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PHOTO: Aliza Sollins
Over the summer, I grew several dozen pounds of potatoes and carrots without the use of any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. I saved the potato and carrot peelings in the freezer, along with some leftover scraps from our local farmers market—grapes no longer in sellable condition, organic beet peels and cobs of organic sweet corn. Because the compilation of scraps didn’t seem like they’d make a tasty broth, I decided to do a little science experiment in the name of homesteading: I made alcohol.
The scraps I collected had plenty of usable sugars and yielded a clear liquid 18 percent alcohol by volume. The final product looks like moonshine and tastes similar to Korean-style soju or Japanese sake, with a floral aroma and a clean, mild flavor with strong floral tones. To compare, the ABV of your average wine ranges between 9 and 16 percent. I’m calling it Moonshine Wine because the ABV is low compared to a typical moonshine.
Keep in mind, these are not instructions or a recipe. The steps in this article are not complete and should be used as inspiration, not for direct replication.
I started by boiling the following ingredients for about 10 minutes to make a mash:
After the mash cooled to approximately 80 degrees F—the temperature used to proof bread yeast—I added a packet of champagne yeast, which survives well in high-alcohol conditions. Then I stirred everything with a sterile spoon and waited.
After one week, a lot of little bubbles percolated in a magenta-colored, very earthy and sour-smelling liquid. This is caused by the yeast metabolizing the natural sugars in the scraps into carbon dioxide and ethanol, the principal type of alcohol found in drinkable beverages or used in herbal tinctures. By the second week, the bubbling slowed (though a few would still rise to the top if I shook the pot gently), the fermented alcohol smell was sharper and the color had turned darker.
I used a distillation process to convert the mash into the final product: the moonshine wine.
Some states prohibit the use or possession of unlawful apparatuses for making alcoholic beverages. Here is an example of this sort of unlawful apparatus:
Before you start an experiment of your own—or if you plan to tell anyone about it—consult your local regulations.
A more experienced friend gave me a few tips to help raise the alcohol level of the final product. Adding more water—about 5 gallons compared to 1 gallon—would have given the yeast more room to munch on the scraps, which would have increased the amount of ethanol created. I could have also increased the amount of sugar for the yeast to eat by adding an enzyme called amylase that helps convert the vegetable starch into sugars.
If you see heaping piles of food scraps coming from your kitchen and you want to make more than compost, perhaps you’d like to try a science experiment of your own.