Our First Big Soap Failure: Whiskey Soap

There is no failure except in no longer trying.
- Elbert Hubbard

(Elbert Green Hubbard (June 19, 1856 – May 7, 1915) was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher. Raised in Hudson, Illinois, he met early success as a traveling salesman with the Larkin Soap Company.)

Note: This post was originally published in 2015 and was so popular I resurrected it from its ancient cask.

In our enthusiasm and curiosity about making soap for a living, we've met with some interesting if not terrifying results.

Despite my belief that making soap from leftover bacon grease would be disgusting, it turned out Danielle was right. After filtering and purifying the several pounds of it we reclaimed from a large group New Year's camping trip where bacon was always on the menu, it actually ended up making a nice soap. Not salty or smoky or crunchy in any way. Who knew?

The same can't be said for our first attempt to make Whiskey soap.

If you add the essential oils of rose or lavendar to your soap mix, that's the smell you get.

If you're an Outlaw, making yer first batch of whiskey soap in an old wharehouse next to a guy who's distilling his own rum, yer not gonna pussy foot around. Yer gonna go down to the store and buy a big handle of Jim Crow and pour it into your mix to get that authentic whiskey smell that everyone will love and you'll sell so much of it that you'll be rich in a few months!

So, that's what we did. Mostly.

Having thrown back a few shots for quality control purposes, we lined up all the soap ingredients and started mixing.

I can't stress enough at this point, the importance of the proper safety gear like gloves and goggles. Generally I'm a SAFETY THIRD kinda guy. But on this day, I'm glad my wife's a stickler for it.

Everything was going along smoothly. We added the lye/water mix to the oils. We added the coloring. We slowly stirred in the whiskey making sure to save a little for our victory celebration later.

All seemed well.

But then the mixture began to grow very very quickly inside the bucket. This is NOT supposed to happen!

It was a virtual mushroom cloud of toxic sludge threatening to pour out everywhere and destroy the triangle of Los Angeles between the 5, the 101, and 110.

Fortunately, it reached its zenith a few inches above the lip of the bucket. But not without claiming a victim.

It had taken our stirring spoon hostage. The mixture had turned completely solid within a few minutes.

Not a pretty sight. And, it didn't even smell like whiskey!

Turns out, alcohol and lye don't mix. Guess we shoulda googled that or something. There's an official term for it which it turns out is quite accurate. SOAP VOLCANO!

Natural sugars (including fruit purees) and alcohol in cold process soap can super heat the soap and cause what’s known as a soap volcano.

You can work around this by boiling off the alcohol from the whiskey or whatever before adding it to your mix, but that's time consuming and expensive. So, we use a synthetic whiskey scent that pretty darned close to the real thing and doesn't explode.

From that day forward, I started calling Danielle the Oppenheimer of soap makers. Fortunately it didn't stick and we're still married.

So, I say keep the whiskey for drinking.


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