Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Livin' in the old days

I come from a long line of distinguished entrepreneurs, that means either there were no jobs, or they would do anything to avoid them.

Coal mining in the thirties and forties would be a career choice to avoid. Traveling down a slope until you're a couple of miles underground to work long hours by the light of a carbide lamp just doesn't sound like appealing work.

My daddy had gaggle of fairly rowdy brothers, who were prone to take up anything that would turn a dollar. Junk dealing, logging, digging railroad tunnels, little harmless things like that.The neighborhood being remote and the economy being shot in the foot, they turned to making moonshine. We're Irish what do you expect?

Folks will always have money for liquor, even if they don’t have the money for anything else.

Daddy and the boys had to taste the brew so they determined to make good clean ‘shine, no radiators, or dead things in the beer box. Just grain feed, preferably sweet feed, sugar and yeast. For your daily lesson in alcohol production please make a note to purchase yeast for brewing purposes, bread yeast will work, or leaving the top off will work, but the end product will taste like spoiled bread. Yecch!

I have tasted moonshine from an old home made copper still with a wooden bottom. I have no idea why anyone would put a wooden bottom in a still. It was made with grocery store variety yeast, the liquor smelled horrible and tasted worse. It would, however, burn with a clear blue flame all the way to the bottom of a spoon. The burn in your throat and belly was another situation all together. That stuff was clear as water and would take the hair off your tongue like paint stripper.

The talented distiller can cook off enough water with the alcohol to give you a buzz without pickling the surrounding organs in the process. My predecessors, I am proud to say, were very talented. The first taste of adult beverage to pass my lips came from the household supply of one of my uncles. We were going fox hunting. I and two of my cousins were along for the ride, and when we stopped to see if another dog owner would be along, the cousins dived over the seat, snagged the brown paper bag from the front, and we had a swig. I was twelve or so, and it was pretty tasty. I suspect my uncle knew we had a nip, and I also suspect he knew it was inevitable.

Daddy and the boys were, as previously noted, not to be trifled with. Trifling would result in bruises, or worse, no more ‘shine. Sobriety was a fate not to be contemplated, possibly worse than employment. The boys would visit the regulars and chat about every thing except drinking, and by the time they moved on, the customer would know where to leave the money, and pick up the product.

One of Daddy’s favorite stories told of heading out on a errand to deliver a couple of jars of refreshment. As he walked out of the holler, for you city folks, that’s a small valley, a stranger came down off the mountain and started a conversation with daddy. It turned out that the stranger was a revenue officer looking for some moonshiners in the area.

Guess who.

They walked along for a while as daddy allowed as he didn’t know much of anything. Eventually the officer pealed off and daddy went his way. He had two fifths wrapped up in a shoe box under his arm the whole time.

When I was growing up, all of us spent days at a time looking for their still. We never found it, and if you ever tried to hide anything from kids you know how hard that is. It must be deep under ground, its not too far to carry sugar and grain, and has to be near water.
My oldest uncle was a bootlegger and moonshiner until the day he died. I expect the old still has collapsed by now, sugar prices ran the moonshiners out of business when the feds couldn't’t. I still know of a few hardy souls who would rather make their own, they are few and far between. It can be bought but the price is high. I have the craft but haven’t learned the art. If I ever need to barter to survive, as I said people will always want their liquor.

I’ll bet you didn’t know the reason your milk jug has a snap on top, rather than a screw top, is to keep moonshiners from putting liquor in them.

1 comment:

HollyB said...

But, my milk jug DOES have a screw top...does that mean I could go into the moonshine business?
I know how to make Kahlua from cheap vodka and a vanilla bean...