DIYer Champagne, A secret to making it.

No doubt you’ll  be wondering why I took the time to post this, but as we watch our Government refuse to cut spending, we know we’ll be the ones doing it as our dollar grows more worthless, and do expect them to lie about the inflation rate! If you can’t see how much prices have risen on your own, you’re in serious trouble…  and don’t we all know you can’t make much interest on your money either, so what to do?  Maybe you start stock piling stuff that will cost more later? Ever thought of buying 50 gallons of honey, they say it keeps forever.

Beer , wine, and booze are reasonably expensive, they can become trading  commodities, and it ‘s not a bad idea to learn how to make your own even if you don’t drink. Maybe some day soon, you’ll trade a gallon of wine for a smoke cured ham?

There’s a lot of books out there, and there’s places like Larry’s Brewing Supply that will teach you all you need to know, and sell you all the ingredients and equipment too.

What I offer you is near a secret weapon, and many of you will have friends that toss this valuable tool, and all you need do is ask them to save them for you!

But first let me tell you about my trip to Easton this weekend.  I took along some champagne I made last fall, and I was delighted to find out just how good it was.  We were around the camp fire after our day turned dark,  we had friends over, and I opened a bottle or two and offered it to our guests and to my wife, “this is exactly the way I like it” my Wife said, and there’s not too much she does like.

There’s good Champagne and better Champagne,  but the naturally carbonated beverage can make some fairly high pressures, and you need make sure that the bottle you choose is sturdy enough to put up with the pressures… worry not, read on!

I stopped down at Larry’s brewing and bought  about 9 pounds of honey, and some champagne yeast.  I then dropped by Wall Mart and bought six gallons of Apple juice on sale. Do check the label and assure that the stuff you buy hasn’t been treated in some way to keep it from fermenting, (this is rare). And of course, if you make your own apple juice, this is an especially good plan for you!

I mixed 5 gallons of heated, but not too hot apple juice and the honey that was warmed in hot water together and stirred it well, when it cooled to about 105F, I pitched the yeast and stirred it in well, and then poured it into a sanitized six gallon carboy.  I allowed the mix to be poured lively into the carboy to assure that oxygen entered the juice and honey.. do not pour it quietly!

You’ll need a place to let it ferment, add an air lock, all so easy to find on the internet, or you can make your own air locks..

Expect the contents of the Carboy to ferment for about two weeks, and  try and find a place where it’s at 70F or a bit cooler, higher temps can rob some of the flavor,  but there’s good champagne and better, so even if you make it at a higher temp,  you’ll likely enjoy drinking it.

After it quits fermenting, let it set for another week, and then carefully and quietly siphon off the ferment to another carboy without disturbing all that dead yeast on the bottom! This is called raking, and some people do it more than once to get a clearer wine.

Now comes the trick, after you rack once or twice, add another gallon of good quality apple juice to what’s been racked off and mix it well, then  bottle it all in plastic pop bottles that have been sanitized. I use the 20 oz sizes, and the one litre and larger too, you can pick which one you’ll open based on the size of the crowd, or how thirsty you are.  There’s no reason not to try cranberry apple, or whatever you like best, and the color of cranberry juice is most pleasant when you pour it as well.

Plastic pop bottles are near magic, as they’ll hold 100 PSI of pressure, and all you need do is let them sit for about two weeks at 70F-75F to re-ferment and make all that wonderful carbonation, then move them to a cellar, pump house, in a basement corner and attempt to forget all about them till the holidays.

Your poor man’s  champagne can be chilled in the freezer if you watch it carefully, and then transferred to a Champagne bottle and corked if you want to open and pour in front of guests. The rest of the time, just pour in the kitchen and take the glass of champagne to your guests.

A word on sediment, you can read how they get rid of sediment in expensive  champagne, and you can also read about the difference between the bubbles in real champagne and the stuff that is artificially carbonated, and you may be surprised just how different the bubbles are in the real stuff.. like I suggest you make here.  But back to the sediment, if you have it in the bottle, the carbonation will lift it off the bottom.  It means that it will be less than clear if it happens, but in my mind it’s the taste that counts, and I found mine to be delightful!

There’s no reason you can’t experiment! Try mixing your fermented wine and apple juice 50/50, and then re-bottle, just how bad can sparkling apple juice be?

If you’re doing it for the kids, remember, that the pressure will soon build and force your fermentation to stop,  so if you mixed 5-10 percent fermented juice and 90% apple juice, the alcohol content would be VERY low and fit to serve as a sparkling cider for >your kids<. This is similar to how root beer was sometimes made in the old days.. the carbonation was natural, but there was little or no alcohol content, as the pressure built up  in the bottle inhibits further fermentation.

The plastic bottle is key in these experiments, and using bottles  like beer bottles is a sure way of making what amounts to hand grenades (dangerous)  You’ll learn to chill your champagne and sparking ciders to assure they don’t gush when you open them, and you’ll very carefully crack the cap a little, and let it fizz for a while before removing the cap.. otherwise, the entire contents will jump out of the bottle, and sometimes off the ceiling.

You’ll  have a lot of fun with this, and root beer and other things are fun to make! Larry has all the stuff, and you can find it online in other places as well.  Don;t pass up a chance to make root beer with your kids, and do remember, these plastic pop bottles make it all so easy and practical.

But let me tell you that root beer is amongst the hardest thing to make IF you follow the typical directions. The plastic pop bottle can change all of that because it’s really a high pressure vessel compared to some of the glass bottles you can get. The twist off cap bottles are said to be the weakest, and I never did mention the bottle caps and capper you don’t need with saved plastic bottles did I?

One of the reasons root beer is so hard is you typically use very little yeast, and you don’t want to over carbonate because of the potential of exploding glass bottles, and you can’t allow high pressure to stop the fermentation and prevent the production of alcohol.

With the plastic, the game changes, and you can use a more reliable and vigorous yeast to assure good carbonation. Yes, that higher pressure will assure your kids have plenty of fizz, and it’ll make some of the best root beer floats ever! They’ll learn to chill the bottles well before opening them, and open the cap ever so slowly.

This is all part of living the alternative life style,  drink some really good champagne for a reasonable price.. If you have your own apples, cherries, grapes, pears, plums, you can have a LOT of fun with this and it’s a great way to entertain. why drink a still wine, when you can drink sparkling stuff?

One bit of advice, using a sanitizing solution like iodine that you can get from Larry is a sure way to make good wine and beer, keeping things very clean or sanitized means your stuff will likely be as good or better than what you buy. you Mom always told you how important washing your hands was.. well it’s true in making home brew too, all that comes in contact with your brew need be clean. and you make it in a still room, not one full of blowing dust and stuff floating in the air.

Plastic pop bottles work well for beer and still wines too..  and when it comes to beer, if you get the priming sugar wrong, you can add  more, or open it slowly if you added too much, no waste!

Remember, Champagne yeasts can make alcohol in the range of 21 percent alcohol or more, so if you have a still, you can make some brandy too, Not legally of course, unless you get a permit, or pour the stuff in your car..

Here’s what turned up when I searched for others putting champagne in plastic.. big zero! My research and experiments suggest that Champagne is expected to make about 80 PSI, and a plastic pop bottle can take in excess of 100 psi. How do I know?  Don’t look for trouble, don’t put it in your trunk on a 100F day and drive like a mad man down a gravel road.  Keep your stuff in a cool place, and treat it nice, and things will go fine.

Here’s another post where I tell of the magic of Champagne bubbles, very interesting chemistry.

All the best,

George B.




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8 Responses to DIYer Champagne, A secret to making it.

  1. JackG says:

    George, this is a much appreciated DIY activity that I had not thought to give a try. Thanks for the recipe. Those yeast are key.

  2. Greg says:

    Years ago I had some excellent homemade crab apple wine up at a friends’ in Canada.
    I was intrigued and so set out on learning everything I needed to know about making wine.
    I made many batches of very fine wines but I just kept tweaking and dumbing it down to KISS principles. I really thought it was silly to wash bottles etc.

    So here is my patented KISS wine.
    7) cans apple juice concentrate
    1) 4# bag of sugar
    1) packet of Fleischmann’s Yeast (yes, it works great)
    about 5 gallons water.

    In a large pot I warm up some water to dissolve the sugar. Usually in 2 batches.
    I pour that syrup into a sanitized 5 gallon jerry can which I have already
    dumped the frozen juice. I fill up the jug halfway then pitch in the yeast.
    close it up and give it a good shaking.
    Then just fill it up leaving an inch head space.

    The 5 gallon jugs I use have a spigot so, I leave that cracked open and
    stick a piece of cotton in it to keep fruit flies out and I keep it up right.

    let that sit for about a week. At that point it will be a strong sweet cider (stronger than beer)
    It just keeps getting stronger and less sweet (drier) as time goes and eventually it is just gone. and has to be replaced.

    • George B. says:

      Sounds good Greg, the yeast you mention can’t tolerate much alcohol, that fact can work for you, and against you depending on what you want. Let’s say you were a moon shiner, then you go for a yeast like a CHAMPAGNE yeast that can tolerate twice the alcohol, that way you assure all the sugar is converted to alcohol.
      Want a sweeter wine? use ths fleischmanns, or a wine yeast with the similiar qualities. BTW, next time your make up a batch, put some young cider in the plastic bottles like I say, and you’ll have sweet sparkling when you want it.. Thanks for yor contribution Greg!

      BTW, I just learned I have a new Grandaughter about 10 minutes ago.. Zach has a sister named Ava.

      Now.. I’m wondering, that juice I bought at Wall Mart? was it from concentrate?

  3. bob g says:

    with my addiction to coca cola, i am left to wonder???

    can i make some dark colored champagne out of a 2 liter bottle of coke and some yeast? there is certainly a bunch of sugar or something sweet in the bottle for the yeast to munch on.


    bob g

    • George B. says:

      Hi Bob! good to hear form you.. Yeast appreciate a certain amount of balance in the material they consume, they like it to be within a certain range of PH, to have a certain amount of oxygen in which to start their work, and more. I once read an article written by a guy that actually knew something about wine making, (I don’t claim to be more than interested in learning, and I claim to know a plastic pop bottle is plenty strong enough to make Champagne 🙂 He said (the guy who knows wine making) soda pop was likely pretty marginal as a material to make wine from. BUT let’s revisit old fashioned Root Beer, we basically have some thing fairly similiar to Coca Cola, and we start the fermentation process by adding yeast to it.. I said it was rather difficult to get started, and some people find it takes months to make the carbonization we expect, with a better yeast, who knows.. try it, and report back!

      I would imagine what we really need to do with your idea, is check the PH, adjust the PH, and then add some yeast nutrients available at nearly any wine or brewing shop.. Once all is adjusted, we can mix up some yeast, water, sugar, and yeast nutrients to get a good actice starter yeast really churnign and then pitch it in our Coca Cola batch..

      Now, I wouldn’t expect you idea to tickle any taste buds, not in the country or the city, BUT… we always remember.. If a wine dosen’t turn out so good, it’s normally saved for the still for further processing. There are a lot of wines that didn’t impress their makers that becomes brandy.

      Any basic how to wine book will tell you th basic of PH, and nutrients..

  4. JackG says:

    My yeast has arrived. I need a few items from the brew suppliers, but soon my ” Mission Valley Sparkling Product” will be in personal production. I like the brandy idea although I am more a grappa kind of guy. I am thinking the stack of Sharp PV panels out in my barn fits into some type of solar still. I need an alternative fuel option for my tractor.

    • George B. says:

      Jack, I’m excited for you, I hope you’ll add some to this page. There’s a numer of plans for reflux stills, and it would be fun to try making a solar power system that processes product as long as it has the energy to do so.

  5. JackG says:

    I found a nice little article on the basics.

    I know I will have to get a burner. But for the PV assist, I wonder if there is a good direct current heating element out there that could run off 1kw of 33volt panels? The element could be integrated into the bottom of the kettle and a traditional burner could be placed underneath. I may have enough BTUs to boil a couple gallons depending on the starting temp.

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