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Everything You Need to Make Beer, Wine, Cider, and Mead

Everything You Need to Make Beer, Wine, Cider, and Mead

During the initial quarantine rush of 2020, as everyone scrambled to supermarkets to stock up on flour and yeast for homemade loaves, my older brother and I had another thought: stock up on malted barley.

For the past decade, we’ve met up nearly every Saturday in his shaded driveway to hang out with our dogs, barbecue lunch, and boil up a fresh batch of beer. We’ve steadily progressed from newbies to relatively experienced brewers, and lately we’ve been exploring fresh, local ingredients (most recently, Oregon-malted barley). But we’d be lying if we said we did it for the steady supply of suds.

Like barbecuing or gardening, making your own grog is more than just a way of getting cheap booze. It also directly connects you with humanity’s culinary and scientific histories. Did you know, for example, that we may have gone from hunter-gatherers to farmers because of our love of beer? What about the fact that Louis Pasteur discovered pasteurization while studying spoiled wine—and that he hated German beer?

One of the things I love is how easy it is to progress with this hobby. You can probably make something drinkable (even tasty!) on your first try, but you can make something downright professional if you put in a little work. It mostly requires the ability to read instructions and set timers. When you’re done, your products can help you relax after a long day of doomscrolling. 

Want to give it a shot? It doesn’t take a lot of cash. Here’s what you need to know to make beer, wine, cider, and mead.

Updated May 2022: We’ve added more tips and tricks, and a few new helpful products.

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Key Concepts for Making Booze

Making alcohol is easy. Take a sugary liquid, add sugar-eating yeast, and wait. 

As the yeast eats the sugar, it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Wait long enough (typically a few weeks) and you’ll have a fully fermented beverage that’s (probably) safe to drink. The following are a few general tips to keep in mind when fermenting your own booze, for quality’s sake:

Sanitation

Sanitation is the most important part of any fermentation process. You want to make sure everything that touches your liquid pre- and post-ferment has been fully sterilized with a no-rinse sanitizer. (See the section on Star San below.) This keeps poor-tasting yeasts and other contaminants out and ensures shelf stability.

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My own early homebrew rig.

Photograph: Parker Hall 

Yeast Health

There’s a saying in the brewing community that brewers are really just glorified janitors. Yeast is what actually makes the stuff you like to drink. This couldn’t be more true. Keeping your little biological buddies happy is of the utmost importance for booze that tastes good. If you’re making beer, wine, cider, or mead, be sure to pitch a healthy amount of yeast cells and keep your fermentation within the recommended temperature range for the specific yeast you’re using.

Patience, Grasshopper

“Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew” is the most popular saying in the home fermentation world for a reason. Making good stuff can take time, and it’s important not to rush things, even though you’re excited!

The Necessary Tools

I recommend buying gear at your local homebrew shop if you can. The experts there are invaluable resources, and if you’re looking to buy malt, hops, or other ingredients in bulk, it’s an awesome way to save on shipping. If you’re a bit more remote, however, we’ve included links to buy gear online. Pro tip: Hops are harvested in August and September in the US, so you’ll often see good discounts on last year’s harvest around that time. Fresh hops hit the market in December. Grape and apple harvests vary by location but are typically in mid-fall.

  • Thermometer for $24: You’ll want a high-quality and accurate thermometer to check the temperatures of various liquids. I like this long one because you don’t steam your hand over a hot brew kettle.
  • Hydrometer for $36: A hydrometer is a cute little floating gauge that measures the density of a liquid instead of its temperature. By measuring the density both pre- and post-fermentation, you can get a pretty accurate idea of alcohol content. As alcohol becomes present in the solution—a byproduct of the yeast eating sugars—the liquid becomes less dense.
  • Kitchen Scale for $18: A simple kitchen scale like this Etekcity model will help you measure everything from hops to sulfites to honey.
  • Siphon for $17: You’ll need a way to get your precious beverage out of the bucket once you ferment it. An auto-siphon lets you do this without sucking on the hose, which would require you to sterilize everything again.
  • Fermentation Vessels for $42: Fermentation vessels range from glass carboys to fancy stainless-steel tanks and beyond, but the best place to start is with a simple food-grade plastic bucket and a lid. It’s affordable, and you don’t have to worry about breaking glass if you drop it. Use only the soft side of a sponge when cleaning these. The rough side can create abrasions in the plastic that wild yeast and bacteria can cling to during cleaning and sanitation.
  • Airlock for $7: An airlock is a simple device that goes in the top of your fermenter and allows it to off-gas carbon dioxide—the other main byproduct of fermentation besides alcohol—while keeping the bucket sealed from any wild yeast or bacteria present in the air. This pack gets you five for cheap.
Volkswagen’s Electric ID Buzz Looks Well Worth the Wait

Volkswagen’s Electric ID Buzz Looks Well Worth the Wait

Yes, it’s finally here. After years of glimpses and half reveals, Volkswagen has taken the covers off the production version of its all-electric ID Buzz. And like all the EVs we like most here at WIRED, it’s got character—bags of it. Probably a lot more than can be squeezed into its microbus proportions.

With a flat front, long wheelbase, short overhangs, and a styling that pleasingly echoes the hippie bus of old, the ID Buzz is a world way from VW’s more recent, not entirely successful, forays in EV van territory. Despite the VW T1, or “Bulli,” looks, this multipurpose vehicle is actually based on the same platform as the ID.3 electric hatchback. This means the ID Buzz has a 201-bhp, 150-kW electric motor driving the rear wheels. The on-board battery is 77 kWh, and while there isn’t a confirmed range for the ID Buzz yet, we can expect around 250 miles.

Two Volkswagen ID Buzz electric vans parked in front of house at dusk

The ID Buzz, left, has space for families and luggage while the ID Buzz Cargo fits two 1,200- by 800-mm pallets.

Photograph: MARTIN MEINERS/Volkswagen

The ID Buzz people carrier and ID Buzz Cargo van also have 170-kW charging, so that battery can be charged from 5 to 80 percent in 30 minutes if you can find a powerful charger. The Buzz also apes the skill we like best on the Kia EV6, as both models will have bi-directional charging as standard. What does this mean? Not only should you be able to use your Buzz to power household appliances like a juicer or blender or TV, you can, in theory, put power back into the grid. Indeed, VW is even suggesting owners can use the feature to cut energy bills, by charging a Buzz during the day on cheap electricity, then feed this back into your home storage battery (if you have one) for use in the evening. The power transfer and auto communication to do this take place via a special DC bi-directional wall box.

Production of the ID Buzz begins later this year, with first deliveries due in the autumn in Europe. For those obsessives waiting for the all-electric ID Buzz California camper van, that likely won’t be surfacing until 2025 at the earliest. For now, the people-carrying Buzz will have to do.

Interior of Volkswagen ID Buzz electric van

Look at that lovely interior made with “non-animal” material!

Photograph: Ingo Barenschee/Volkswagen

But there’s a lot of detail here to celebrate. In the Buzz there’s room for five people and their luggage, with 1,121 liters (40 cubic feet) of capacity. If the second row of seats is folded, that capacity increases to up to 2,205 liters (78 cubic feet). You get the choice of either two or three seats up front. For Cargo users, a fixed partition separates you from the 3.9-cubic-meter (138-cubic-foot) rear space.

The Best Posture Correctors to Put a Stop to Your Slouch

The Best Posture Correctors to Put a Stop to Your Slouch

We slouch at our desks for at least 40 hours a week and bend our necks toward our phones the rest of the time. Not to mention we’re nearing the two-year mark of a pandemic that has limited our usual activities. All of this may be affecting our back health. Bad posture doesn’t just cause temporary pain and stiffness; it can cause a permanent hunch.

After seeing far too many photos of myself with horrible posture—my shoulders fully rounded over, my stomach somehow pushed forward while my hips are pushed back—I wonder why anyone has ever voluntarily spoken to me in public. So I decided to do something about it, trying braces, shirts, a yoga strap, and even a little vibrating device that sits on your back. These are the best posture correctors we’ve tried. That said, none of these options will fix your problems overnight. Start by using them 10 to 20 minutes a day, and add time as you go (and listen to the product’s directions). If you have severe back pain, a hump, or scoliosis, talk to your physician before trying any posture correctors.

Updated January 2022: We’ve made the newer and cheaper Upright Go S our top pick.

Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED

Our Favorite Couches (and 1 Armchair) You Can Order Online

Our Favorite Couches (and 1 Armchair) You Can Order Online

Maybe you have a hand-me-down or a thrifted floral confection that isn’t cutting it. Or maybe being stuck at home during quarantine left your sofa seats sunken in and worse for wear. If you need a new sofa, you’ve come to the right place.

A few of us here on the Gear team have spent several months testing a batch of couches you can order online. We haven’t tested enough to make a definitive Best Overall Couch pick yet, but our current favorites are below.

Much like bed-in-a-box mattresses, ordering a couch online is simpler than it sounds. You simply choose what you want, place an order, and voilà: Several boxes will arrive on your front porch. Assemble the parts and you’re good to go. But it’s important to do your research first. Many couch makers offer sample swatches of fabrics, which you should take advantage of, to ensure that the color and feel is exactly what you want. Make sure to measure the area where your couch will be too, as well as doorframes and stairwells for walk-up apartments.

Updated December 2021: We’ve added the Kova, plus an optional Lovesac upgrade.

Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more. Please also consider subscribing to WIRED

Our Favorite Mattress Deals for Black Friday (So Far)

Our Favorite Mattress Deals for Black Friday (So Far)

If you’ve been tossing and turning at night, sleeping on a better mattress can make all the difference. We’ve tested a ton of them, so one should be right for your needs. Thankfully, mattresses are almost always discounted to some degree, so you should never have to pay full price. Black Friday is one of a handful of especially good times to grab one during the year.

There are a couple of choices to make. You’ll need to decide if you want a hybrid or an all-foam mattress. We prefer hybrids, which combine multiple layers of memory foam and hundreds of individually wrapped springs sandwiched in between. We think they offer the best benefits of both older innerspring mattresses and foam. They tend to be more supportive and have more airflow (meaning they don’t get as hot at night). All-foam is what you probably think of when you think of a mattress in a box—just layers and layers of thick memory foam.

All prices below are for queen-sized mattresses. These picks were tested by our Gear team and featured in our Best Mattresses guide.

WIRED’s Early Black Friday Coverage

If you buy something using links in our stories, we may earn a commission. This helps support our journalism. Learn more.

Our Favorite Mattress

mattress

Helix Midnight Luxe Hybrid Mattress

Photograph: Helix

At checkout, enter BFSALE100 for $100 off a $600 order, BFSALE150 for $150 off $1,250, or BFSALE200 for $200 off $1,750

Even after testing more mattresses this year, the Helix Midnight Luxe is still our favorite. It’s plush and comfortable, and designed to prevent back pain—the springs are firmer in areas that need more support. Unfortunately, it’s also super expensive and has gone up in price since last Cyber Week, but if you can afford it, we think you’ll really love it. 

Organic Mattress Deals

Avocado Green Mattress on bed frame

Avocado Green Organic Hybrid Mattress

Photograph: Melissa Krused/Avocado Mattress

WIRED senior reviewer Scott Gilbertson said this is the only mattress he and his wife agree on, despite her liking soft mattresses and him liking firm ones. It somehow combines them both and has held up over the past year. There’s also a pillow top option for those who need a super soft mattress. 

It’s not just comfortable. This is our favorite eco-friendly mattress, made from organic latex, wool, and cotton. There’s no polyurethane, fire retardants, memory foam, or chemical adhesives. The company is also a certified B Corporation that’s purchasing enough offsets to be able to say it operates as a carbon-negative business.

If you’d like an organic mattress for your child, you can save some money by going with this brand instead of Avocado—like the Avocado, it’s made with organic latex, wool, and cotton. Reviewer Scott Gilberston tried this one for his kids, and he said it’s firm but comfortable—his kids said it’s the most comfortable mattress they’ve ever tried. For $125 more, you can choose the double-sided option to extend the life of the mattress if your kids are rough on beds (i.e., they’re constantly jumping on them).

Birch mattress

Birch Natural Mattress

Photograph: Birch

Comes with 2 pillows

This is another organic option and it comes from Helix, the maker of our favorite bed. It has a plush and bouncy feel but isn’t squishy. It’s also good for stomach, side, and even back sleeping, but it doesn’t stay as cool as some other options on this list.

Comes with 2 pillows, a sheet set, and a mattress protector

WIRED writer Louryn Strampe tested both the Birch and this organic Awara mattress. She found this one to be springy and comfortable, especially for solo sleepers, but said it didn’t offer as much support as the Birch. The company plants 10 trees (through trees.org) for every mattress purchased.

Other Hybrid Mattress Deals

Dreamcloud mattress

DreamCloud Luxury Hybrid Mattress 

Photograph: DreamCloud Sleep

Comes with 2 pillows, a sheet set, and a mattress protector

This is one of our honorable mentions. Its thick pillow top is almost as nice as our favorite mattress, the Helix Midnight Luxe.

Comes with 2 pillows

The Leesa Hybrid is one of lead mattress reviewer Jeffrey Van Camp’s favorites. It has a silky, textured cover and it’s soft yet firm and pressure-relieving. He said the layers of foam and springs blend together nicely, hugging his body to sleep. Like the Helix, it’s also pricey.

More Foam Mattress Deals

Layla mattress

Layla Two-Sided Foam Mattress

Photograph: Layla

Comes with 2 Pillows

You might not know if you need a soft or firm mattress. Layla’s mattress is double-sided, so you can spend a few nights on both (medium firm and medium soft) to figure it out. It’s all-foam, so it’s not as comfortable as hybrid mattresses, but we liked it even for stomach sleeping.

Comes with 2 pillows, a sheet set, and a mattress protector

We think this one is great for side-sleepers. Its four layers of dense, conforming foam gently hug you while you snooze, but you don’t sink in too much. It offers a “Forever Warranty.”

Nectar mattress

Nectar Sleep Foam Mattress

Photograph: Nectar

This is not the best deal we’ve ever seen, but it’s not a wash if you are set on sleeping on Purple’s waffley silicone top layer. We loved sleeping on it—it was Jell-O-ey cool and supportive—but it’s one of our honorable mentions because it’s not as comfortable as the hybrid mattress we love. Purple does offer a hybrid, but it’s pricey.

We much prefer Leesa’s Hybrid mentioned above, but this all-foam option is still comfortable, and it’s more affordable. It feels very similar to the original foam Casper, but we like the Leesa more.

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WIRED’s Early Black Friday Coverage

Retailer Sale Pages and Coupons

Want to browse the early Black Friday 2021 sales yourself? Here are a few places offering deals. Be sure to check out our many buying guides and gift guides for additional ideas.

  • Amazon Sale
  • Target Sale, Coupons
  • Walmart Sale, Coupons
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond Sale, Coupons
  • REI Get Up Get Out Sale
  • Best Buy Sale, Coupons
  • QVC Sale, Coupons
  • Kohl’s, Coupons
  • Moosejaw Sale, Coupons
  • Adorama Sale, Coupons