Monday, October 29, 2012

Black and Tan Beer Soap ... and a Surprise from Bramble Berry!

My Black and Tan Beer soap
One of my favorite soapmaking suppliers is Bramble Berry - they have just about everything a soapmaker could ever need, want, or hope to have. Although I do purchase supplies from several sources, I turn to Bramble Berry again and again as my main go-to vendor because I know I can count on great service and convenient one-stop shopping. And Anne-Marie and her team are committed to helping soap and toiletry makers not only through their products, but also through the Soap Queen blog, Soap Queen TV, Teach Soap, and the Teach Soap forum.

A couple of months ago, I got a lovely message from Kristen at Bramble Berry, telling me how much Team Bramble Berry enjoys my blog and YouTube channel. (Little ol' me? Aww, shucks!) Kristen asked me if I would be willing to pick out some Bramble Berry products gratis, give them a try, and then blog about it.
My "Givember" haul from BB

What did I say? Um ... heck yes!

I took a look at BB's Cold Process Kits and carefully considered my options. It was difficult to choose, but I settled on the Black and Tan Beer Soap Kit. It looked like a cool project, and I adore beer soap. (And I had also been coveting BB's vertical mold, which is included in the kit.)

A couple of weeks ago, I received my box of goodies. Opening the package was like opening a present. Pretty pink tissue paper and a note from Team Bramble Berry greeted me when I pulled open the box flaps. (And Bramble Berry has also offered a special treat to you, dear readers! More on that in a moment, so keep reading.)

After inspecting my new toys and sniffing my new fragrance oils, I put them away until the next opportunity to make soap.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I got busy on my project. I decided to follow Anne-Marie's Black and Tan Beer Soap tutorial so that my soap would turn out as fabulously as hers did. After all, I want to make Bramble Berry proud!

Black and Tan beer made with Bass and Guinness

The day before making the soap, I boiled two bottles of dark beer to cook off the alcohol (so the soap wouldn't seize), and then chilled the beer overnight in the fridge. (Some of the beer evaporates when it boils, so that is why I used two bottles. Mine were 11.2-oz. bottles.) I was able to replace nearly all of my water with beer, but I did use a little bit of distilled water to make up the difference. Using beer in a soap recipe requires a little bit of preparation in advance, but it is worth it. I love beer in soap - the natural sugars in the beer increase the lather and create a bubbly, luxurious bar.

The idea behind this soap was to create bars that resemble Black and Tan beer. You may be familiar with Black and Tans -  they are traditionally a mix of a pale ale or lager (like Bass or Harp) with a dark porter or stout (often Guinness). The stout is carefully poured over the ale. Because the stout is less dense, it floats on top of the ale. Thus, the drink is called a "Black and Tan" due to the two distinct layers of beer.

For the scent, I used Oatmeal Stout and Almond Biscotti fragrance oils, both provided by Bramble Berry. For my four-pound batch, I mixed three ounces of Oatmeal Stout with one ounce of Almond Biscotti. The scent combo smelled to me like Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. Yum! (Of course, I wanted Oatmeal Creme Pies for the rest of the day, and I still kinda want one now.)

A view inside BB's vertical mold
The vertical mold is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Sturdy plastic lines the inside of the wooden mold (and the plastic sides pull apart easily, as does the side of the wooden mold, for easy unmolding), and a removable plastic divider evenly splits one side from the other. The plan for this project was to pour a lighter colored soap into one side (for the tan), and a darker soap into the other (for the black).

To make my lye-beer solution, I slowly added my lye flakes to my beer, stirring constantly. Then I placed my lye pitcher in an ice bath to keep things from overheating. (The natural sugars in the beer can heat up, causing problems like scorching or lye volcanoes.) When the lye was about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, I added it to my oils, which were approximately the same temperature.

After I stickblended my soap to a light trace, I split the batch into two equal parts. To one portion, I added a heaping Tablespoon of Super Pearly White mica (which Bramble Berry also provided) and only one ounce of my fragrance oil combination to keep the soap a lighter tan color. To the other portion, I added the remaining three ounces of the fragrance combo, which will cause the soap to discolor to a dark brown.

Once I brought my soap to a medium trace, I poured the "tan" soap into one side of the vertical mold, and the "black" soap into the other. (I think next time I will try to pour both sides simultaneously because a little bit of my tan soap crept into the black soap's side near the bottom of the divider.) Once both soaps were poured, I carefully pulled the divider up out of its nook at the bottom of the mold, and then twisted it at a 25-degree angle while pulling it up and out, creating a slant through the middle of the bars.

Check out this video I made of the process:

I left the soap in the mold for about four days before unmolding it. I did use sodium lactate at about 1% (1 teaspoon per pound of oils) in this batch to not only help with unmolding, but also to create a harder and longer-lasting bar. I think the sodium lactate helped because the plastic sides pulled away from the soap very easily. It also looks like Anne-Marie's recipe creates a hard bar, too.

Sodium lactate is not an ingredient in the original recipe in the tutorial, but I like to add it to all of my batches now. The only other thing I did differently from Anne-Marie is that I used the full water amount - it looks like she did a little bit of a water discount.

When I cut the bars, one side was darker than the other. Over the next couple of days, the colors of the soap deepened, and soon one side was a medium tan and the other became a very dark brown. As of this writing, the soap is just over a week old, and I think it might darken even more as it cures.

I think that my soap turned out a lot like Anne-Marie's did, don't you? I love how it looks (and smells), and I can't wait to use a bar!

Okay, so now here's the treat for you that I alluded to earlier: During the month of November, Bramble Berry is doing a little something called "Givember" to thank their customers for their support. Included in my box of goodies was a special offer and coupon code for me to pass on to you, my wonderful blog readers! Any Bramble Berry order placed during the month of November that includes the code GIVEMBER50 will get you entered in a drawing for a $50 Bramble Berry gift certificate. This code only applies to orders placed during November - don't forget to include the code during checkout!

I want to say a big thank you again to Bramble Berry for the free goodies and for sponsoring Givember! I love the vertical mold, and see the two of us having a very happy life together. Have fun shopping, everyone, and best of luck in the drawing!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Peppermint Funnel Swirl

Peppermint is synonymous with winter and the holiday season for me. When I was a kid, my grandmother would hang candy canes on the Christmas tree. My cousin and I would scope out all of the gifts under the tree, always with candy canes hanging out of our mouths.

Another memory: When we lived near Clearwater, FL, my parents and I went to the town's Christmas parade one fiercely cold Saturday morning. We must have looked particularly miserable standing around in the freezing temperature, waiting for the parade to start, because a policeman on a motorcycle stopped and gave us a handful of round Starlight mints, saying that the peppermint would warm us up.

Both of these strong childhood memories have things in common: cold weather, Christmas, and peppermint. Nowadays, Christmas has to include not only ginger cookies but also something peppermint-y. Sometimes I make peppermint bark, peppermint cookies, peppermint cake, or peppermint brownies. I'm happy with any dessert-based medium as long as it includes peppermint.

Don't get me wrong - peppermint is also a perennial favorite. I will love peppermint anytime you put it in front of me, whether it's December or June. Peppermint is warm and soothing in the winter, and brisk and refreshing in the summer. And it's pretty darn good in the spring and autumn, too.

I love desserts and I love soap. And the two intersect quite a lot for me during the holidays. Such is the case with peppermint. No Christmas is complete without peppermint baked goods and peppermint soap.

For my peppermint soap, I wanted to do a variation of the funnel swirl. I thought it would be fun to do the funnel swirl in a round mold, so I tried out my new column mold from Bramble Berry for the first time. This mold comes with a custom liner so that unmolding the soap is a breeze. (I got my inspiration from Bramble Berry's Anne-Marie, who did a twist on the faux funnel pour technique to make her Circle Swirled Soap with the column mold.)

NOTE: If you purchase this mold, please do yourself a favor and read Bramble Berry's helpful usage tips near the end of the product description. I am embarrassed to admit that I dorked things up the first time I used the mold. Evidently, I had the liner in backwards - the edges overlapped (so I taped them together), and my liner ended up being too short for the mold (something I somehow paid attention to only after making the soap). I know, I know. You would think that either one of those things would have been a clue that I was doing something wrong. What can I say? My brain don't work too good sometimes, and Scooby-Doo isn't always around when you need him. I went back and looked at BB's description and noticed a new tip saying that the edges of the liner shouldn't overlap - if they do, flip the liner around. So I flipped it around the other way, and now the edges meet to make a perfect circle inside of the mold, and the liner sticks up out of the top a bit now. So, there is no need for tape nor is it possible to overshoot the top if the liner is placed correctly. I like to think that I would have eventually figured this out on my own, but who knows? My face is very red as I type this, but I share this with you so that you don't make the same mistake. (And also because you'll watch the video below and think, "What's the deal with the liner?") The good news is that my soap still turned out fine. But next time will be even better! Now that I know how to properly use the liner, I see myself falling in love with this mold. (Brain, you're on notice. Seriously, get it together.)

Despite having a malfunctioning noggin, I somehow managed to properly place my funnel over the top of the mold and actually make soap. (I did forget to add my sodium lactate, though, so my soap was a bit sticky. Strike two, brain.) After I made my main batch of soap - scented with Bramble Berry's Peppermint essential oil - I split the batch into three equal portions and colored one portion with brick red oxide, another with Merlot Sparkle mica, and another with titanium dioxide. Then I poured each color for a count of three through the funnel - alternating between red, white, and pink - until the soap was gone.

Here is a video I made of the process:

This pour produces bars with pretty rings of color emanating from the center, almost like a cut tree trunk. I like that no two bars look exactly the same.

Since this is my first go at round soaps, this is also my first time packaging round soaps. My bars are usually rectangular, and I just put a cigar band label around them. Cigar bands don't work so well with round soaps, so I needed to come up with something else. I had heard of soapmakers using coffee filters to wrap their round soaps in, so I gave that a shot. It worked beautifully.

Using coffee filters to package round soaps
I used regular 8-12 cup filters, and they fit around the soap perfectly. I chose white, but you could also go with the brown filters for a more earthy look.

Wrapping round bars with coffee filters is very easy: Place the soap in the middle of the filter. Pull the edge of the filter close to the bar and fold it toward the center. Keep folding the edges in, working all the way around the soap and keeping the folds taut. Once you get all of the edges folded in, secure the center with a piece of tape and carefully place your label.

I picked up some 2.5" round white labels, which also fit the soaps perfectly. (I've seen the labels in the clear and brown kraft variety, too.) I used two labels per bar, but you may be able to get all of your info on one.

I am very pleased with my Peppermint bars, and I think the packaging is cute. These will make great Christmas gifts!

How many of you are peppermint fans? What sorts of peppermint goodies (soap or otherwise) are you planning on enjoying this holiday season?

Another note: I am publishing this blog post a bit early this time because I am heading out of town for a little while. I'm not sure what kind of internet connection I'll have while I'm gone, so I may be away from Blogland for a few days. I will do my best to respond to all of your lovely comments promptly, but if I am slower than usual checking in, that's why. Thanks so much for reading, and I will pop in as often as I can during the next week and a half!