4 DIY Geeky Drink Recipes to Get Your Buzz On

James Bruce 15-09-2014

As a writer, developer and all-round geek, I’m of the opinion that my best work is done while thoroughly off my head. Here I present you with four DIY recipes to get your buzz on: alcohol and caffeine, because we all know that mixing stimulants and depressants is a recipe for success in life.

Warning: you can get very, very wasted with not a lot of money. Don’t ruin your life by overdoing it. Alcohol abuse kills thousands every year – it’s your responsibility to drink in moderation.

The only way to work - with a key by your side
The only way to work – with a keg by your side

Hobo Wine

As a student, half of my budget was spent on various intoxicants and the other half on rent. If someone had told me I could have saved hundreds of dollars by fermenting my own wine, I’d have at the very least hugged them for an unspecified amount of time to show my gratitude. On the average $10 bottle of wine, UK drinkers pay over half of that straight into the tax coffers. If you make your own, you can bring the cost down to less than $2 per bottle.

First, a primer on fermentation. Making alcohol is actually one of the easiest processes known to mankind – it’s widely believed that the first alcohol was produced purely by accident, but thankfully someone figured out what was going on and it’s been a staple of civilisation ever since. Here’s the secret: yeast and sugar. The yeast consumes the sugar, and produces waste products of alcohol and carbon dioxide.

The amount of sugar you put in at the start will determine the final alcohol content at the end, but only up to a certain level. High alcohol content actually kills yeast, so production by fermentation is only really possible up to about 15% ABV (or 30 proof). If you put enough sugar in to theoretically reach higher than that, you won’t: you’ll get to 15% and it’ll just be really sweet (unless you buy expensive specialist yeasts). Beyond that, you need to distill the alcohol, which is illegal – and for good reason, because the ethanols produced by amateur distillations can make you go crazy.

Fermenting all the things. Protip; it doesn't work with orange juice.
Fermenting all the things. Pro-tip: it doesn’t work with orange juice.

But surely you need hundreds of dollars to do this miraculous process at home?! Not really. You don’t need a hydrometer, for instance – which is a float that looks like a thermometer, but actually gives you accurate readings of how much sugar is in there, and hence what the final alcohol content will be. You don’t need a huge fermenting tub like the one pictured above if you work in small batches; and you don’t even need a glass carboy (though you can probably get one off freecycle Get Free Stuff, Give Away Your Junk & Save The Planet The Freecycle Way Freecycle is the world’s largest network of recyclers who, instead of throwing away, selling or otherwise disposing of their unwanted goods, give it away instead. It’s both an environmentally and pocket-friendly way of picking up... Read More ). The only things you really need are an airlock, a siphon tube, and some yeast (and of course, the grape juice).

Let’s start with grape juice: get 100% natural preservative-free. Costco has a suitable 2.72 litre pack. There’s 39g per cup of natural sugar content in this, which is enough to make a 7-8% wine. Add about 3 cups of sugar (remove some wine to make room) for a theoretical 14% ABV final wine.

Airlocks are small glass or plastic curly tubes that you fill with water: they let air (or in this case, carbon dioxide) out, and stop nasty flies getting in (which will turn your lovely wine into vinegar). Here’s a suitable airlock; and a universal bung. Don’t forget to add some water to the airlock, or it’s useless – there should be a little mark on it to indicate how much to add.

Finally, you need some yeast. This champagne yeast is enough to brew 5 gallons, so divide accordingly and store unused yeast in the fridge. Just tip the yeast into the bottle, secure with the airlock, and place in a warm environment (25-28 degrees Celsius is ideal). It’ll start bubbling within a few hours; when it stops after a week or so, the wine is done. Leave longer to clear the wine further. Siphon off, being careful not to agitate the lees (dead yeast, etc.) at the bottom.

Hard Cider

Excuse me for a moment to compose myself, but I’m still cringing from the absurdity of having to put the word “hard” in front of cider to let Americans know this is something different to lemonade. Ok, I’m good now.

Hobo wine is cheap and nasty, but it gets the job done. Cider is the easiest of the “real” homemade alcohols if you’ve been blessed with a surplus of apples, and you needn’t add additional sugar. Otherwise it’s the same basic process as making wine, but you obviously need to get the juice from the apples first. This instructable walks you through that – you can use a regular juicer, and just filter the results with a bit of muslin cloth. The instructions also introduce Campden tablets, which are a sulphide used to kill yeast; used at the start to kill the natural yeast (not strictly necessary, but it’s a bit of a gamble), and at the end when you want to ensure no further fermentation. If you want to bottle and carbonate your cider, you’ll need to add additional sugar at the end, but you’ll need to look up the details yourself as I won’t be held liable for your exploding bottles.

Once you’re done with cider, you can advance to beers – but that’s a whole level of geekery I just can’t be bothered with.

Open Cola

Numerous tests have shown that a preference for Coca Cola comes not from actual taste, but brand loyalty. Though the real Coke recipe remains under guard, it was supposedly leaked many years ago – which means you can now make your own (scroll down to skip the history and get to the recipe). The production process is pretty complex, but don’t let that discourage you. The first step is to create the flavouring from a number of essential oils – the so-called “7X formula” – this is probably the hardest part. You then create a caffeine mix, and caramel colouring mix, before crafting the final cola syrup. Mixing 1 part syrup to 5 parts fizzy water is your final step.

Photo Credit: pat_makhoul via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: pat_makhoul via Compfight cc

The only real problem is the initial cost – although on a per-batch basis it will save you literally tens of dollars (hey, DIY isn’t about the money) – you need to buy a large quantity of essential oils in comparison to how much you’ll actually use.

Warning: the oils used in the process and the caffeine are extremely potent – don’t mess with the recipe. It’s tempting to up the buzz when you’re making it yourself, but just don’t. Normal people (i.e., those without known heart conditions) have died after ingesting as little as 1000mg of caffeine in a 24-hour period.

Alcoholic Butter Beer

A sweet concoction, popularised by Harry Potter but believed to be based on an original recipe from 15th century England. Though the version you can buy on Warner Brothers studio tours is a glorified cream soda with fluff on the top, this one from Bryton Taylor has a nice kick to it from a strong British Ale as the base ingredient. Add sugar, egg yolks, butter and pumpkin pie spice (for UK readers: it’s basically all the spices used for mulled wine – nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger).

Don’t let Professor McGonagall catch you!

If you’d rather try one of the many non-alcoholic Harry Potter butter beer clones kicking around, this site compares them all.

Do you have any geeky drink recipes to share? How do you get your buzz on?

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