I’m a strong believer in having a non-beer option on tap as part of my homebrew lineup. I like to make homebrew tasting a large part of the experience of visiting my home, and I think that having a non-beer option is a great way to avoid excluding people who don’t drink beer from the experience. Even beer lovers will enjoy a glass of this light, refreshing hard lemonade!
I brewed all of the beer for my best friend’s wedding this summer, which is an awesome experience for any homebrewer! We decided that we needed to have a non-beer option on tap for those at the wedding who wanted an alcoholic beverage but did not drink beer. We had discussed doing a cider, but some of my ciders have turned out really well and others have…not. I’m still working on getting my cider dialed in, but until then I needed something that was less of a gamble. We finally settled on a hard lemonade. My thinking was that it was light, sweet, and easy to drink, and that the final product will be backsweetened with enough lemon juice and sugar that it would be forgiving in case it didn’t turn out with the exact flavor I was looking for.
I was pretty surprised to find that there are not a ton of homebrew recipes out there for hard lemonade. Several people recommended Skeeter Pee to me, but after looking at the recipes I was worried about the high ABV (8-9%) which is a dangerous thing to bring to a wedding. I pulled together all of the recipes I could and made some changes to them to hit a flavor and ABV closer to what I was shooting for (about 5%, light, and not overly sweet). Here’s what I came up with:
Five (5) Gallon Batch of John’s Hard Lemonade:
- Yeast: EC-1118
- To Stabilize:
- To Backsweeten:
- 1 32-oz bottle of 100% lemon juice
- 2 lbs of white sugar
I used bottled purified water so that I didn’t need to boil and cool the full 5 gallons, which made brew day EXTREMELY easy. It added a couple of dollars to the batch cost, but it was still super cheap to make. If you are using tap water, I recommend boiling the full 4.5 gallons of water with the sugar and lemon juice.
If you’re using purified water, then you just need to boil about ½-¾ gallons of water with about ⅓ of a bottle of lemon juice and the full 4 lbs of sugar. Because of the small volume, I didn’t even use my brew kettle or other gear. I just made it in my kitchen with a medium sized pot. Because of the low price of ingredients, easy process, and little equipment required, this is a great recipe for new brewers to try.
First, heat up the sugar solution fairly slowly to avoid scorching the sugar and keep it at a low boil for a few minutes to make sure it’s sterile.
Carefully cool the boiled sugar solution using your preferred method. Because it’s so little volume, I just put a lid on the pan and used an ice bath in the sink, which worked perfectly.
While the sugar solution is cooling, carefully dump the following into the fermenter, making sure not to introduce any foreign substance that could infect the must:
- 2 gallons of purified/sterilized water
- The remaining 2 ⅔ bottles of lemon juice
- 3 tsp of yeast nutrient
- 1 tsp of yeast energizer
Pour the cooled sugar syrup into the fermenter, and fill the fermenter with more sterile water until you have 4 ¾ gallons. Take a gravity reading so that you can calculate your ABV later. My original gravity came in at 1.041. You can adjust the sugar to hit whatever OG you’d like to start with.
Check the temperature and make sure it is in the range for the yeast. EC-1118 is very temperature tolerant, so you should be ok to ferment at room temperature. I fermented in the low-mid 70s and had no issues. Rehydrate the yeast according to the instructions on the yeast packet and pitch into the fermenter. Seal it with an airlock, put it in a nice dark place and wait for it to start to ferment!
Because the lemonade is so acidic, it is difficult for the yeast to get going and takes a little longer than beer. Give it about 24-36 hours before you start to worry too much. Mine didn’t take off after 2 days, so I pitched another pack of EC-1118 directly into the fermenter and it took off within another day. Fermentation is fairly slow and doesn’t create a krausen, so give it 2-3 weeks in the fermenter, checking every day or two for airlock activity.
Fermentation and Stabilization
After you haven’t had any airlock activity for several days, do a gravity reading to make sure it fermented dry. My FG was 0.996.
If you didn’t have any issues with fermenting, go ahead and keg the lemonade. If you don’t keg, jump down a few paragraphs to the bottling instructions). Crush up 2 tablets of Potassium Metabisulfite and add them to the lemonade, close the keg, purge the headspace with Co2 a couple of times, and wait 24 hours.
After 24 hours, add 2.5 tsp of Potassium Sorbate, purge the headspace again and wait another 24 hours.
Let it sit for a day or so to make sure the yeast has been rendered inert before backsweetening. Add the last bottle of lemon juice and 2 lbs of white sugar into a small pan and slowly bring it to a boil, being careful not to scorch it.
Once it has boiled for a couple of minutes, carefully pour it into the keg. Purge the headspace a couple of times again and seal the keg. Shake the sealed keg well to mix in the sugar syrup, and then it’s ready to go into your kegerator to carbonate. I just carbonated it slowly at about 10-12 psi, which worked perfectly for it.
Enjoy! After about 5-7 days, it’s carbonated, cold, and delicious on a hot summer day!
If you don’t keg, this is where things get a little complicated. When you bottle beer as a homebrewer, you rely on the yeast to carbonate your beer in the bottles by adding a small amount of sugar and letting it ferment in the sealed bottle, which produces Co2 that carbonates the beer. The problem with this is that because we’re adding sugar and lemon juice to sweeten and flavor the lemonade, you’ll end up with bottle bombs if you don’t pasteurize the bottles after a few days. I don’t recommend this, as it can be a dangerous process and the results vary a lot.
You have a few choices if you’re determined to bottle the lemonade:
- Backsweeten, bottle, wait a few days, pasteurize. I don’t recommend this.
- If you like the flavor of the lemonade right out of the fermenter (unsweetened, with less of a lemonade flavor), you can go ahead and bottle it as-is. It will be still (uncarbonated) and unsweetened. When you open a bottle, you can mix it with some non-alcoholic lemonade, but this to me defeats the purpose of having brewed it in the first place.
- If you want it carbonated but not sweetened, you can skip the stabilization process above and use priming sugar to bottle just like you would with a beer.
- If you want it sweetened but not carbonated (this is probably what I recommend overall if you can’t keg), then follow the stabilization process above, then sweeten, and then bottle. Even though we have hopefully stopped all of the yeast from reproducing, I would recommend cold crashing the bottles and keeping them cold as you drink them to avoid any accidental glass explosions. Having been woken up by a case of homebrew exploding all over my kitchen, I can tell you it’s not worth it!
I ended up being extremely happy with this recipe. Everyone at the wedding loved it, and we kicked two kegs without a problem. I’m already planning another batch with some of my homegrown blackberries added. We’ll see how it turns out!
Give it a try and let us know in the comments below how it turns out!