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My Handcraft Cosmetics Books!

Smart Soapmaking
The Simple Guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably

Milk Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Making Lovely Milk Soap From Any Animal or Plant Milk

Smart Lotionmaking
The Simple Guide to Making Luxurious Lotions

Castile Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Making Lovely Castile Soap

Cool Soapmaking
The Smart and Simple Guide to Low-Temp Tricks for Making Soap with Special Ingredients



Beer and Wine Soaps

Experimenting and Developing Your Own Recipes



Projects, Experiments, and Investigations

(and a couple of small mysteries)

For soapmaking directions, if needed, please see one of my books, Smart Soapmaking or Milk Soapmaking. The "Cool Technique" directions in Milk Soapmaking would apply especially well to beer and wine soap. Or use another reputable source of soapmaking directions. The recipes make a 30 ounce batch. Amounts of fragrance or essential oil would vary by product, and it's a good idea to get recommendations from your vendor. Roughly 35-50 grams would be about average for a batch this size.




Beer and Wine in Soapmaking--Why?


Alcoholic Beverages and Soapmaking

Basic Beer Soap Recipe and Variations

Chocolate Ale Variation

All Veg Beer Soap

Wine Soap

Wine Soap Experiments and Recipes

What Would I Do?

Developing Recipes for Yourself



Beer and Wine in Soapmaking--Why?

October is a harvest month, of course, and is also the month of Oktoberfest, a traditional celebration of the brewer's art in Germany.

Beer and wine have been increasingly popular for soap. As far as I can tell, that's a modern development. As fascinated as I am with antique soap advertisements, I've never run across one for beer or wine soap.

The sugars and carbs in beer and wine make good lather. Also, beer and wine soap may sell very well in some markets.


I'm probably the only on-call soapmaking author. Anyone can find me from my books or my web page. I answer email pretty quickly, too, so word gets around.

And I get calls for help--almost never, I'm proud to say, from readers who have closely followed the directions in my books. But soapmakers are creative people--they want to branch out, to try something new, something that's their own.

So far, great. But the emails that make my heart sink are the ones where someone has had a large or disastrous failure. They've made ten pounds of soap, and it didn't set. Or it boiled over. Or it was just bad soap. Something that seemed like a good idea didn't turn out so well.

Sometimes, people ask ahead of time. This makes me happy. If I can point out things that will cause problems before someone commits time, money, and love to that project, and suggest modifications that will make it work, that makes my day.

This "Creative Soapmaking" lesson gives a lot of attention to experimenting, and to developing something of your own in a methodical way that will work.


Alcoholic Beverages and Soapmaking

1. If you freeze the liquid, you don't have to add the lye as slowly as if you use it without freezing. If you don't freeze it, you have to trickle the lye into it a few grains at a time, or it's likely to "volcano," and it may overheat and boil over at the end, anyway. With frozen liquid, you can add the lye fairly quickly. Some soapmakers don't freeze beer and wine, but it's safer to do it, and you avoid scorching.

2. Some soapmakers remove the alcohol from wine and beer because they don't want alcohol in their soap. They consider it drying. This may be true--I haven't found it to be a problem, but I encourage you to experiment and see what you think. See suggestions below for experimenting and developing recipes.

3.Wine may freeze unevenly, with the water content of the wine becoming more solid than the rest. Since I freeze liquids in ice cube trays, I don't worry about this--I'll get the whole thing even if it separates somewhat. Beer freezes well, even if it's not cooked to remove the alcohol. This may depend somewhat on the alcohol content of the wine. With the 12% alcohol table wines I tried, I didn't see a problem with freezing, and I have an ordinary refrigerator-freezer, nothing special.

4. Alcohol-free wine and beer are available, or you can simmer the wine or beer for about ten minutes to remove the alcohol. If you know a home brewer, you can buy unfermented beer (and possibly also find a customer for your soap!) You may find home brewers by searching on the Internet for home brew clubs in your area. Unfermented beer would have neither alcohol nor carbonation--excellent for soapmaking.

5. You must flatten any carbonated liquid you use for soapmaking, regardless of whether you freeze it.

6. To flatten beer or sparkling wine, pour it into a container with maximum surface area. Let it sit at room temperature for a day. Whipping it with a whisk may speed things up. Carbonation may also be removed by adding a pinch of baking powder, salt, sugar, or almost any other granular substance that you're willing to have in your soap. The liquid will foam up vigorously, then will go flat.

7. Lye dissolves a little more slowly in wine and beer than it does in water.

8. If you're sensitive to the ammonia-like fumes of milk soapmaking, be aware that you may have the same reaction to soap mixtures where beer and wine are used as the liquid.

9. If you leave beer or sparkling wine at room temperature for long to go flat, it will mold. Even covered, it picks up enough mold spores from somewhere (or maybe thery're already there) to develop some impressive fungi (I should have photographed my spectacular collection, but it was rather disgusting, and I decided to spare you.) Either cook it, flatten it with sugar or another granular ingredient, or don't let it sit for too long.

10. Beer and wine soap don't really retain the odor of the liquids. But they're not odorless, and the odor won't necessarily complement all fragrances. I avoid florals, and use wood, musk, or herbal scents. Of course, there are beer and wine fragrances as well, if that's what you want.

11. Overall, I preferred the beer soaps I made to the wine ones. My fear that the beer soap would smell like beer and leave me smelling like beer was unfounded. The beer soaps I made were quite good soap. I thought the wine soaps were more run-of-the-mill. I don't think wine hurts soap, particularly. It did seem that beer helped it.

Basic Beer Soap Recipe and Variations

Victorian trade card showcasing Germany and German Beer

9 ounces (255 grams) lard
4.5 ounces (128 grams) coconut oil
6 ounces (171 grams) grapeseed oil
10.5 ounces (298 grams) olive oil
9 ounces (255 grams) beer
2 teaspoons sugar
4 ounces (116 grams) lye

Combine the beer and the sugar. Stir until the beer stops foaming.

Let sit for a few hours or overnight. Freeze.

Melt the coconut oil and lard. Add to the grapeseed oil and olive oil.

If you're using a fragrance, add it to the oils.

Combine the lye with the frozen beer. Stir until the beer is melted and the lye is dissolved.

Add to the oil mixture. Proceed as for any cold process soap.

Chocolate Ale Variation--Use ale for the liquid instead of beer. Remove the carbonation by adding 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder in addition to the sugar. Strain, freeze, and continue as for the basic recipe. Or, instead of the sugar, add 1- 1-1/2 tablespoons of honey to the lard and coconut oil before heating. When it's all melted together add to the liquid fats and stick blend to make sure the honey is well mixed

Two beer soaps. Color variations are caused by different fragrance oils.The lighter one is the basic recipe; the darker is the all veg beer soap below.

Chocolate Ale Soap
The cocoa gives a speckled color, but not a grainy texture


All-Veg Beer Soap

You don't need to use lard to make a great beer soap. Here's a recipe with all vegetable fats.

10.5 ounces (298 grams) sunflower oil
10.5 ounces (298 grams) olive oil
9 ounces (255 grams) coconut oil
9 ounces (255 grams) flat beer, frozen
4.2 ounces (121 grams) lye


Wine Soap

One of my big hints is to try almost anything you want--in a two-bar batch. If you don't like it, you haven't lost much. If you do, scale it up. Here's a description of the process I used to formulate a wine soap.

Above, vintage wine label (1930s)

I started by searching the Internet for other people's experiences, and asking friends what they'd done with wine soap. The Internet yielded a lot of opinion--I read many descriptions of instant trace and bad odors. Discussions of the color of red wine soap included descriptions from red, pink, or other red shades, to beige, to gray.

Wine is not actually one substance--results may well have varied depending on the type of wine used. I assumed that most soapmakers would be looking for inexpensive dry wine, not fine table wine, but not rotgut, either. I used inexpensive cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay--the kind of wine a restaurant might serve in carafes. The alcohol content of both was 12%. Sweet or fortified wines might get completely different results.

Based on my first information searches, I started by believing that the alcohol had to go, so I cooked a large bottle of red wine to remove the alcohol. I strongly prefer freezing liquid ingredients other than water. I had also run into opinions that it's not possible to freeze wine without removing most or all the alcohol. So, I cooked my wine and froze it.

It worked in my soap, but I learned that removing the alcohol isn't important if you do freeze the wine, and that wine that contains alcohol will freeze.


Wine Soap Experiments and Recipes

Pictures to the left of each recipe show soap that was made with that recipe and the wine it was made from. Pictures were taken in the same location, and I've tried to standardize color for coparison purposes.

Wine Soap I

15 ounces (425 grams) grapeseed oil
6 ounces (171 grams) olive oil
9 ounces (255 grams) coconut oil
9 ounces (255 grams) dealcoholized, frozen red wine
4.2 ounces (118 grams) lye

My red wine had been reduced by 50% by simmering in a slow cooker for several hours. I used a red wine fragrance, but didn't think the scent resembled red wine particularly--more like Concord grape juice.Trace was about average, possibly a little slow.

If I'd been aiming at a red color, I would have been disappointed--the color was tan, nearly caramel. I wondered if a less green oil mixture might have minimized the drift into the brown color range as well. So I developed a second recipe with very pale fats

Wine Soap II

9.9 ounces (281 grams) almond oil
10.2 ounces (289 grams) avocado butter
9.9 ounces (281 grams) coconut oil
9 ounces (255 grams) dealcoholized, frozen red wine
4.3 ounces (123 grams) lye

The soap remained a dull reddish color for about fifteen minutes after pouring, then changed to approximately the same color as the previous batch. An apparent failure of my idea that paler oils would solve the problem--but overnight, it faded to a pale beige with a slight pinkish cast. Still not red, but light enough that coloring or marbling with color would work.

You could go on with experiments like this--use red wine cut 50/50 with water. Use rose wine. Or, unless you or your client definitely wants red wine in the soap, use white. Try cutting the wine 50-50 with milk. Or coconut milk--that's whiter than dairy milk. You can lighten color with titanium dioxide, but it cuts lather, so I don't.

Also, you could skip the step that concentrates the wine--cooking the alcohol off. I found contradictory opinions when I asked around and read advice on the Internet. Some said de-alcoholization is necessary, some said it isn't. So my next question was--what happens if you don't cook the alcohol off the wine?

Wine Soap III

I continued with the same recipe as Wine Soap I, but substituting white wine that had been frozen but not dealcoholized. The first question was whether full-alcohol wine would freeze at all. This turned out to be no problem, at least if you do it in ice cube trays.

I used white wine for a somewhat illogical, but practical reason--I had cooked all the red. The alcohol content was the same. I could have bought more of the same type of red wine, but if alcohol was a deal-breaker in soapmaking, I saw no reason to do that.

The second question was whether there would be any trace acceleration. The soap in this experiment traced much more quickly than in the previous batches. It wasn't impossible to handle, though, just fast. Accounts of instant trace may have referred to batches where the wine wasn't frozen, or where the wine had more sugar than the chardonnay I used. I'd say the same about reports that alcohol makes soap "volcano," since there was no tendency to do that at all with frozen wine--the "volcano" soap must have been made with liquid wine.

My result was that alcohol didn't accelerate trace to an unmanageable extent, but it did seem to accelerate. (In the August lesson of this series, I discussed a number of ways to deal with accelerants.) I discussed this with a friend who has made many more batches of wine soap than I have. She says fast trace has been no problem at all for her, and she chalks that up to using oils that trace slowly, and to having considerable experience with wine soap. (She also uses the wine frozen.)

So it's a possibility that you might plan for in your experiments--be ready to deal with fairly quick trace if it happens, but don't worry excessively about it.

I'd say dealcoholizing could serve a purpose, but it is optional. If your scent or base oils tend to accelerate, you might be well advised to take any possible accelerating effect of alcohol out of the picture. Otherwise, just have your molds ready, and pay attention.


What Would I Do?

If I were making wine soap for sale, I'd experiment more to see whether removing alcohol makes a more emollient soap.

For wine soap, I'd use oils that would contribute as little as possible to color. For red wine soap, I'd use a natural or artificial colorant to get the red wine shade. I think buyers will expect the color to be similar to that of the wine, and I didn't find wine itself to be capable of producing a red color.

I'd also use a wine fragrance if I were making wine soap for sale.

Beer soap is far nicer than I imagined when I began these experiments. I'd probably test a few fragrances before I settled on one or two--a beer or ale fragrance? Spicy? Musky?

I might try beer as a liquid with 100% coconut oil soap superfatted at 20%. I'd expect some impressive lather with that one.

Of the various granular ingredients I used to flatten the beer, I preferred sugar.




Developing Recipes for Yourself.

I've made many kinds of soap, but when readers first asked about beer and wine soaps, I had no idea how to make them. This project seemed to be a good time to go into the general way I learn about new kinds of soapmaking, and how I develop recipes. It's a subject I've always wanted to discuss.

1. It helps if you have experience with other people's soap recipes before you try inventing one. If you don't, you can still develop your own recipes, but be prepared to need a little patience.

2. Choosing fats and liquids--I discuss some of the practical issues with choosing fats in Item 5, below. In addition, there are some esthetic decisions to make. Almost all unrefined fats, and some specialty liquids, have an odor of their own. It's not usually a bad odor, and in many cases, it wears off as the soap cures. In my experience, unrefined shea butter, hemp oil, cocoa butter, neem oil,and wheat germ oil,as well as all milk products, beer, wine, fruit juices, and many other liquids have an odor of their own. With unrefined fats, it's probably best to assume that there is some odor.

Color may be a consideration as well, especially with unrefined oils. Any natural or artificial colorant you use will be affected by the colors of the oils in the soap, as well as the color of any fragrance or essential oil. On the other hand, the color of oils may not be the reason for a soap's final color, as we saw in the wine soap experiments above--liquids, including fragrances and water substitutes, contribute color, too.

When you choose olive oil, go by price. Cheapest is usually best for soapmaking. Cheaper olive oil has less flavor--which also means less odor. It also may be more acidic, which would promote saponification. I have not found pomace olive oil to be any better for soapmaking than ordinary olive oil. It used to be cheaper, but that has changed in many places, as demand has increased. If you want to minimize the green color, "light" olive oil or "Refined A" olive oil might be worth the extra cost, but I have yet to find a colorless olive oil

You should test small batches before deciding to use a product in quantity. Give the soap a chance to cure (unrefined wheat germ oil, which smells like vitamin pills when fresh, completely loses its scent in a couple of weeks, in my experience, as do milk and butter.)

You can choose a fragrance to work with a fat or liquid that retains some odor. For the most part, fat odors tend toward nutty, so a woody or musky fragrance would be a good pick. That also works well for beer and wine soap, and of course, there are ale, beer, and wine fragrances that enhance the natural scent, if that's what you want.

3. Use a good lye calculator. I use SoapCalc, changing one or more of its defaults to suit my technique (more about that later). There is absolutely nothing difficult about using a lye calculator--I've known would-be soapmakers who were terribly put off and intimidated by the name, but lye calculators are a soapmaker's best friend. SoapCalc has the steps in numerical order. Just follow along one step at a time.

You enter your oil ingredients, and the calculator figures the lye and liquid. SoapCalc also gives you a snapshot of how your soap will turn out. Take some time and read the information pages on the web site--there's a lot of good material there.

4. I change SoapCalc's default value for "Water as % of oils" and sometimes the default value for superfatting. This is easy to do--just type in the values you want. I change water from 38% of oils to 30%, and sometimes increase the superfatting. If my liquid is water or milk, I use 8% superfatting rather than the default 5%. Otherwise, I stick with the superfatting default--when I haven't, I've gotten soaps that were too soft.

5. Next, you'll plug in the fats you're planning to use, and the percentages you're considering. Then you click on "Calculate Recipe," and you get your results.Unless you're making a single-oil soap, you're looking for a good blend. Here's an explanation of the numbers you'll get on the "Calculate Recipe" page.

Hardness-- You want your soap to be hard enough that it unmolds and doesn't disappear in use, but not so hard that it feels like a pebble when you try to wash with it. As a rule of thumb, a soap should contain one-third to two-thirds hard fats--fats with melting points above normal room temperature. In my book Smart Soapmaking, I have one recipe that contains 100% hard fats. At least a third hard fats will almost always give you a soap that's in the normal range for hardness. But if you want shaving soap, you might do better with a hardness value that's below the optimum range SoapCalc suggests.

Cleansing--The cleansing number tells you how well the soap cleans. If your soap will be used for washing a mechanic's greasy hands, you want a fairly high cleansing number, maybe out of range. Facial soap for dry skin? Go in the other direction.

Conditioning --This measures how emollient the soap is. It's pretty much a matter of taste and use, so it's subjective. Quite a few fats, particularly solid ones, have good conditioning value, but if acne is a consideration, find out if a conditioning oil is comedogenic (acne causing) before using it in a facial soap. (you can do this by searching the Internet. Put the oil name in quotation marks and then add the word comedogenic outside of the quotes. A soap with a high conditioning number will leave your skin feeling like you've used a light lotion--but you may not be satisfied with the cleansing.

Bubbly Lather--You probably want bubbly lather, especially if you're selling or gifting your soap, since most people are used to that. Usually the bubbly lather pops up first, as soon as the soap gets wet, followed by denser creamy lather as you use the soap.

Bubbly lather comes mostly from coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or castor oil. All have disadvantages as well. Coconut oil is drying and can cause acne (odd that it would do both, but that is the case.) Many soapmakers avoid palm products for environmental reasons. Palm kernel oil is also drying. Castor oil accelerates trace, and may be a handful for an inexperienced soapmaker.

Bubbly lather can be increased by adding up to 1 teaspoon of sugar per pound of oils. For this month's Basic Recipe, I deliberately reduced the coconut oil, counting on the natural sugars in the beer and wine, plus sugar added to flatten the bubbles, to bring the lather up to normal.

Another way to boost bubbly lather is to make your soap in a log mold and cut the bars with a crinkle cutter This works because the "corrugated" faces have a greater surface area than a straight cut. Surprisingly, the corrugations last for most of the life of the soap as it's used.

Creamy Lather--In most soaps, this is the thick second lather you get when you've used the soap for a few seconds. In Castile soap, this is the only lather you will get. Quite a few fats, both vegetable and animal, have good values for creamy lather.

Iodine--A low value for iodine indicates that the soap will probably be hard. This is a value I haven't used much.

INS--The INS value is related to the soap's hardness to some degree, but I use it mostly to give me a picture of how easily my mixture will saponify. A value around 160 is ideal, but numbers as low as 130 are quite workable. The low value of some single oils is an indication of their difficulty--olive oil, at 109, is notoriously difficult, and my experiments with canola and other low-INS vegetable oils were just that--experiments that produced,with a great deal of difficulty, unusable soap.

6. SoapCalc gives the values for individual oils for all these characteristics. If your recipe comes up short in one or more category, add or substitute an oil that's strong in what your mixture is missing.

7. Once I have a recipe that looks good on paper--fits into all the "good" ranges for the above values, I figure it for both a tiny test batch and a larger, normal size batch. SoapCalc makes it easy to do this--just change the quantity after printing out your recipe. I strongly recommend a small experiment at the beginning of testing any recipe. My first run with a new recipe will be a two-bar batch, 7.5 ounces oil weight.

8. It's not easy to make small batches with a stick blender. For my "experiment size" batch, I use a countertop blender.

9. For small batches, weigh in grams--it's more accurate. If you need to round a number, do it conservatively. For example, units of .5 and above would normally round to the next whole number if your scale doesn't give decimal values like .1 gram. However, I try to look at the whole picture.

If I'm superfatting at 5%, which would be close to minimal, I'll probably round lye amounts slightly down or oil amounts slightly up. For example, if the lye amount prescribed by SoapCalc were 29.6 grams, and my scale wouldn't read tenths of a gram, I'd round down to 29 grams instead of rounding up to 30, which would be mathematically correct.

10. As you make your experimental batch, take notes.

11. Let the soap cure, and test it before you decide to make a large batch of the recipe with no changes.

Spanish Wine Label


Maybe instead of trying a whole new formulation, you have a specific question. For example, "Is it necessary to flatten beer and remove the alcohol before you make soap?"

If that's the case, first do some research. In the case of beer and wine soap, I quickly found out--by asking a couple of chemist friends and searching the Internet--that you absolutely do need to flatten beer or any other bubbly liquid before you make soap. The evidence was strong enough that I decided to accept it without testing (I don't try absolutely everything, especially when it's sort of hazardous...)

I knew I wanted to freeze the beer or wine to avoid scorching. Alcohol lowers the temperature at which a liquid will freeze. I tried freezing some beer and wine without boiling it. Beer froze; wine didn't. I made soap with the beer and tried it. It didn't seem to be especially drying, but at this point, I'd recommend testing a few bars yourself and seeing how it works on your skin. If you're selling beer or wine soap, it might well be a good idea to boil the alcohol off, or use non-alcoholic beverages to begin with.

One very important thing, when you're looking for an answer to a specific question like this is to use a tried and true recipe for your experiments. Don't branch out into unfamiliar recipes until you've nailed down the way the "question mark" ingredient is going to behave, or the effect your "question mark" technique will produce. Just one "wild card" per experiment. That way, you'll get results you can use.

I often tell students that, when you experiment, the only thing you are guaranteed to get is information. True as that is, it's also possible to get information to the effect that you should have done more research before you tried something, or that you didn't set up your experiment very well. Not the information you want. Do your research first, then experiment in such a way that your results tell you what you want to know.



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