Sunday, January 30, 2011


Well, I made another 100% tallow soap and this time I scented it with vanilla and added some thick cinnamon layers.  (When you're in Minnesota with nothing but homemade beef tallow, you learn how to jazz it up.)  I was thinking about naming it Vanilla Layer Cake or something of the like, but isn't Beefcake so much more fitting?  It's tempting, but I don't think it's the most consumer-friendly name out there.
Vanilla Layer Cake AKA Beefcake:  beef tallow, water, lye, cinnamon, fragrance

So, I've just returned from a 5 week trip to Minnesota to visit my boyfriend, Jerry.  You'd think I'd be able to last 5 weeks without making soap, but of course I found some ridiculous means to do so.  "What?  You've got cow fat? ...I can do something with that."  It was supposed to be only an 11 day trip, but after driving 4 hours to the airport we decided I should stay longer.  We're good at waiting until the last minute to make important decisions.  He had already taken as many days off from work as he could so I had long days with not much to do, hence the creation of this blog.

This wasn't the first time I thought I could go a period of time without making soap.
The first time I went to Minnesota was as a volunteer with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).  It was a 3 month position at Voyageurs National Park.  I decided I could go the 3 months without making soap so I didn't bring any of my supplies or ingredients, only a batch of Bug-Be-Gone soap I had made previously.  About a month later I bought a crockpot and some oils from Brambleberry and my mom mailed me some things from home.  That's when I realized that I truly had a problem.  I used a shoebox for a mold.  I made some more Bug-Be-Gone and then a batch of Lettuce and Poppyseed, inspired by and made for a co-worker who traded me some homegrown lettuce for soap.  
Bug-Be-Gone:  coconut oil, olive oil, sustainable palm oil, organic/fair-trade/unrefined shea butter, jojoba oil, dried orange and lemon peel, essential oils of citronella, nepetalactone, lavender, black pepper
I knew better by the time I went to New Jersey and brought a mold along with me.  I couldn't fit my crockpot in the car, so I had to buy yet another one.  I am now the owner of 4, count them, FOUR crockpots.  Not many 23-your-olds have a crockpot collection. 

Yesterday, airport security searched my backpack.  Apparently large amounts of soap look suspicious to the scanners.   After the lady searched my bag and sent it through the scanners again, she went back to the other security members and said, "It was soap, I thought it was cake!"  Oh Beefcake, you sneaky bastard you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rendering Tallow from Fat

Tallow is the product of rendered fat.  Rendering removes the impurities in the fat like blood and veins and leaves just the pure, white fat.  The best source for tallow is the hard fat found around the kidneys called suet.  This produces the best quality tallow that is often used for soap and candle making.

I understand the concern of those who do not want animal products in their soap.  However, the suet and fat are parts of the animal that are often thrown away and this ensures less of the animal is wasted.  Plus, it's going into making something wonderful and something we need and use daily.  Most likely it will be a local source for your soap ingredients as opposed to many oils that come from overseas.  It creates a very hard bar, so you can reduce your palm oil usage.  And if your boyfriend's father is a butcher who owns his own cows, you know they have been loved and well cared for.  However if you don't have this sweet connection, you can ask the butcher at your local grocery store.  They will most likely have beef and pig fat.  If you have access to a game butcher, they will more than likely have venison fat and some other exciting animal fats, depending where you live.  There is a lady on Lake Kabetogama in Kabetogama, Minnesota that makes bear tallow soap.  Wonderful.

You do not need to be exact and it's really hard to mess up.  Here I use beef suet but this method can be used for any animal.  If you are going to make soap with this tallow, remember that different animals have different SAP values.

Animal and SAP value (NaOH):
Bear 0.1390
Beef 0.1405 (beef fat has very high oleic, palmitic, and stearic values)
Chicken 0.1389
Deer 0.1379
Goat 0.1383
Sheep 0.1383

What you will need:
-large pot with lid
-stove top
-strainer (a colander lined with cheese cloth works well too)
-large bucket
-a couple pounds of suet

Step 1
If the fat you received has not be ground, put it through a meat grinder.  Do not put it through twice as you would with meat.  The grinder will back up and it's not pretty.  If you do not have access to a meat grinder, cut the fat into small chunks.  The smaller, the better.  You can probably ask the butcher you received it from to grind it for you. 
ground beef suet

Step 2
Place the fat into a large pot on a burner.  Add enough water to cover the fat halfway and add a tablespoon of salt for every pound of fat.  You do not have to weigh or measure perfect amounts, just guestamate.  Turn the burner on medium low.

The fat will begin to melt...
and melt some more...

until it looks like this.

If you don't like the smell this is would be a good time to turn on the fan.

Step 3
Allow the melted fat to simmer for another 10-15 minutes.  This will make sure all impurities (e.g. blood) have been fully cooked.

Step 4
Pour the liquid through the straining device to remove the cooked parts.  Empty the strainer and pour the liquid through it again into the first pot.
gross cooked things, first straining
second straining

Step 5
Allow the liquid to cool a bit before placing it into the refrigerator.  Room temp or almost room temp is sufficient.  Put the lid on and let chill overnight.  5-6 hours is probably enough, but I like to let it sit overnight just to make sure I'm getting the most I can.

Step 6
Remove the pot from the refrigerator.  The tallow will have hardened at the top with the water still beneath.  Using a knife, cut the sides of the tallow away from the pot.  I used this butter spreader looking thing.  It was perfect because the flimsiness of it allowed me to get really close to the pot and slide between the pot and tallow instead of having to actually "cut".  Flimsy = good.  You can cut it into smaller pieces for easier removal.

Step 7
Scrape/cut the underneath of the tallow.  It usually has a slighter brown color and is kind of mushy and gritty in texture.  Not quality stuff.

Step 8
Rinse the pieces off with a bit of cool water, pat dry, and store.  Tallow does not have to be refrigerated, but it does need to be stored in an air tight container to prevent oxidization.  I freeze mine anyway, it makes me feel better.
Finished beef tallow
Don't pour the water that was at the bottom of the pot down the drain.  It still has a lot of fat in it and might clog the drain.  Pour it outside, or if that isn't an option, flush it.  I poured mine in a deer bed in the snow outside the window and am sitting here waiting for something to come by and eat the chunks.  Nothing has come yet.  Boring.

Now you can use this tallow to make soap, candles, or even cook with.

100% beef tallow soap
This soap was made with a 5% lye discount and produced a very hard bar.  In the beginning the lather was more lotion-like than bubbly, but by about a third of the way into usage it was producing some pretty decent bubbles.  Weird.  I recommend scenting this soap, it smelled a tinge like fat, but I think by that time I was really sensitive to the smell.

If you have any questions about this process or anything else mentioned in this post, please feel free to post a comment and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why the name Briny?

-adj, brinier, briniest
1.  of or resembling brine; salty
-n, the briny
2.  an informal name for the sea

Figuring out a name for my soap company took a long time and some help from my friends.  We came up with a few not so exciting names like...well, I'm not going to actually name them because I think they're already taken and that would just be rude.  So finally, we came up with Union Street Soap.  I was living on Union Street in Wilkinsburg at the time and it would forever be the place that I began my soaping.  Then I found out that there is a Union Street Soapworks.  Crap.

Back to the drawing board.

So I began some soapy soul searching.  "Why do I love making soap?" I asked.  This was some deep stuff.  Also, this is me laughing.  OK, I'll get to the point.  Soap is a combination of making something useful (I stress making because there is nothing better than handmade, unless of course it lands a spot on Regretsy), something that is attractive to the eyes, nose and body, and some really awesome chemical reactions.  If you did not know this, soap is actually a salt, the product of any acid/base reaction.  In the case of soap, the acid is the oil (fatty acid) and the base is the lye (NaOH).  The hydroxide anion (OH-) is what makes sodium hydroxide such a strong base.  When combined with an acid it produces water and the corresponding salts.  

Now you know.

I used a thesaurus to find other words for salt and found brine.  There is something attractive about the word brine to me.  It has an old-timey feel to it...and kinda makes me think of pirates.  It's a good word.  Hence, Briny Bar Soap. 

Now I am going to make tallow from beef fat.  In my next post I'll include a picture tutorial of how to render tallow from fat and include some reasons why this animal product is not such a bad thing to use.

Pure beef tallow soap:  tallow, water, lye

Monday, January 24, 2011

Awwwww crap.

Well, it's been done.  I've made a blog.  This is me telling myself to get over it.  I've been thinking about doing this for quite a while now.  Good blogs are good blogs, but most of the time, who the hell cares.

I started making soap during the winter of 2009 when I decided it would make a cheap and awesome Christmas gift.  I purchased a soapmaking kit from Cranberry Lane for about $50.  The kit makes 16 bars of soap, that's 16 Christmas gifts for only $50!  I got the citrus sensations blend, a combination of orange, grapefruit, lemon, neroli, and petitgrain essential oils.  It was a sweet and orangey smell, not overbearingly tart or sugary.  I gave a bar to a professor of mine and she told me she kept it on her desk and smelled it when she needed a pick-me-up.  My mom still has hers.  I don't think she is ever going to use it.  She's one of those moms.  Anyway, the kit came with pre-mixed oils containing coconut oil, vegetable shortening, avocado oil, stearic acid wax, and beeswax.  The soap came out more on the soft side, but I didn't know that handmade soap could even be adjusted for hardness then.  The kit made two, 8 bar batches of cold-process soap.  An easily assembled cardboard box was included to use as a mold and two reusable plastic bags as liners.  I remember being a little ticked off at the instruction book.  I was used to the detailed methods in my chem lab notebooks and this instruction book was a little more laid back and not so scientificy.  I even referred to my organic chem lab notes to the time we made a little ball of soap out of pig lard.  Didn't help much.  The one thing the kit didn't come with was lye.  Cranberry Lane is located in British Columbia and it is illegal to ship lye across the border.  I had to call all sorts of hardware stores in the Pittsburgh area to find a place that sold pure sodium hydroxide in solid, "powder" form.  I found a place in Penn Hills and had to use a GPS to find it.  During rush hour none-the-less because I'm an idiot.  I emailed my chem lab professor to ask if I could use the balances in the lab and bribed her with the future [hopefully] finished product.  Apparently she didn't need the bribing, but I gave her some soap anyway.  

After making those first two batches of soap, I was hooked.  When I say hooked, I mean completely obsessed...when I say obsessed, I mean I have a problem.  I've spent hours looking at soap websites and reading soap blogs.  My favorite soap blog:  The Soap Bar written by Jo from Product Body.  When I found this site, I was in love.  I clicked through all the posts just to look at the soap porn before I actually went back to read them.  I'm not sure if Jo coined the term "soap porn", but I oggle at these pictures.  Seriously.  I tried explaining this perfect term to my dad, who gave me a concerned look and maybe held back something he wanted to say.  Like many people, he doesn't understand.  I went back to the Cranberry Lane site to buy the refill kits and then it dawned on me...I could buy the separate ingredients and make my own formulations.  Brilliant!  I started with recipes I found online and started making my own with online soap calculators.  The best soap calculator I have found is Chris Mathes recipe template, an excel spreadsheet that has all the oils, butters, and waxes you could possibly have and is really easy to use.

Now I've been making soap for a little over a year and have made over 30 different batches.
Calendula and Chamomile:  calendula and chamomile infused olive oil, sustainable palm oil, organic/fair-trade/unrefined shea butter, coconut oil, castor oil, distilled water, sodium hydroxide, yellow oxide, calendula petals, blackberry seeds

Carrot and Cinnamon:  coconut oil, olive oil, sustainable palm oil, castor oil, cocoa butter, organic carrot juice, sodium hydroxide, shredded organic carrot, organic cinnamon powder
I've never made the same recipe twice.  I'm too excited to try something new every time I can't bring myself to make something I've already made.  So far my favorites have been chocolate made with cocoa butter and cocoa powder and pumpkin spice made with organic canned pumpkin and cinnamon swirls.  Both huge hits in my small customer circle.

I'm hoping to take my soaping to a new level and be able to make a little money off this sometimes expensive hobby of mine.  I want to have a table at events like I Made It! Market and Handmade Arcade, but first I need to get my act together.  This entails living in the same state for more than 3 months, getting a job, and having time to focus more energy on promoting my products.  Right now this seems forever away, but I guess it gives me something exciting to think about.

I plan on sharing my new creations as they come as well as photos of my old recipes.  I already have some ideas for more posts and am kind of excited.  You should be too.

Be excited!
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briny bar soap, brinybarsoap, dennise, hand, home, made, handmade, homemade, tea tree, homestead, soynut, shampoo bar, salt bar, essential oils, cold process Briny Bar Soap Blog Sitemap. I am Dennise, soap maker and creator of Briny Bar Soap. My passion for soap making is a combination of personal creativity, chemistry education, and love for creating something wholesome and useful.