“That sounds kind of like prison toilet wine,” I thought to myself when an ad for Brewsy popped up in my Facebook feed. The product they were selling was basically yeast that you’re supposed to pour it into some juice — any juice, pretty much — then wait a few days and presto! You’ve got your own homemade booze at an impressive 15 percent ABV.
Now, since I’m unable to resist writing about anything toilet-related and this still very much sounded like toilet wine, I decided to order myself a Brewsy starter kit.
Here’s how it went…
Part 1: Making My Booze
I ordered my Brewsy kit and received it by mail a few days later. When I opened it up, there was a fair amount for me to read, which is kind of a huge turn-off because I really hate to read instructions. I’m not sure if it’s a dumb masculinity thing (like not asking for directions) or simply an attention-span thing, but either way, I really don’t like it. Still, I heroically got through it.
The kit came with three “Brewsy bags” (that’s the yeast) and three “airlocks,” which are these special plastic contraptions that let some air out as the drink is fermenting. Since the kit comes with three of each, I decided I was going to make myself three drinks because, well, why the hell not? The more booze the better right now.
I went to the grocery store to buy some good old fashioned Welch’s Grape Fruit Juice and a gallon of apple cider, plus a few other ingredients for Brewsy’s “spiced apple cider” recipe. Finally, just to be weird, I decided to buy some Hawaiian Punch. It said on their website that the Brewsy yeast could be used for tea and stuff, so why not Hawaiian Punch? (I’ll tell you why not later.)
When I got home, I started making my prison wine. For the grape juice and the Hawaiian Punch, it was super easy: First, I had to pour out some juice, then pour in a shit-ton of sugar. Why? As Brewsy explains, “Wine grapes are twice as sweet as juice, so we need to add some sugar,” because the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol, making this step imperative. How much sugar is added is determined via a calculator on their site, but it has to do with how much sugar is already in the drink. You add a lot of sugar, though — the gallon of Hawaiian Punch needed 2.25 extra cups of the stuff.
After the sugar is added, you pour in the yeast and put the airlock in place, which lets out the carbonation as the sugar is converting.
For the cider, things were slightly more complicated as I was trying out an actual recipe. I had to pour the cider in a pot and add oranges, brown sugar, cinnamon and a bunch of spices, then let it sit for a while. After that, I returned it to the jug, added my sugar and bottled up that cider with another airlock.
The starter pack also comes with a handful of labels, which is a nice way to keep track of when your drink was started and give it some sort of name. Since this was during the presidential race, I named all the drinks after ex-presidents: Woodrow Welch-son, Warren G. Hawaiian and John Quincy Apple Cider. Then I stored them away in a dark cupboard where they’d remain for the next three days.
Part 2: Moving to the Fridge
During the three days when your booze is fermenting in a dark place, Brewsy recommends that you occasionally swirl the drink around. They don’t actually say why you should do this, but fortunately they do say that this step isn’t strictly necessary, because I completely forgot about it.
After the three days is up, the drink is now wine — or cider, or some Hawaiian Punch concoction or whatever — but it’s not ready to drink yet. The next step is to move the drinks into the fridge so that they can settle and all the sediment and weird shit can move to the bottom.
Part 3: Trying the Drinks
After five days, my drinks were ready to go. Brewsy offers up the optional step of “racking” the wine at this point, which means you can pour it into a different container to leave behind the sediment, but I didn’t have another bottle and it’s optional anyway, so once again, I didn’t bother. The whole point of this exercise is easy homemade booze! I’m not doing optional steps. I’m just not.
Now, it was time for a taste test of each drink.
The Wine. To be honest, I don’t have much of a palette for wine — I’m more of a beer guy, so I don’t know that I can distinguish a truly good wine from a not-so-good one, but my first sip of the wine was pretty rough. In fact, it tasted like the worst wine I’d ever had. But it wasn’t unbearable — you could definitely detect the 15 percent ABV because I started to feel the effects right away.
Wintin a few minutes though, the wine really started to grow on me. I wouldn’t say I liked it, but it was really strong and pretty drinkable, so the more sips I had, the more I was enjoying myself.
The Cider. Not gonna lie, I was pretty damn proud of the cider. It was a good deal hazier than the hard cider you’d get from something like Angry Orchard, but it tasted incredible. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and all the cinnamon and stuff that I put in there made for something that was nicely complex. It was also dangerously drinkable as the alcohol was barely detectable, even at 15 percent ABV.
The Punch. Right off the bat, I knew the punch was going to be rough, just from how it smelled. When I poured it into a glass, it reeked of what seemed to be Hawaiian Punch and literal shit. As for the taste, it wasn’t quite as bad as it smelled, but it wasn’t much better — it was like a really bad punch you’d find spiked at a party for college kids. I cannot recommend this any less.
After trying all three of my concoctions, I wanted an expert opinion on whatever it was that I’d just put into my body, so I called Adam Teeter, an experienced sommelier and the co-founder of VinePair. While I tried my best to defend my creations, Teeter put things pretty bluntly, especially when it came to the wine. “There is just no way you created a good wine,” Teeter told me when I explained that the wine had begun its life as a jug of Welch’s Grape Fruit Juice. “There’s a reason why we put such a premium on the vineyard and organic grapes and crushing the grapes and all of those things. That’s how you make a complex wine. The grapes that we use to make wine in America are Vitis vinifera, which is very different from Vitis labrusca, which are table grapes, which is what’s used in grape juice. Vitis labrusca are much sweeter than table grapes, and we need that sugar to create alcohol.”
Even when I countered that by telling Teeter how much Domino sugar I poured into the juice, he hardly seemed reassured. “It’ll get you fucked up,” he explained, “but there’s no way that’s a good wine.”
When it came to my other two creations, Teeter said simply, “I’m surprised you didn’t get sick,” regarding the Hawaiian Punch; he was, however, much more accepting of the cider. “I’ve heard you can make very good cider from store-bought juice, so that might actually have turned out well,” he said.
My last bit of business with Teeter was to ask him what I could pair the wine with. See, the final phase of my plan was to serve the wine to my wife — who is a wine drinker — to see what she thought of it. You could frame it as me using her as a guinea pig, yeah, but there was a semi-romantic gesture in there too. But Teeter didn’t play along: He was convinced that no food whatsoever would be good to serve with my wine and that I shouldn’t even try.
No matter! I would still go forward with my plan.
Part 4: The Accidental Taste Test
I was pretty busy over the next few days, so I hadn’t had a chance yet to make my wife that fancy dinner. Then, when I was at a friend’s house one day, I got an unexpected call from her. “I didn’t know that the grape juice in the fridge wasn’t grape juice,” she began. “I think I’m going to throw up!”
From there, she went on to describe what exactly had happened, and I could tell by her voice that a little of that 15 ABV had already taken effect. Unfortunately, I had to spoil the surprise about the fancy dinner I had planned, but after a little convincing, she agreed to another taste test over dinner another night. I wasn’t exactly optimistic at this point though, especially since she’d described the taste as “grape-flavored rubbing alcohol.”
Part 5: The Official Taste Test
Since Teeter offered no suggestions, I decided to go with a standard steak dinner along with some broccoli and a baked potato. (I also tried air-frying some mozzarella sticks, but they kind of sucked so forget about that.) Anyway, when it came to the wine, after a bit of cajoling, my wife finally gave it another sip.
Immediately upon sipping, she began to cough uncontrollably and she reiterated that it still tasted like rubbing alcohol. The dinner hadn’t helped a bit. Still, to my surprise, she agreed to try my other two drinks.
The punch, of course, also resulted in a coughing fit. She described it as tasting “spoiled,” adding, “That’s rotted juice! Something is wrong with that.” She then demanded that I look up when this stuff is supposed to expire, as it was nearly two weeks old at this point. In their FAQ section, Brewsy explains that “your wine will last for years if racked until there is no sediment remaining!” and while I hadn’t racked it, it certainly hadn’t turned, it was just bad, which is different. My wife then pleaded, “Why are you doing this to me?” And so, we quickly moved onto the cider.
Although so far unimpressed by my brewing abilities, to her surprise, she admitted that the cider was “better than the other ones.” She even took a second sip and said, reluctantly, “Okay, that is good cider.”
Look, I wouldn’t characterize my Brewsy experience as being an unqualified success — the wine sucked, the punch was basically battery fluid and my wife felt like I was trying to poison her, but I did make a pretty decent cider, which was more than I thought I could do before this whole experiment began. Honestly, I’d even consider getting a few more Brewsy bags to make that sweet cider all over again, especially since it’s considerably stronger than any cider I’d find in my grocery store beer aisle. As for the wine, well, I think I’ll just leave that to the professionals.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go apologize to my wife again.