It’s no secret that among the many kitchen “crafts” to surge in popularity during the 2020 pandemic (hello, sourdough!), homebrewing was in the top tier. Another interesting phenomenon of 2020 was the upward trend of hard seltzer.
I was introduced to a couple of brands of craft hard seltzer and found them enjoyable, especially during the sweltering mid-August Kansas heat. So, I decided last spring that I would try my hand at brewing a batch from home for the first time. If the project proved successful, I fancied the idea of enjoying the fruits of my labor and sharing the seltzer with friends and family.
Coming into homebrewing as a complete novice, I was looking for a solution that could get me all the necessary equipment, additives, flavorings – pretty much everything but the water – in one shot. I also had very little knowledge of the science behind brewing, other than knowing that it’s a fermentation process that converts sugar into alcohol over time.
Northern Brewer’s Craft Hard Seltzer Making Starter Kit seemed to check off everything on my wish list. The 5-gallon kit lists for $129.99 and yields 48 bottles of seltzer. Doing a bit of quick math, that works out to be about $2.70 per 12-ounce bottle. (Not including the cost of bottles, if buying them new.) While perhaps a little higher than a retail six-pack, the kit comes with nearly all the necessary equipment, so my next batch would only set me back about $20 for ingredients. I settled on the ruby-red grapefruit recipe.
The kit includes two 5-gallon buckets – one for bottling and one for fermenting – with pre-drilled holes for spigots, a plastic lid drilled for an airlock, two spigots, a 5-gallon stainless steel pot, an airlock, a large stainless steel spoon for mixing ingredients, a hydrometer, and two packets of no-rinse cleanser for sanitizing the equipment.
The recipe kit includes 4-1/2 pounds of priming corn sugar, wine yeast, several nutrient packets, and crystallized ruby-red grapefruit flavoring powder.
The instructions that came with the kit were clear and easy to follow, and emphasized multiple times the importance of sufficiently sanitizing the equipment. It doesn’t take much for lingering bacteria to spoil your fermentation. I started by cleaning everything with hot water and soap. Next, I brought 2-1/2 gallons of filtered water to a boil in the stainless steel pot, and added 4 pounds of corn sugar to boil and kill off any offending bacteria. After the sugar water settled into a rolling boil for 10 minutes, I transferred the entire pot to the kitchen sink, surrounded it with ice water, and let the mixture cool for 30 minutes.
While the sugar water cooled, I dissolved one packet of the no-rinse cleanser into 1 gallon of hot water in the bottling bucket. After the cleanser was fully dissolved, I transferred the solution to the fermentation bucket, covered it with the plastic lid, and sloshed it around for a few minutes to make sure it touched every part of the bucket and lid. Then, I transferred the solution back to the bottling bucket and added the airlock, packet of yeast, and a pair of scissors so they could sterilize.
Once the sugar water had sufficiently cooled down, I transferred it to the fermentation bucket and then filled the bucket the rest of the way to the 5-gallon mark with cold, filtered water. Before adding the yeast, I poured out a sample of the liquid and slowly dipped in the hydrometer until it was buoyant. The hydrometer gave a reading of 1.34, which I marked in my notes as the original gravity (OG) of the batch. More on this later.
Rounding out brew day, I added the yeast and one packet of nutrients to the fermentation bucket, and sealed it with the lid. Finally, I added some of the cleansing solution to the airlock, fastened it to the lid, and transferred the fermentation bucket to the basement, where I could ensure it would remain out of sunlight and in a constant temperature range of 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit for 28 days.
On bottling day, I hauled the fermentation bucket up to the kitchen and took another measurement using the hydrometer. The final gravity (FG) reading was right at 1.00. The lower number, as compared with the OG reading, indicated a decrease in the density of the liquid after the yeast converted the sugar to alcohol.
After a thorough cleansing of all the bottling supplies – including the recycled bottles I was using, caps, siphoning tube, bottling tub, and spring-tipped bottle filler– I used the siphoning tube and gravity to transfer the batch from the fermentation bucket to the bottling bucket. The last step before bottling is flavoring the seltzer. I dissolved a 5-ounce packet of priming corn sugar in hot water. Once that cooled, I mixed it into the ferment. Next, I dissolved the 18-gram packet of crystallized grapefruit powder in 1 cup of hot water, and then added about half to the batch to taste, which seemed just right to my palate.
With the entire preparation complete, it was time to bottle. Applying the tip of the bottle filler to the inside bottom of the first bottle activated a slow but steady stream into the bottle.
I was a little surprised by the slow filling pace, but it resulted in no foam buildup or unnecessary spillage. My family jumped in to handle the bottle capping, while I focused on filling the bottles. Once all the bottles were filled, capped, wiped down, and labeled, we boxed them back up and took them to the basement for two more weeks so the yeast could convert the priming solution, creating carbonation and conditioning the seltzer.
Overall, I’m pleased with the outcome of my ruby-red grapefruit seltzer. The flavor is mild and refreshing, especially when ice-cold out of the refrigerator. The Northern Brewer kit was a worthwhile investment in this introduction to homebrewing, and I’m already looking forward to my next batch. I think I’ll try a Bavarian hefeweizen.
Andrew Perkins has worked in a variety of roles at Mother Earth News since 2001. He currently serves as the director of the Mother Earth News Fair.
The Perfect Starter Kit for Hard Seltzer Enthusiasts
This all-inclusive hard seltzer kit is fun and remarkably simple, with some of the most-trusted instructions in homebrewing. The Craft Hard Seltzer Making Starter Kit makes two cases of your very own handcrafted hard seltzer that’s perfect for sharing among friends. To top it off, this kit has all the equipment you need, and even includes a kettle. Paired with your kit are printed instructions with step-by-step visuals to help you along your first (and every) brew day. This product is available at www.MotherEarthNews.com/Store or by calling 800-234-3368. Item #10722.