which basically just means they boiled and quickly cooled it) and ascorbic acid (a form of Vitamin C) are okay. Anything else will probably inhibit your yeast. The effects different ingredients will have on your ability to make hooch varies, but a general rule of thumb is to avoid anything with an “-ate” after it.
1 Packet Yeast. Baker’s Yeast from a grocery store will work. However, this type of yeast is weak and will die once your booze reaches an ABV of between 4-6%. If that’s not a problem, go for it. However, if you want more kick, you need to get some sort of yeast meant for brewing and recreational drinking, not bread making. There are different varieties based on what you’re making. It’s not particularly important, though if you’re making something light like apple wine you might want to use something like Champagne yeast instead of Pasteur Red, which is what I use. It’ll work with any commercial yeast though.
Optional: sugar. Yeast makes alcohol as a byproduct of consuming sugar. The more sugar you have in your juice, the more potential alcohol you can have. There are two caveats to this, though. First, if you put too much sugar in your juice, it will kill the yeast. I’ve put as much as two cups in a gallon jug without incident, but I wouldn’t go much higher than that, especially if you’re using a weaker strain like bread yeast. Second, since the alcohol content of your wine will ultimately be limited by the heartiness of your yeast as the alcohol they produce will eventually kill them, adding sugar will only get you more alcohol content if there wasn’t enough sugar in the juice itself to raise the alcohol content to a point that it kills the yeast. Also, if you do add sugar, it helps to dissolve it in boiling water before adding it to your juice. Just make sure the temperature of your juice concoction isn’t too high when you add the yeast or the heat will kill them. Because of all these added issues, I generally don’t bother adding more sugar. Store bought fruit juice is already pretty sugary and the wine I get from that is already plenty strong.
Optional: a balloon. Poke holes in the balloon and put it over the mouth of the bottle. Voila, you have a device that keeps air out but also lets gas vent from the bottle (a necessary step unless you want vinegar.) Loosely screwing on the lid of the juice bottle can accomplish the same thing, but this leaves more room for error since you might make it too loose and get vinegar or make it too tight and have the bottle explode. Some people claim that the balloon will allow chemicals to leech from it back into your wine when the must (your fermenting juice) foams up into the balloon and then comes back down. To combat this I don’t take the lid off, but instead poke a small hole in it and then put the balloon over the lid itself. This helps prevent balloon stuff from falling back in the bottle, but has all the same advantages of a balloon. That said, a balloon is totally optional. Screwing the lid on and then unscrewing it about a quarter turn has always worked for me. If you’re unsure how tight it should be check it frequently. If the bottle starts to get swollen looking, unscrew the lid until you hear the hiss of gas releasing.
Note that no sterilization of any of your equipment is needed because the juice container itself is sterile. If you put it into a new container, though, that container will need to be sterilized.
- Dump the yeast into the juice bottle, tighten the lid and then unscrew about a quarter turn. In other words, you don’t want to fully tighten the cap. You want it just tight enough that air won’t come in but if pressure is put on it from within, air will flow out. There is some room for error with this. I would err on the side of making it too loose, though, as I have made some that were quite loose and still make decent wine, but if it’s too tight the bottle could burst.
- Wait three to 14 days. The juice will be pretty well fermented after about three days, but if you really want it to maximize your yield you need to wait about 10 to 14 days. Flavor improves with time.
- Siphon off all the Bum Wine except for the sludge at the bottom. The sludge at the bottom is dead yeast. It’s harmless but will affect the flavor of your hooch. If you want to let the booze sit longer than a few weeks I would still recommend moving it to a new bottle to separate it from the dead yeast. Note that freshly fermented Bum Wine will be slightly carbonated. This is totally normal and not a cause for alarm. Personally, I like it to be totally flat before I drink it, but you can absolutely drink it this way. To speed up this process, put it in a new bottle in the fridge. Keep the cap loose just in case fermentation continues a little bit.
There you have it, my time honored, super affordable recipe for Bum Wine. Happy savings and happy drinking!