Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Acidman takes me on a trip down memory lane, with his recent discussions about alcohol. My Momma has been making wine for the past thirty years and has the recipes for every vat of wine she ever made. She knows her business and there is always something to sample over there. She recently made a deal with a florist to get all the wilted roses. She picks those rose petals off the stems and puts them in a big crock. When she gets it full enough, she adds water and sugar and makes wine out of rose-petals. You amateurs try THAT and see what you come up with. Momma's is lightly flavored, but packs a lethal punch. We call it anniversary wine. If you can't get lucky with a bottle of rose-petal wine, you did something wrong earlier in the day.

But, this story concerns alcohol of a more pure variety, moonshine. Way back in the early 1970's, my Daddy decided that making moonshine was a dying art and he wanted to teach his boys how to make moonshine. Dad's best friend, we'll call him Chester, had a body shop on Lee Street in Alexandria. Chester liked shine, so we decided to set up the still in an old paint booth at the body shop. The still was made out of stainless steel and the piece de resistance was a four foot filtering tower made of stainless, packed with charcoal.

We got some corn and made mash, then let it ferment for a couple of days. When the men decided that the fermentation was complete, we ran a fish-cooker under the boiler (also stainless, with pressure and temperature gages) and started cooking off the mash. Acidman is right that you want to keep the temperature under 200 degrees, because alcohol boils under 200 degrees and water boils over 200 degrees. What you want is the alcohol to boil off of the mash, then cool in your cooling coil, drip down through the charcoal filter, then get captured in a suitable container.

We did that, making about five gallons of crystal clear, absolutely pure alcohol. That afternoon, we mixed up some more mash (I recall using a huge washtub to make the mash), then left the shop. Four or five days later we were back there to run off the second batch. We had just started the fish cooker and went up to the front office for coffee when Mr. Chennault, the head revenuer of our area drove up in front of the shop, got out of his car and knocked on the door. Dad let him in.

Mr. Chennault poured some coffee. "Hey boys, what's going on?"

Chester replied, "Just waiting on a car to dry so we can get it out of the paint booth."

Chennault looked out into the shop. "Ya know? I was driving past here yesterday and caught a whiff of sour mash. Someone around here is making shine, but I can't figure out which shop is making it."

Dad stirred his coffee. "You don't say."

Chennault sipped his coffee. "Yeah, and if I catch them, I'm gonna have to do my job. It's been a long time since I busted up a still. If you boys hear anything, I'd appreciate if you give me a call."

"We sure will."

Mr. Chennault rinsed his cup in the sink and wandered out to his car. We broke the still down that night, after running off the second batch.


Anonymous said...

I KNOW how to make it. I come from a long line of moonshiners that practiced their skills in the hollows of eastern Kentucky. My "papaw" taught me well.


Elisson said...

As a high school kid, I had no clue as to what I was doing. But I learned how to run a still in engineering school, so I could do it today. But I will not pretend to know as much as your Daddy.

I really do have a glass still - but that's small, good only for lab work. You could make a few shots with it, but it would take way too long to make a decent amount (Boiler holds only about a pint). You want to make 'shine, you've got to use - as you pointed out - stainless or copper, and watch out for that lead solder.

Being the lazy guy I am, though, I just buy my hooch at th' store...

Anonymous said...

Well, how did your dad say it tasted? Was it like Everclear? Any flavor?