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mbrowley

All About Moonshining/Home Distilling

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Hey all ~

I am looking for help, leads and suggestions. I am currently writing a book on home distillation for the utter novice, for the folks who have never even homebrewed so much as beer. Why? Because it’s become nearly cliché when writing about moonshining to say (1) it’s a dying or dead craft and (2) only clever, resourceful and proud mountain folks ever made it in the first place. Shine is alive and well in nearly every community in America and made by distillers who have never seen a mountain, much less the ould sod. Granted, some of that whiskey should go back in hiding, but occasionally some pretty good stuff comes out of stills from New Jersey to Oregon.

Also, the few good distillation books on the market today are solid but intimidating for the beginner, so I’m leaving off where others pick up. The MS already has recipes (Beginner’s Corn Whiskey, Applejack - stilled and frozen varieties - and Baby Step Bourbon, for instance) and copper pot still plans. The hefty chapter underway now is on the history, status and future of home-distilled spirits in the US and includes interviews with home distillers and moonshiners.

The historical/cultural angle of the book includes engravings, illustrations, photos, historical documents, manuscript recipes, lyrics about whiskey-making, etc.

I hope that the eGullet folks can lend a hand in my hunt for additional distilling, moonshining and whiskey-making ephemera to illustrate the book. If you have, or know of sources for, materials such as photos (still raids, pour-outs, whiskey-making, etc.), news clippings, public health posters (“Moonshine Kills” - that sort of thing), cartoons, IRS publications, memoirs, scripts, penny arcade flickers, films, scrapbooks, substantial historical collections in museums, libraries or archives, sheriffs’ departments records, court cases involving illicit distillers, etc., please contact me at

Mbrowley at aol.com

What am I defining at moonshine? Any artisanal spirit – rum, brandy, whiskey, gin, applejack, etc – distilled without specific governmental permits. Aged texts – “The Acccomplisht Cook” or “Delightes for Ladies” for example – that discuss distillation are within scope as well.

Matthew Rowley

No matter what anyone tells you about the fine old drop of the mountain dew, it stands to sense that a few old men sitting up in the back of a haggard in the mountains with milk churns and all sorts of improvised apparatus cannot hope to make good spirits.

~ Irish author Brendan Behan (who should have known better)

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A sidebar comment....our maitre'd and I were talking about applejack last night, and he commented that his grandfather used to make Raisinjack! Sounds interesting.

Audrey

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Oooh - I will so buy your book. I've been wanting to build a little (like 1-2 litre) still at home for a while and now finally have a bit of work space even.

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Calling all hands. Help this man. He is doing important work in an important field. He also has access to homebrew. Be nice to him. You won't go thirsty.

Matt,

It's great to see you on the board.

As far as photos go, look at the one below my name. That was taken of a guy outside of Scottsboro, AL in the 30's. I know where it came from and might be able to find some more. I'll shoot you an email.

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A sidebar comment....our maitre'd and I were talking about applejack last night, and he commented that his grandfather used to make Raisinjack!  Sounds interesting.

Audrey

Hey Audrey ~

The only raisinjack I've sampled was a low-alcohol (I'm guessing 4-6% abv) fermented raisin wine. Was ok, but nothing to rant about: I'd be curious to know about family recipes and traditions surrounding raisinjack.

Now I HAVE had a prune (er....excuse me, "dried plum") brandy while looking over a different batch undergoing fermentation prior to distillation -- looked like a pail full of sizzling cow flops that made me question just what it was I was putting to my lips. All in the name of research...

Matt

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A sidebar comment....our maitre'd and I were talking about applejack last night, and he commented that his grandfather used to make Raisinjack!  Sounds interesting.

Hmmm... I thought they made that stuff in jail. Or is that pruno?

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Calling all hands. Help this man. He is doing important work in an important field. He also has access to homebrew. Be nice to him. You won't go thirsty.

Matt,

It's great to see you on the board.

As far as photos go, look at the one below my name. That was taken of a guy outside of Scottsboro, AL in the 30's. I know where it came from and might be able to find some more. I'll shoot you an email.

Brooks,

You're kind. Thank you for the offer: I love the photo. Catch me on the side and we can talk about originals.

I got a nice visit the other day: A fruit vendor in Philadelphia's Italian Market has been making his own wine for years (winemaking is an entrenched Italian tradition here). With the must, he's been making grappa recently. He's curious, but had never tried distilling til this year. His yield on nearly 30 pounds of must? About 12 ounces of South Philly tangle-leg. We're discussing efficiency, heads and tails...

Matt

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Hmmm... I thought they made that stuff in jail.  Or is that pruno?

Yep, pruno's one of the names for jailhouse hooch. Sometimes, it's distilled: a recent bust in New Zealand revealed a still made of a discharged fire extinguisher hidden in a hole chipped into a concrete floor.

Pruno is, by all accounts, vile. I haven't sampled that particular delight. It's made of anything fermentable in jails, but common ingredients include ketchup, canned fruit, sugar cubes or packets intended for coffee/tea, dinner rolls or biscuits, all mooshed together in a sealed plastic bag. One guy described it as "vomit-flavored wine coolers."

(check out the poem "Recipe For Prison Pruno" by Jarvis Masters at http://www.moderndrunkardmagazine.com/issu...-jailhouse.htm).

Last summer (2004), a botulism outbreak sparked by a bad, bad batch of pruno among connoiseurs in Ironwood State Prison (California) wiped out the southwest's entire antitode supply. Try some if you like, but I'm sticking to the clear stuff...

Matt

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I am a complete ignorant in the forum of homemade hooch, yet also an extremely willing participant. Okay, so the old stuff sucked. But I'm sure that by "doing the work" we can build a better mousetrap and "advance the cause". I just love the idea of raisinjack and applejack; et al; blah, blah....let's not waste time, the winter is coming, so let's just forge ahead andplay with it in hot toddies for the heck of it........?

No?

while we're at it, let's ask McGee about spirits. I cannot tell you how excited I am to tune in next week, even if only as a voyeur. I've been waiting, waiting, waiting for November to come, and scouring amazon for the last month in hopes of pre-purchasing his book. No luck; AARGH..... I don't remember the last time I was so excited about something. I hope the book comes out by Thanksgiving so I can devote the whole weekend to -just it-.

AAHHH!!! When???!!!

Aud.

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I am a complete ignorant in the forum of homemade hooch, yet also an extremely willing participant.  Okay, so the old stuff sucked.  But I'm sure that by "doing the work" we can build a better mousetrap and "advance the cause".  I just love the idea of raisinjack and applejack; et al; blah, blah....let's not waste time,  the winter is coming, so let's just forge ahead andplay with it in hot toddies for the heck of it........?

Sounds like a cool idea. Funny, I had exactly the opposite thought about the quality of homemade alcoholic beverages. Maybe it's because I've consumed most of mine in Italy, but my impression has always been that it can be pretty darn good. The problem with most homemade distilled stuff is that the technology and techniques are not advanced enough for the home distiller to make sure only the right alcohols make it into the mix. The result is lots of headache-producing (along other, nastier, things) congeners. This is fine, if the alcohol is treated post-distillation in a way that will reduce the presence of the congeners -- the easiest being to age the spirit in wood. When this step is skipped, then yea... it can definitely be a hair-on-chest-growing experience to drink the stuff.

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My father was hired by the Boston Police Dept to help destroy bootlegged whiskey during the prohibition. they had special pockets sewn into their raincoats (necessary, as they were using axes on casks and bottles of good canadian whiskey) to facilitate smuggling out as many bottles as possible. The good Boston cops turned the other way, as my dad and his brothers were without a father (he himself was a Boston cop who died under suspicious circumstances) and they wanted to help the lads out. They put themselves through Boston College selling that liquor to the Harvard boys. That and the bathtub gin and bottled beer they made in the basement. Grandmother put the ban on the beer when a 'few' of them blew up, but never said a word about the gin. I still have the instrument (what IS that called?) that gives the alcohol and/or sugar content. have no idea how to use it though...

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O.K. (Deep Breath)

I may be about to get into some trouble here, as well as elsewhere, but...Homemade hootch ain't really all that hard. In fact, it's really dumbass simple.

A little background:

I used to make my own beer, back when you couldn't buy good beer and then I quit 'cuz, all of a sudden, you could buy good beer. So I started making my own cider because.......well, you can guess the rest. So let's just say that I know a little about fermentables.

So on a whim, I moved up to Maine and found 7 gallons of (Bottled) 2 year old cider in the basement of my new house. It just had to be gawdawful, right?

So we fermented it out.

It was STILL gawdawful.

What to do, what to do?

Vinegar seemed like a lot of trouble, seeing as we'd already gone to a lot of trouble making gawdawful cider.

Thinking Cap time.

So I'm unpacking some of my boxes and what lands in my hands? Annie Proulx's Cider book. (I can't lay hands on it now, but I'm pretty sure her husband had a hand in its production too.) Towards the back of it are instructions for building a stove-top still, with all the legal disclaimers about how illegal the project is, but it's included for, ahem, educational purposes only. Amazingly simple, even though it might take you 2 hours to construct.

Ingredients:

Copper pipe (1/8 inch will do)

Pressure cooker

5 gallon pickle bucket

Some fittings

A funnel, if you wanna get fancy.

You'll need a calculator too, if you wanna keep it drinkable.

So we distilled this horrible cider into something that kept us warm that winter. When the fire in the stove died down, we'd fortify our inner man with a couple of shots, rush out and grab a few more logs for tossin' on.

We were living in a part of Kennebunkport known as "The Landing", so we called our little product, "The Lift-off".

Gots me some pics, too.

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/10999385..._1099938999.jpg

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/10999385..._1099938636.jpg

http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/10999385..._1099938636.jpg

Myers

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I almost forgot:

Matt, there's some precious as well as informative stuff about Appalachian Moonshinin' and Bootlegging in one of the Foxfire books, I believe it's # 4. Some great first person accounts of beating the 'revenuer' as well as some pretty good recipes for still making, mashing etc. There may even be an account from an old timer telling how they used to use car radiators as condensers until some folks went blind--either from the lead, rust or residual anti-freeze. It's been a long time since I've seen that one, so my recollection may be hazy.

It also has instructions for making your own Banjo. Go figure.

Myers

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I'd suggest as a reference The Foxfire Books as having interesting pictures and articles about making moonshine. The books were published as an ongoing project by a high school in Rabun's Gap, GA (I THINK). They deal with the history of the area and throughout the mountains. I'm not good at the link thing, :angry: but I looked on Amazon and they have the books, some as cheap as $1.79 used...

(edited because my brain gets ahead of my fingers...)


Edited by judiu (log)

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O.K.  (Deep Breath)

I may be about to get into some trouble here, as well as elsewhere, but...Homemade hootch ain't really all that hard.  In fact, it's really dumbass simple.

Myers

Hey Myers ~

Thanks for the smiles. A lot of this stuff seems to get made in the winter in the north when it's too damn cold to go out. One of the guys I interviewed for the book went to school in the Hudson Valley and lived among guys who made a LOT of cider. He also worked as a "corksoaker" at a winery where he got the idea to make what he calls "dumpster grappa" from the winery refuse.

You are dead on right: Making whiskey isn't the least bit hard. Making a birdhouse is probably more difficult. Assembling a child's bike certainly is. Making *good* whiskey and brandy, though...now therein lies skill.

Thanks for the links to the photos. Were you doing second runs?

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The Foxfire books were my introduction to stilling. I recall lying on the floor in my parents' home by the fireplace one day when a freezing Missouri ice storm brought the town to a halt. I thought immediately of a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which he outwits two feudin' hillwilliams (the epitome of pop culture moonshiners) and fell asleep thinking that building a still would be a good project to take on with my father.

What I am hunting for are the things that document moonshining and home distillation in the US. I love the stories (savvy Boston prohibition agents, for instance, gave my crows' feet a workout) and will always like to hear more, but what I especially lack right now is a broad-based collection of documents and material culture - original photos, posters, government propaganda/education/outreach, pop culture references to moonshining and distilling, etc.

Matt

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All I know is that my high school chemistry teacher had us make some rum as a -- ahem -- "project." It was nice to have all that fine scientific equipment for the project. And the school board never learned about this experiment. Methinks my teacher might have lost his job if he tried to do that today. Good luck, Matt!

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You might take out a short term subscription to a legal search engine and look for court cases for some background. I once had a client who was charged with "moonshining" on a rather large scale. I recall that he pled guilty and served 5 years in the Atlanta federal prison. Robyn

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You might take out a short term subscription to a legal search engine and look for court cases for some background.  I once had a client who was charged with "moonshining" on a rather large scale.  I recall that he pled guilty and served 5 years in the Atlanta federal prison.  Robyn

Robyn ~

Thanks. I've had a blast plowing through the old law cases as is. The"malum in se" and "malum prohibitum" distinction set out in State v. Horton, 139 N.C. 588, 51 S.E. 945, 946 (1905) was especially useful. The Atlanta federal pen, by the way, is where a lot of moonshiners served time. In the company of other moonshiners, of course. Where they talked shop and traded technique. Reformed? Not so much -- many went home armed with new knowledge for increased efficiency and better margins. Five years is a long stretch, though. If I were one to distill, that's powerfully strong discouragement to backsliding...

Matt

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Robyn ~

Thanks.  I've had a blast plowing through the old law cases as is. The"malum in se" and "malum prohibitum" distinction set out in State v. Horton, 139 N.C. 588, 51 S.E. 945, 946 (1905) was especially useful.  The Atlanta federal pen, by the way, is where a lot of moonshiners served time.  In the company of other moonshiners, of course.  Where they talked shop and traded technique. Reformed?  Not so much -- many went home armed with new knowledge for increased efficiency and better margins.  Five years is a long stretch, though.  If I were one to distill, that's powerfully strong discouragement to backsliding...

Matt

My client bought sugar in railroad tanker cars. It wasn't exactly a "ma and pa" business :wink: . He asked to be sent to Atlanta - all his friend were there. Robyn

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i would be happy to contribute some "memoirs" but many of the details i can't remember due to blackouts.

(i'm from tn!)

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I guess you've seen Leon W Kania "The Alaskan Bootleggers Bible" ISBN 0-967452406, which is a book much like yoiu describe with good illustrations for the beginner.

I've made in the past (for my own interest and use) apple jack with some of my own hard cider. Its easy to do - just leave a plastic keg in the deep freeze, and drain off the liquor. Depending on the cider you start with, its pretty rough stuff, as the process does not seperate out any of the congeners or fusel oils. I can't imagine drinking it for pleasure without further conditioning and aging.

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I can't imagine drinking it for pleasure without further conditioning and aging.

You bet: raw, unaged applejack made by the freezing method is harsh stuff indeed. This is the version that a lot of curious first-timers try (easy, neglible equipment costs, quick results), but it's so fiery that it's also the last they make. A shame ~ from my interviews, the type of person drawn to home distilling is invariably curious, almost obsessive, about tweaking their process to eke out more efficiency and better spirits.

A run through activated carbon and some aging for that applejack might have brought those discouraged first-timers back into the fold.

Matt

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Southern Born and Southern Raised---never had the taste for any kind of liquor, shine included, but my husband's dowry included the contents of a quite elegant bar, not the least of which were several TWO-liter soft-drink bottles of the good ole homemade stuff, gifts from friends along the Alabama backroads.

Once when my SIL was visiting, a great group of us broke out the shine for all to have a taste. SIL drank most of her first glass, cut about half-and-half with Diet Sprite by one of the ever-willing volunteer bartenders in the group. She went back to the bar during the evening, replenished her drink on her own, then got up and "lightened" it a bit from time to time.

UNTIL she was weaving in her chair, having poured shine from one bottle over her ice, then "cutting" the strength with a pour from a Sprite bottle containing even more of the hard stuff. Glad we noticed her condition before she Sprited herself unconscious.

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