Friday, February 5, 2016

Behind the Scenes: Suds in Suds!

Beer Soap

One of my best selling soaps is my Beer Soap. Yes, there is actual beer in it and no, it does not smell like beer. Customers buy this one by the dozen sometimes to give to husbands, boyfriends, sons, or just because they tried it once and got hooked on it. I'm featuring Beer Soap today because it makes an excellent Valentine's Day gift for the fellas in your life, and I just made a big double batch of it so the process was fresh in my mind.

Making soap with beer takes some forethought because the beer needs to be flat before it's added to the soap batter. I also like to give some thought as to the brand of beer I use, and generally choose beer from local breweries. The beer pictured below from my most recent batch is Two Beers Brewery Jive Espresso Stout made in Seattle, WA. So why do we need the beer to be flat?

A pitcher of flat beer is no
cause for tears in soap making!

Here comes the science!

When sodium hydroxide (lye) is added to oils and butters (fats) it begins an endothermic reaction, meaning that the combination absorbs heat from its surroundings. In other words, it gets really hot. When you add sugar to the mix (or in this case, the sugars in the beer), things can really heat up! When the combination heats up too much, you can end up with something that soap makers call a soap volcano. Yes, it's a real thing. Now imagine if that super hot, erupting soap volcano was carbonated. Not only would it be a huge mess, it would be really dangerous for anyone nearby.

Once the flat beer is added to the soap batter, I have to work really quickly to get everything properly mixed and into the mold before the batter starts to harden. Usually this takes a matter of a minute or two. During this phase, seconds count! You can see in this picture of newly poured beer soap that the soap in one of the molds has already started changing color due to the heat. I poured these two soaps less than 5 minutes apart.
I poured these batches less than
5 minutes apart. The saponification
process is well underway!

Now that we're well into the saponification process (the chemical process of transforming lye and fats into soap), the beer soap goes through a very hot gel stage when it gets so hot that it becomes liquid and translucent. After several hours, the soap cools and hardens again. A day later I cut the cooled bars and let them cure for 4-6 weeks before they're ready to use. The waiting is the hardest part, but oh, so worth it!

So why put beer in soap, anyway?

Some people give me an odd look when I tell them that my Beer Soap has real beer in it. They wonder why on Earth I would put beer in soap?! For the bubbles! The sugars and other carbs in beer soap make an incredibly bubbly, creamy lather, which makes for a really luxurious bathing experience.

If it doesn't smell like beer, then what does it smell like?

The scent of the beer does not survive the saponification process, so it does not smell like beer. My Beer Soap is scented with a teakwood and cardamom blend with hints of cedar, sandalwood, amber, and patchouli. It's an enticing fragrance that customers have described to me as warm and spicy. It's a fragrance that you'll smell, think about, and then smell again. 

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