Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spike Your Juice, Juice to Alcohol Kit

I had been curious about Spike Your Juice for a while but since it's the holidays, I decided it was time to give it a try. Drinking and holidays just go together. It's a kit that allows you to alcohol up a bottle of juice and make a fair approximation of a European beverage called Federweisser. I have never had this beverage, but it sounds delicious.

The Spike Your Juice web site explains that the kit was developed by a group of Europeans living in California who had been accustomed to having the seasonal drink around the time that nearby vineyards harvested their grapes.

There are suggestions for types of juice on the web site. In the instructions that come with the kit, it explains that you need a 64 oz. bottle of juice with
  • a minimum sugar content of 20g per serving
  • an unrefrigerated juice
  • no artificial sweeteners
  • no unfiltered juices
Cranberry Pomegranate

So it pays to read the labels carefully when shopping for your juice. The wrong kind will not work. I choose Ocean Spray Cranberry Pomegranate for my first batch. Not one of the juices recommended on the web site, but it met the criteria, so I went for it. I followed the very easy instructions...
  • Pour the packet (yeast and cane sugar) into the juice.
  • Do not stir.
  • Discard the original bottle cap. (I did, but then a comment I read on Amazon made me retrieve it. Yes, I washed it. More on that in a bit. The retrieving, not the washing.)
  • Fill out the supplied label and affix it to the bottle. 
  • Fill the airlock with water to the fill line.
  • Seal the bottle with the airlock and stopper. 
  • Store at room temperature.
  • Wait 48 hours.
Could not be easier.

Here's what it looked like:

For the next two days I checked in on the bottle periodically. It was bubbling away. On the second day some of the juice and yeast bubbled up into the airlock and it overflowed a tiny bit, so next time I might remove a little juice first. A couple of times I sniffed the product (around the airlock) and was concerned that the odor reminded me of bad old communion wine. I needn't have been concerned.

Day 2
The 48 hours was up on Christmas evening so we eagerly poured a test glass and sampled our product. It was very nice! Still tasted like juice, but it now had a light sparkling wine flavor to it. The wine flavor was slight, however, and we were interested in more dramatic results so I washed the airlock, refilled it with water and set it and the stopper back onto the bottle.

Day 3
We tried a glass on the evening of day 3, about 72 hours after the beginning. Much better! It tasted more tart, less sweet and slightly more alcoholic. This was exactly what I expected since the yeast in the mixture is hard at work turning the sugars into alcohol. We tried some with an ice cube and that was nice. It tasted very good chilled. I recapped the bottle with the washed and refilled airlock and decided to wait one more day and see what it tasted like then.

Day 4
Hmm, a little too sour for me. Not bad. It was still drinkable, and some will certainly prefer the taste, but I prefered the slightly sweeter taste of yesterday.

Now, here's where I went off the safe instructions path. I had read a bit around the web to see what others had to say about the kit. One person, Gregory King on Amazon, had an interesting tidbit of advice:

"Check it after 2 days. You'll probably want to go 3 or 4 days to get rid of a good amount of sugar and get enough alcohol. But check it daily after that, as the fermentation will be geometrically faster as the yeast multiply. After 4 days, you'll probably have a much drier taste...too dry for some.

I use a strainer to filter out the largest chunks of dead yeast, but they won't hurt you.

And I left the cap on in the fridge to have the residual yeast carbonate the drink. Yes, I was risking explosion, but it tastes MUCH better. And the cold temperature slows the fermentation...just check the bottle rigidity twice a day. If it's too stiff, HAVE A DRINK! The nice thing is, it'll repressurize itself a bit, unlike soda that goes flat after you open it."

So, based on Gregory's advice, I emptied out the juice that was left into a large cup and washed out the bottle. I then strained the juice back into the bottle using a funnel with a paper towel draped in it. It seemed to take out what was left of the yeast. I put the cap on and placed the bottle of spiked juice in the fridge. Being the careful type, I checked the bottle frequently at first, about once an hour. Since the bottle was only about half full, it was fine.

About 8 hours later (working late) I tasted the juice again and it was noticeably more sour. Even with being strained and refrigerated, it was clearly continuing to ferment. I found it unpleasantly sour. So I decided to try another type of juice.

Interesting update: We tasted the strained and refrigerated juice on day 6 and it was a little bit sour, but not a sharp sour taste, mellower and much more pleasant. It tasted more like some kind of wine, not like any wine I've tasted, but definitely not bad.

Continued in Spike Your Juice, Part 2