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Think for a moment about all the things that make alcohol what it is. You can probably think of the main ingredients, like water, sugar, and yeast. Whether you are making beer, wine, whiskey, or some kind of moonshine, yeast happens to be an integral part of the alcohol-making process. What happens, then, when you want to avoid using alcohol? Well, it turns out you really can brew alcohol without yeast.
Here is how to make alcohol without yeast.
What is Yeast?
Yeast has been introduced numerous times on this blog, but it is always worth going over what this cluster of microorganisms does for beverages worldwide. Yeast, as you may know, is a fungus that loves sugar. That is why yeast plays a key role in the formation of beer, wine, vodka, whiskey, and other alcohols out there. Where there is more sugar, there is more potential for stronger alcohol.
Interestingly, there are two kinds of strains that you regularly see in the world of homebrewing: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the widely cultivated strain, and non-Saccharomyces, also known as wild yeast. When it comes to avoiding yeast, however, you’re going to find yourself hard pressed, because it exists all around you—even in the air you breathe.
For all you nerds out there, here is a fascinating video detailing all the things yeast does for beer:
Can You Make Alcohol Without Yeast?
Is removing yeast from the process of fermentation possible? Yes, it is. Alcohol can be made without adding yeast, but you will be shocked to find that you cannot remove all traces of yeast. As mentioned above, yeast occurs naturally in the environment, and it is found on the outside of fruits, in breads, and all around. Since yeast and sugar are part of the alcohol fermentation process, you cannot rule it out completely.
Somewhere along the line of production, yeast is going to sniff out whatever it is you are brewing and wheedle its way in.
Anything you see that is yeast-free, such as yeast-free beer or yeast-free alcohol, is most likely highly distilled. That is how vodka is free of all yeast, for instance. Prior to bottling, it is distilled several times to ensure that all traces of impurities are gone so you get a crystal clear water impostor.
What Does Yeast Do For Alcohol?
Yeast is to alcohol like salt is to the ocean. In other words, it’s key to the existence of alcohol.
To make alcohol, you convert sugars that come from fruits, mashed grains, or other sources, and transform them through fermentation. That is not possible without yeast. Fermentation begins when the ingredients are sealed off from oxygen, which triggers a reaction between the sugar and the yeast.
No yeast, no chemical reaction.
As such, that is why it is difficult to say that you can make alcohol without yeast. What is truly being said is that you are substituting one source of yeast for another less conspicuous source.
Which Kinds of Alcohol Can Be Made Without Yeast?
There are two kinds of alcohol that you can produce without using any packets of dry yeast. Those are wine and spirits that use fruit in the fermentation process. Fruit has a high sugar content and is able to ferment naturally. This is sometimes referred to as “wild fermentation,” and it may or may not include wild yeast.
In fact, wine-making began as a process that relied solely on wild fermentation. Prior to 1863, when Louis Pasteur discovered the microscopic organisms known as yeast, no one knew how grapes transformed into wine. It just happened.
This is because grapes are high in natural sugars and have wild yeast present on the outer skin. That is why making wine is simple in theory: crush the grapes, store them in an air-tight container, and let the magic happen. When the grapes are crushed, the yeast dwelling on the fruit begins to eat the sugars. Once digested, the wild yeast expels carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Once the alcohol level increases and sugar disappears, wild fermentation comes to a natural halt. The remaining yeast becomes inactive or dies.
The same is true with German schnaps, which uses alcohol and whole fruit to make a stronger (and sweeter) spirit.
Three Substitutes For Yeast That Really Work
It bears repeating that there is no real substitute for yeast. You need yeast in order to get alcohol. However, if you truly want to avoid adding yeast, there are some ingredients you can use to get the same effect. The alternatives are already high in yeast, which is why you can skip the artificial strains of yeast.
Just remember that if you want a real yeast-free experience, you are going to need to seek out distilled alcohol, like vodka or ultra-distilled whiskey.
Now, without further ado, here are the three substitutes for yeast:
When you want a budget-friendly alternative to dry yeast, there is one option: rice bran. As the brown outer shell of rice, bran is made up of several substances, including germ and nitrogen. The composition of bran also gives it the ability to perform ethanol fermentation and give you alcohol.
Rice bran is a nearly one to one substitute for yeast, so you don’t have to worry about losing any yield when using it.
The downside is that there is little evidence of anyone trying to make alcohol with rice bran, aside from rice cooking wine. Rice bran is often substituted in baking or cooking food, not alcohol. If you try this, keep that in mind. You may also need to account for the change in flavor.
So, you want to attempt making beer without adding any dry yeast. Is it impossible? No, but it won’t be easy. You cannot have beer without yeast, so you have to find another source. Say hello to bread.
Bread happens to be a verified substitute for yeast when making beer. It’s also very popular among homebrewers.
You will need freshly baked bread to ensure that the yeast is still active. Go through the entire process of mashing the grains and hopping the wort. When the time comes to put your beer into the carboy or pot for primary fermentation, you drop in the bread instead of yeast.
The bread works the same way as dry yeast, except it adds a bit more flavor. Some brewers believe that this method actually works better than pitching a packet of dry yeast.
Grapes and Other Sugary Fruits
You already know that wine is one of the most feasible types of alcohol to make sans yeast. This is because wild yeast is found on grapes and other kinds of sugary fruits. Blueberries and apples are other options. One way to tell if a fruit has a lot of naturally occurring wild yeast is by the bloom—the white powder on the skin. This is why plums can be used to make umeshu in Japan, and why the Finnish love kilju.
The best way to access the yeast and utilize the wild fermentation process is to smash up these fruits. Once you have the fruit all good and pulpy, you put it into an airtight pot, jar, or other container and let nature find a way.
Fun fact: Wines are often named after the regions where the grapes are grown to distinguish the different versions of wild yeast.
How to Make Alcohol From Fruit Without Yeast
So you want to try making a fruity wine without using wine yeast. The first step in the wine-making process is to sterilize all of the equipment. You are going to want a ceramic, stainless steel, or glass bowl to put in the fruit. Grapes and other berries are wonderful for this. Do not wash the fruit, as that could wash away the yeast (so purchase organic). Break everything up as much as you can, squeezing liquid from the fruits.
Do not throw away all of the stems either, especially for the grapes. The stems have tannins, which can add a dryness to wine. You may also want to add some organic honey to assist with the fermentation. Other than that, your wine is ready for fermentation.
Check out this video for some more wine-making inspiration:
Fermenting Your Wine
Place a cloth or lid over the bowl or jug and place it somewhere cool and dark. At this point, it does not have to be airtight. For the first two days, stir the mixture about 5 times a day. Once bubbles begin to form in the fluid, you know that the yeast is starting to activate.
Some mold may form on the sides of the container from the juices. Wipe that away, keeping it away from the alcohol. Once the bubbling starts to decrease, strain the mixture and put the liquid into a glass carboy. Put an air lock on the carboy to stop oxygen from getting inside. For the first week, release carbon dioxide twice daily by opening the airlock a little then sealing the carboy once again.
The following week, decrease the release of CO2 to once a day. You can taste the wine after the third week of fermentation to see if it is to your liking. If not, let it mature for another several days. Once the wine tastes right, pour the alcohol into a bottle and loosely cork it. Keep the wine in a cool place and let it continue to mature, if desired. Over time, the wine will age and develop a richer flavor profile, but you are free to drink it once bottled.
How to Make Ale Using Bread, Not Yeast
Curious about making a toasty, malty ale at home? If you have ever made beer bread at home, this is going to feel like the reverse. Regardless, it’s a fun method that requires zero dry yeast. The process is much like making a normal beer, but you are going to have to change a few of the initial steps. Make sure you have a basic knowledge of homebrewing before giving this recipe a try!
- 5.5 lbs of freshly baked bread
- 7.7 lbs of pale malt
- 0.33 lbs of Munich malt
- 1.1 lbs of oat husks
- 0.33 lbs of CaraMalt
- Hops of your choice
- Preheat your oven to about 195-200 degrees F.
- Grab you freshly baked bread. It can be any kind—white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel. Cut up the bread into chunks then place it on a baking tray for toasting. Monitor for dryness.
- Once the toast is ready, crush the bread a little further. Do not crumble.
- Steep the grains and bread together in water. Cover and leave the grains alone for about 60 minutes.
- Prior to boiling, sparge and lauter the grains and bread. If you have only ever done extract brewing, then you may be unfamiliar with this process. Check the Sound Brewery All Grain Brewing Guide for more info.
- Boil your wort. Add your bittering and aromatic hops.
- Let the wort cool prior to pouring into the fermenter.
- The beer will need to ferment for about a week or longer. Ferment the way you usually would. Once you deem the beer ready, bottle it then allow for a two week conditioning period.
- Now your toasty ale is ready! Drink up.
How to Make Moonshine Without Yeast
Yeast is integral to the production of moonshine, too. Back in the day, the early producers of moonshine did not have the luxury of popping into the supermarket and picking up a packet or two of dried yeast. They relied on fruits, like peaches, apples, grapes, blueberries, juniper berries, elderberries, and figs to get the job done. The only downside to making moonshine without added yeast is a lower alcohol by volume (ABV). For some, though, that could be exactly what you are looking for.
Wild Yeast Starter
Here is the rub: Making moonshine without adding yeast is not easy. In fact, it is recommended that you make a wild yeast starter prior to brewing up some delicious moonshine.
Forage for some wild fruits, like blueberries or wild grapes, to ensure that there is plenty of wild yeast on them. You could attempt to grow your own as well. Once you have that, do the following:
- Mix together ¾ cup of water and ¼ cup of sugar in a sterilized fermentation jar.
- Add in your fruits, slightly crushed.
- Ensure the jar is airtight then place it in a dark place, such as the pantry. Shake the jar 3 to 4 times a day. After the fifth day, you should see the concoction start to bubble. This is the sign that your wild yeast has proliferated and is ready to become moonshine.
Optionally, you can mash your fruits in with your grains for moonshine. The only downside is that you cannot wash the fruit prior to mashing, which could introduce bacteria and other nastiness.
You can use your wild yeast starter in any moonshine recipe you have.
Yeast-Free Moonshine Recipe
Here is a recipe that does not require any yeast. You could even nix the unwashed wild fruits and use fresh fruit in this process. The end result is still delicious, no matter how you customize it. The steps must be completed in two phases, and it takes about a month and a half to make.
- 1 Liter of 190 proof grain alcohol, such as vodka or whiskey
- 18 ounces of wild or organic unwashed berries or fruits with a bloom
- Pour your alcohol into a ½ gallon airtight jar or container.
- Slightly muddle your fruit, so that the juice is squeezed out.
- Add the fruit to the ½ gallon jar.
- Seal the container for about 3 weeks, shaking it a few times a week.
- Once the first phase of the process is done, strain out any remnants of fruit. Now, it is time to add some simple syrup.
- Return the alcohol, now mixed with simple syrup, to the airtight jar and let it sit for another 2 weeks, at least.
There you have it!
No Yeast About It
Can you really ferment alcohol without yeast? Yes and no. You can get away without adding yeast to your alcohol, but fermentation does not exist without some form of yeast present. Fortunately, you learned how to make alcohol without yeast in this article. All you need are fruits with wild yeast, rice bran, or toasted bread as substitutes.
So are you going to give fermenting alcohol without yeast a try?
Yes, it’s possible to produce alcohol without adding cultivated yeast. However, it’s almost impossible to make alcohol that does not contain wild yeast from nature.
Yes, every single type of alcohol contains at least a trace of yeast. This is because wild yeast is present in the ingredients that are used to ferment. You cannot get fermentation without adding some kind of yeast.
All whiskey uses yeast. In order to ferment the mash, yeast is used to convert the sugars inside the grains into alcohol. That alcohol is then distilled and aged, which makes it whiskey.
Vodka. Being that vodka is one of the purest forms of alcohol, it has been distilled to remove all traces of yeast.
While it is difficult to make alcohol without using yeast, it’s possible. There are three ways: First, you can substitute rice bran for yeast. Second, you can add in fruits that contain naturally occurring strains of wild yeast, like juniper berries or blackberries. Lastly, for beer, you can skip the yeast and add in bread.
Yes, you can use sugar water to make alcohol, but you are going to need yeast for fermentation.
Technically, you don’t have to add powdered yeast into your wine in order for it to ferment. However, wine will always contain yeast if you are using grapes. The fruit has wild yeast on the outside of it, so when you use grapes (and other fruit), there is enough wild yeast to begin the process of fermentation.
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