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I'm interested in making a hard lemonade after my cider is done, but I'm having a tough time figuring out how the recipes I've found actually work, and what's the best way to ferment lemon juice. What I'm looking at doing is grabbing some good organic lemon juice from Whole Paycheck, adding some kind of sugar (agave nectar, cane sugar, whatever...), then throwing on yeast and walking away.

From what I've read, yeast like an acidic environment (pH 4.5-5.5), but not as acidic as lemon juice or lemonade (ph 2-3), so I'm confused on how to build my mash if I need to compensate for that.

  • Is the pH something I really need to worry about when making a hard lemonade?
  • If I add water to bring my pH up, it seems like it will take a ton of water since that's also slightly acidic.
  • Do I need to add something like baking soda to bring my pH up, and to what level?
  • Even if it does ferment without adding anything, will the environment cause unwanted flavors or other effects?

Thanks, Mark

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I'm pretty sure that hard lemonade is made by adding lemon juice, water and sugar to vodka. –  Tobias Patton Mar 7 '12 at 2:29
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Well you won't be building a mash of any sort. All the hard lemonade recipes I have seen are basically lemonade concentrate, sugar, water and yeast. No mashing of grains needed. –  brewchez Mar 7 '12 at 3:11
    
Can you provide links to the recipes that you're talking about? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Mar 7 '12 at 4:25
    
@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner By 'mash' I meant the ingredients you listed. Perhaps that's not a real mash, but I don't know what else to call it. Here's one recipe: forum.northernbrewer.com/viewtopic.php?t=56697. couldn't tell if Tobias was serious, and if the upvoters were serious... I'm trying to make something like Sand Creek hard lemonade or (ugh) Mikes –  MStodd Mar 7 '12 at 6:40
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I suspect Tobias was being literal. There's not a lot of tradition of fermenting citrus juice that I'm aware of. And I live in Florida, so if there was any way of creating decent booze from oranges, someone down here would have done it decades ago. –  Graham Mar 7 '12 at 14:16
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you haven't tossed the yeast cake from your Cider yet, you can make Skeeter Pee. You can also make it with a couple packets of Champagne yeast if you have tossed the cider yeast.

You don't want to ferment straight lemon juice, it's way too acidic for yeast and way to acidic for you to drink a glass of, lemonade is heavily diluted with water and sweetened with sugar. The skeeter pee recipe calls for 96oz of lemon juice to 4.5 gallons of water; so it is really diluted and it still tastes plenty lemony.

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I think I might try that. Seems like with that water to lemon juice ratio, the pH should be high enough. Have you tried this? –  MStodd Mar 8 '12 at 18:58
    
yes, I've done it 3-4 times, usually with the yeast cake from a previous wine but I did do one on top of a stout yeast cake and it also fermented fine (stout yeast was US-05). –  Mattress Mar 8 '12 at 19:21
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Sima is a traditional Finnish drink that is basically hard lemonade...

In a large non-reactive pot (stainless steel or ceramic coated, NOT aluminum), boil 3 liters (+ 1 cup to allow for evaporation, spillage ect.) of water with 2-3 cups white sugar, brown sugar, honey or any combo thereof (more sugar = more alcohol). When dissolved, add 2-4 thinly sliced lemons (some folks carefully peel and add the zest, cut away and discard the pith and add remaining pulp. too much pith can cause bitterness). Let simmer covered 15-30 minutes to allow peels to release lemon oil. Pulp should be partly disintegrated, releasing lemon juice.

Cool to room temp. (75°f/25°c). Placing pot in a sinkful of cool water will speed the process. While cooling, fill a small jar or glass half way with room temp. tap water. Sprinkle enough yeast to cover water surface (baking yeast for traditional low alcohol [1-5%] method, champagne or wine yeast for high alcohol [8-18%]). Do not stir or shake... wait 10 min. or until all the yeasties have become moist and sunk to the bottom. Now add a small amount ( <1/2 tsp., just enough to wake them up) of sugar and stir. Let sit undisturbed until a foamy layer forms on top. When the yeast is going strong, add it to the lemonade. If after 1 hour or so, you don't see any sign of fermentation (ie; foamy layer) you may want to add baking soda (1/2 tsp. at a time) to de-acidify and repeat yeast step. Once fermentation has begun, cover and let sit for 24 hours.

Now it's time to bottle. You'll need bottles, a narrow tipped funnel, a small pitcher (easier to handle than large pot) and optionally, a small screen type strainer (Note: I like to strain mine to remove pulp and seeds but you don't have to. If you do use a strainer be sure the openings are big enough to let the yeasties pass through while catching the larger bits. Use wire screen type not plastic mesh type) I use 4 750 ml. screw top Torani bottles per batch. 2 liter soda bottles work as well, in which case you should make a 4 liter batch (adjust ingredients accordingly). IMPORTANT... be sure your bottles are very clean, contamination can cause off flavors or even make you ill.

Stir lemonade vigorously to get yeast evenly mixed in solution and pour into a pitcher. Place funnel in mouth of bottle and strainer in funnel. Fill bottle leaving a 2 inch air space at the top. (Note: The traditional method calls for adding 2-3 raisins to the bottle. Some claim this provides micro-nutrients that the yeast needs. I have found no difference with or without them and they only serve to clog up my straw when I drink it.) Repeat til all bottles are filled. Place the caps on slightly loose to allow the CO2 gas to escape. Store at cool to room temp. for anywhere from 2 days for kid friendly, very low alcohol [<1%] version to a month for the high alcohol, adults only version. Tighten caps 24-48 hours before serving (less if fermentation is still vigorous) to allow CO2 to make the drink fizzy. Serve cold.

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The commercial "hard lemonades" are made by fermenting a malt base. That's why it can be sold in grocery stores. If they used distilled alcohol it would be illegal in most states. Then the fermented malt beverage is filtered within an inch of its life to remove pretty much all flavor and everything but the alcohol. It is then flavored with artificial flavorings to make the "hard lemonade" you buy in stores.

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This (sandcreekbrewing.com/beers.php#hard_lemonade) is the only hard lemonade I buy. The first time I tried it at the Great Taste of the Midwest I was blown away at how good it was. This (heavytable.com/…) gives some insight into how they make it. I should email them –  MStodd Mar 8 '12 at 19:23
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