making-of

The Gay Bar

Amber Avery-Pierce

The Gay Bar has become an annual tradition for us. It's a fun colorful bar, delightfully fruity scented with notes of bubbly champagne. It's not just a novelty bar, it's made in the same recipe as all of our soaps. 

And it's definitely a labor of love. Start to finish, a Gay Bar batch takes about 8 hours, and that doesn't include cutting, stamping, or wrapping--all of which are done by hand!

I won't geek out too much, but the basics of soap making go something like this:

Oils and butters are heated and mixed, then combined with a lye solution. The solution is typically made from sodium hydroxide (lye) and water, but other liquids can be used--milk, beer, wine, etc. Adding the lye solution to the oils and mixing thoroughly starts a process called saponification. Once saponification is complete, the lye no longer remains and you're left with natural glycerin, soap, and, if the soaper chooses to make the soap more moisturizing, free floating oils. 

The process is fascinating, bordering on magic. 

In the following video, the oils for our purple layer have been mixed and heated, and the colorant is being blended in.

The lye solution is then poured into the oils and mixed to emulsify. The desired outcome determines how long the batch is mixed. The longer the oils and lye are blended, the thicker the "batter" becomes. In this case I wanted it to be very fluid, so that it would fill the soap mold evenly.

The process is repeated for each of the 6 different colored layers. Timing and finesse are crucial here. If the soap batter becomes too thick before pouring, it's near impossible to get an even layer. The consistency of the batter can change in an instant, from velvety fluid to gloppy pudding in the blink of an eye. Also, when pouring one layer onto the previous, extra care must be used to so that the layers don't mix.

Gay Bar - Bisbee Soap & Sundry

Here you can see where finesse escaped me, and the yellow dipped into the green layer. Pretty in its own right, but not exactly what I was going for

Once all layers are poured, the soap will hang out overnight, and the whole mass will become solid. It will heat up significantly, and sometimes even turn to gel before solidifying. 

When the soap is cool and firm enough to handle, the slab is processed through a splitter. The slab will yield 5 loaves of soap, each of which are cut into 15 bars. 

Soap slab split into loaves, ready to be trimmed and cut

 

The soap is then cut into bars with a wire cutter, 10 at a time.

 

Stamping the Gay Bar - Bisbee Soap & Sundry

 After the bars are cut, they're laid flat to be stamped 

 

 Stamped Gay Bars

 The soap will then cure to perfection, before they're wrapped and sold.