There’s a reason that alcoholic beverages have historically been so popular, and it has nothing to do with people wanting to get drunk. Before advances in science that allowed us to view bacteria and then to kill them in order to purify water, people ran a real risk of contracting severe illnesses or dying from drinking water. Therefore the beverages of choice were those that weren’t going to contain dangerous bacteria, such as beer, wine, or cider. In the event of a survival scenario, you may face those very same conditions. Being able to brew beer or ferment fruit juices could end up being the difference between survival and death from thirst.
How to Brew Beer
Wasser, Hopfen, Malz, Gott erhalt’s. The old German phrase encapsulates the simplicity of beer’s ingredients. With the discovery of yeast in the 19th century as the active ingredient that ferments the sugar in beer, you can add yeast to the list alongside water, hops, and malt.
Water is the first and most important ingredient and will determine the overall quality of the beer. Water that is too hard or too soft will produce beers that don’t taste as good as they should.
Malt is the next most important ingredient, providing the sugars that the yeast will digest and turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Malt can range from light pale and pilsner malts to dark brown chocolate malts. While barley malt is the most common malt found, wheat malt is commonly used in German and Belgian beers, while rye, oat, and spelt malt are also available.
Hops come next, providing beer with its characteristic bitterness. Continued research into and breeding of hops is producing more and more new varieties that offer fruity and tropical flavor profiles that provide new and exciting tastes.
Finally, yeast is the actual ingredient that produces the beer. No longer dependent on wild yeasts as our forefathers were centuries ago, a wide variety of both dry and liquid yeasts are available to create the exact flavor profile of various different types of beers.
Brewing beer isn’t that difficult. The two primary ways that most homebrewers brew beer are extract brewing and all-grain brewing. In extract brewing you’ll use either liquid or powdered malt extract, dissolve it in hot water, bring it to a boil, add hops, chill it, and then ferment it. In all-grain brewing you grind up your malted grains, mash them in with hot water, and draw off the resulting liquid, known as wort, to get your sugar-laden liquid to boil, hop, chill, and ferment.
Sanitation is the key to successfully fermenting beer, as everything the beer touches after it’s been boiled and cooled is a potential vector to introduce foreign bacteria that could spoil the beer. The fermentation vessels are closed off with airlocks to prevent air from getting into the beer, with the carbonation produced from fermentation then further protecting the beer from exposure to the outside atmosphere.
Sanitation is also of the utmost importance when bottling or kegging your beer, otherwise you run the risk of individual bottles becoming infected, which could potentially result in “bottle bombs.”
If you’re interested in learning how to make your own beer, John Palmer’s book How to Brew is a great resource and it’s available online. And once you know how to make beer, many of the same lessons of sanitation and fermentation carry over to grape wine, fruit wines, and cider.
How to Make Wine
True winemaking as it’s practiced by winemakers can be difficult and time-consuming. Yes, you can try to make your own wine from your own grapes, but the product likely will be far different from what you might expect to get at the store. Most hobby winemakers will purchase grape juice blends that feature juices from various wine grapes.
From there the primary difference is that the end product will not be carbonated, so that instead of relying on carbon dioxide to protect the fermenting wine you’ll be adding potassium metabisulfite (sulfites) each time the wine is transferred or bottled to kill any wild yeasts or other bacteria that could spoil the wine.
Of course, if you’re not a stickler for replicating store-bought wines you can always try to make a sparkling wine using the same techniques as you would use for beer. After all, you’re the winemaker so you can make any style you want.
How to Make Cider
As with wine, you can make cider by pressing your own apples but it’s a difficult and time-consuming process. You’ll need a special cider press to be able to put enough pressure on the fruit to press out all the liquid, and then you’ll have to figure out what to do with all the leftover pulp.
If you go with apple juice from the store you can still make passable cider or apple wine. More of the sugars in apple juice will ferment than in beer, so store bought apple juice will generally result in a 6% ABV cider. You can add sugar or honey to boost the alcohol content if you want.
Making cider really is as simple as adding yeast to juice. Just make sure your fermentation vessel is properly sanitized, that your cider doesn’t have preservatives such as potassium sorbate added (which won’t inhibit a packet of dry yeast from fermenting the juice but will result in spicy off flavors), and you can have a bubbly dry cider ready to drink in just a few weeks.