I typically make really high octane wine. I mean I like to make wines that are just short of whiskey. (Because not allowed to distill). But, when trying a new one I ran into a interesting problem. This particular one mostly water and sugar (trying for more of a vodka style) but it doesn’t seem to want to ferment at all. Never had one not ferment at all before. Go bad yes but not at all…. even tried a different yeast in case I killed the first one but still nothing?
Fermenting sugar water is something that will not work, straight up. This is for a couple of reasons:
- The wine yeast needs nutrients
- The wine yeast needs acidity (lower pH)
Both of these things are normally supplied naturally by the fruit in a wine recipe.
It is possible to substitute these items artificially for fermenting sugar water, but not in the well-rounded, holistic way that the yeast expect. The yeast will struggle along slowly with its fermentation under a lot of stress. The result will be an alcohol beverage that has many repulsive, off-flavors — nothing pleasant to drink.
The reason for this is that as the yeast struggle they put off a lot of nasty tasting enzymes. The enzymes is their effort of trying to break down and consume any nutrients that may be in the wine must. For this reason I would suggest that you abandon the idea of fermenting sugar water.
So that you don’t waste the sugar water you currently have, you can use it in other fruit wine recipes. If you know how much sugar is represented in each gallon of water, you should be able to calculate its use in other recipes you have successfully done before.
If after reading this you still feel like fermenting sugar water, then here is what I would suggest:
- Use Champagne yeast like Red Star Pasteur Champagne or Lalvin EC-1118.
- Make a yeast starter before adding it to the must.
- Add double the recommend dosage of Yeast Energizer.
- Add magnesium sulfate to the must at the rate of 1/4 teaspoon per 5 gallons.
- Keep the fermentation temperature between 70° and 75°F.
- Make sure the water you used is not distilled water.
Even after doing all these things, you still have the issue of low acidity. You could add Acid Blend to the wine must to remedy this, but this would make the final product weirdly tart.
However, if you do all these other things you will have, at minimum, some marginal success at fermenting sugar water, but do not expect it to taste clean, with no off-flavors, and do not expect the fermentation to be able to complete all the way.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.