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Homebrewing Hard Seltzer

Homebrewing Hard Seltzer

I can’t believe I’m writing this article, and REALLY can’t believe I’m about to say this: I enjoy hard seltzer. I know, I know, I was as against it as anyone. As cans of White Claw, Truly, and Natural Light Seltzer started showing up everywhere, I rolled my eyes at them and didn’t have any interest in even a taste. And then I ran out of beer on a trip, and the only thing left was…White Claw. I resisted for a few minutes, and then I caved and had one.

And damn it, I enjoyed it. Certainly not the way I enjoy a great beer, but enjoyable nonetheless. A couple of weeks later, my wife wanted to pick some up for a party we were hosting. I was shocked at how expensive it was. A 12-pack of that fizzy water costs at least as much as a 12-pack of a decent craft IPA. I immediately decided to figure out how to make it myself. I had just added a second keezer to my home brewery, so I had a few extra taps to play with anyway. 

Here’s the good news: it turns out that hard seltzer is incredibly easy to make, and EXTREMELY cheap. Like, close to free. The batch that I used as the example for this article cost under $10 to make for a 5-gallon batch. There are a couple of ways to make it, which I’ll describe below. 

Flavoring

Before We get into the process of how to brew hard seltzer, we need to talk about flavoring briefly. You have a couple of options depending on the method you’re using to make your seltzer. For the mixed version below, you can even just use a flavored vodka. I’m not a big fan of flavored vodka, so we’re going to gloss over that one for this article. The two primary options you have for flavoring your seltzer are to use natural flavor extracts or to create an infusion by cold steeping fruit, spices, or whatever else you want to flavor your seltzer with in a neutral grain alcohol like Everclear or vodka. All you need to do is use a couple of cups of spirit and soak the fruit in the refrigerator for a day or two until the flavors are imparted. 

Method 1: Mixing it in a Keg

I don’t really consider this method to be brewing (more “assembling”), but it’s worth mentioning. One way to quickly and easily have hard seltzer on tap at home is to mix water (I highly recommend using distilled or reverse osmosis water to avoid off flavors), flavoring, and grain alcohol (or vodka) in a keg to your desired strength (generally about 5%). You can even lightly sweeten it, although I actually think it’s better unsweetened. Once it’s your desired flavor and strength, you can just force carbonate it in your keg. It’s not really “brewing”, but it works, and honestly it works a little better than the true homebrew method. At some point, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of the same flavors and same strength, but with one batch fermented and one mixed with grain alcohol to compare them. For this article, though, we’ll explore the more “authentic” version!

Method 2: Fermentation!

Even though this method honestly produces a result that’s not quite the same as what you’d expect from a store-bought seltzer, it’s good, very cheap, very easy, and feels a little more authentically brewed. The process is still very simple, and involves fermenting a mix of distilled or reverse osmosis water and sugar (you can even just use cheap granulated pure cane sugar).

Ingredients

  • 5.5 Gallons of Water
    • I highly recommend using either distilled or reverse osmosis water to avoid off flavors. I just bought cheap purified drinking water by the gallon that was purified with reverse osmosis. 
  • 4lbs of Sugar
    • The hard seltzer kits I looked at all seem to use corn sugar, but I just used granulated pure cane sugar and it worked fine.
  • 1 packet of Yeast
    • I used EC-1118 and it worked perfectly. 
  • 2 tsp of Yeast Nutrient
    • Yeast has trouble getting started in plain sugar water, so the yeast nutrient is very important for this recipe.
  • Flavoring

Instructions

  1. Determine the desired ABV
    • The formula for ABV is (OG – FG) x 131. Pure cane sugar yields 42 gravity points per pound per gallon and is 100 percent fermentable, so one pound of sugar in a 1-gallon batch would be (0.046 – 0.000) x 131 = 6.026% ABV per gallon. For a 5-gallon batch, that would be 1.2% ABV.
    • determine what your desired ABV is and add sugar accordingly. 
      • 1lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 1.2% ABV
      • 2lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 2.4% ABV
      • 3lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 3.6% ABV
      • 4lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 4.8% ABV
      • 5lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 6% ABV
      • 6lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 7.2% ABV
      • 7lb of white sugar in a 5-gallon batch = 8.4% ABV
  2. Bring 1-2 gallons of water to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low.
  4. Slowly stir the sugar in one pound at a time, making sure not to let it settle to the bottom and scorch.
  5. Once the sugar has all dissolved fully and the water has become clear again, bring the sugar solution back to a boil for about 5 minutes. 
  6. Let the sugar mixture cool to about 80 degrees.
  7. Pour the sugar mixture into a sanitized fermenter.
  8. Add the distilled or RO water until you have just over 5 gallons (about 5.25).
  9. Record your original gravity (optional)
  10. Take a gravity reading after 7 days. Your gravity should be close to 1.000
  11. Rack to secondary (optional, but will help with clarity)
  12. After racking to secondary, you can add a fining agent to help with additional clarity.
    • Most of the kits seem to recommend Chitosan, which is derived from shellfish. Obviously, you shouldn’t use that if you have an allergy or dietary restriction.
    • Other options for fining agents are:
  13. Leave in secondary for at least 1 week, but ideally 2.
  14. Take a gravity reading after 2 weeks to ensure fermentation is complete. You should have approximately .999 as a final gravity. 

Kegging

To keg your seltzer, follow these steps:

  1. The night before kegging, cold crash your seltzer in the carboy.
  2. Ensure that your keg has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
  3. Place the carboy on a steady surface above the keg. 
  4. Siphon the seltzer into the keg using a sanitized siphon. We recommend this autosiphon, which makes life a lot easier! 
    • Make sure the siphon hose is long enough to reach the bottom of your keg to avoid adding too much oxygen to the seltzer.
  5. Add the desired flavoring extract.
  6. Seal the keg and attach the gas line, making sure to check for leaks (they’re definitely not fun when they happen!)
  7. Set your Co2 Regulator to 30-50psi. Water needs a LOT more pressure than beer to carbonate!
  8. Roll the keg on its side or gently shake it for 15-20 minutes to absorb as much Co2 as possible. 
    • Take a sample every few minutes to make sure you don’t overcarbonate it.
  9. It’s ready to drink immediately – enjoy!!!

Bottling

I highly recommend kegging your seltzer. Bottle conditioning doesn’t seem to carbonate seltzer as well as it does for beer, and some people have expressed safety concerns with glass bottles for seltzer. Because we don’t backsweeten seltzer at all, as long as you have reached a low final gravity, you should be safe to bottle condition. Just remember to never try to sweeten it before bottling or you’ll get bottle bombs. Just be aware that bottle conditioning will impart some yeast flavors that are undesirable in seltzer, and it will affect the clarity. To bottle seltzer, follow these steps:

  1. Sanitize 2 cases (48) of pry-off bottles and all of your bottling equipment.
  2. Using your autosiphon, rack the seltzer from your carboy to a sanitized bottling bucket.
    • Do your best not to stir up the sediment at the bottom of the carboy so that you don’t rack it into your bottles.
  3. Add your desired flavoring agent (a little goes a long way!) into the bottling bucket and gently stir with a sanitized spoon. 
  4. Bring 1-2 cups of water to a boil and slowly add 5oz of priming sugar
  5. Add the sugar mixture to the bottling bucket and gently stir to make sure it’s mixed well.
  6. Fill each bottle. If using a bottling wand (which we recommend!), fill each bottle completely and then remove the wand, which will leave the proper gas gap. If you’re not using a bottling wand, leave a couple of inches of space in the neck of each bottle.
  7. Cap each bottle using a capper and pry-off caps.
  8. Let the bottles condition for 2-3 weeks before drinking.
  9. Enjoy!!!

Have you brewed hard seltzer? Leave a comment below or post in the forums to join the conversation!

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