My first memories of homemade alcohol date from my time crawling around in front my Grandparents fireplace on their farm. Some evenings, my Grandmother would bring out glasses filled with a wine she made herself. My Granddad and parents always treated this as a special occasion and, although I was considered too young to partake, memory tells me they found it very enjoyable. Years later, my Mother passed the recipe along and we used to make it fairly regularly.
It was a simple process involving a glass one gallon jar, some raisins, grape juice, yeast, sugar and a rubber balloon. You placed the ingredients into the jar, stretched the balloon over the mouth of the glass jar, set it in a cool place out of direct sunlight and wait. Over a period of days and weeks, the balloon would slowly inflate. After a time it would begin to deflate and when it finally hung down, the wine was ready. It was then just a matter of straining the wine through a cheese cloth into smaller containers -and enjoy.
My other experience in those early days was provided by my Great Uncle Jubal. He lived in a cabin in a remote area of Eastern Oregon and he had a still. My Granddad decided it was time for me to go on one of their hunting expeditions and we stopped to visit Uncle Jubal. I remember seeing the still and of the group of men passing a jug around. They drank from it just like in the movies -by placing it on their shoulder and literally pouring into their mouths. I was, alas, considered to be still a bit too young to partake.
A few years later, as a still blossoming young adult, I was newly minted Ensign in the Naval Sea Cadets. I went as an escort officer on a 2-week training cruise for a dozen cadets aboard an old, World War II Ammunition Ship, the USS Firedrake. One day I happened upon a group of about 6 sailors drinking what they referred to as “Torpedo Juice”. This incident presented me with a bit of a dilemma. The correct thing was to report the sailors to the ships command -but that would generate resentment, not only towards me but also my cadets and the program. That would have an adverse effect and might even jeopardize being invited back on future cruises. Still, I had an obligation to protect my cadets, and indeed the sailors themselves. The next logical option was to send a sample of the fluid to a lab for safety testing. Being several hundred miles at sea made that course of action unfeasible. The only thing left to do was to place my own life and limb in peril and test the substance on myself. I accepted the offered Dixie cup of Torpedo Juice. The net result was a promise to keep the liquid out of the hands of my cadets and I created several good friends, one of which joined our cadet unit and served for several years as an instructor in basic seamanship. A win-win outcome.
My last experience with home-made brews occurred two decades later when I found myself in the parking lot behind a bar in Dallas, Texas. One of the bartenders, Chuck, had just returned from visiting family in the mountains of Tennessee. He had several cases of Mason Jars in his trunk. Each jar was filled with a clear moonshine he referred to as “Mountain Dew”. It was clearly considered a great honor to be offered a jar of his prized possession. Not wishing to insult the man on this solemn occasion, I accepted the Mason Jar and took a sip. The experience began with an almost instantaneous burning of the lips. That spread to the roof of my mouth and flowed down my throat, through my stomach and wound up in the vicinity of my tailbone. This resulted in my brain releasing enough endorphins to make me feel a little like you do when you start on the down side of the tallest peak of a roller coaster. Unfortunately, I ignored this salient warning and continued to consume this liquid which the Native Americans very appropriately referred to as “Firewater”. While I do not remember much about the subsequent events, I found myself waking up the next morning with a body whose every muscle felt as if I had just run a 26-mile marathon… twice. My stomach was insisting on purging every gram of its contents -by whatever exit was closest. And somewhere during the course of the evening, an entire herd of War Elephants had entered my brain and were now practicing their charge in circles around the inside of my skull.
There are a lot of people out there who see a sign “Wet Paint” on a railing and cannot help but test the paint with their finger. I hope you are not one of them. I hope you will learn from your Cousin Gary’s little story and avoid experimenting with anything called Mountain Dew, Moonshine, Torpedo Juice or any such other colloquialism. My advice is to benefit from my experience. I now confine my alcohol consumption to single-malt, 18-year-old Scotch and the equivalents in Vodka, Rum, Brandy etc.… But be careful. Excess in anything has a price no matter the quality.
Well Cousins, I think that’s enough sage wisdom to pass along for a day. Y’all have a blessed day now, hear?
Live Long and Prosper...