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Lloyd Waters: The art of making moonshine

November 18, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

Whether it is wise to share this story with you or not, it is a pretty good tale in these parts. I would, however, offer some general advice.

Unlike the state and federal governments who enjoy one’s alcohol consumption for the benefit of tax dollars, I do not condone or encourage drinking in any way. Nor do I like alcoholics who would cause irreparable damage to families and others by their drinking.

On the other hand, I like to tell people that “God created the grapes; he did not create the drunks.”

One always has a choice in life.

Now, with that said, my very first experience with “moonshine” occurred when I was about 13 years of age. It was on a frosty cold November morn, and I was with a group of hog butchers standing around a scalding tank waiting for the water to get hot and daylight to arrive.

Someone had a Mason jar filled with some “shine” and passed it around the group of men. The jar came around to me and I took my very first sip of white lightning.

The taste was sharp and bitter, made me blink a few times, and tasted quite warm on its way down. I passed the jar on.

I never acquired a great desire to drink “moonshine” but a swig of the stuff now and then always keeps me in touch with my ancestors. My father-in-law, Leon, God rest his soul, was a master of making wines and moonshine. 

Before you turn up your nose at the topic of moonshine, you should know a few things.

Making whiskey has a long history, which probably dates back to the Scots and Irish. I’d like to have a nickel for each jar that passed through Frog Hollow.

In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton came up with the idea to tax liquor to help pay for our new country’s military debt. 

What a novel idea. We’ve been paying taxes ever since and we’re still paying for wars.

President George Washington got into whiskey making after he left office. His distillery produced some 11,000 gallons of the stuff in his first year of retirement.

Making moonshine is a work of art, and not everyone should try it.

The last old man I knew who made it followed some easy steps.

He combined his ingredients of corn meal (barley or wheat), sugar, water and yeast in a large container;

Yeast is the “worker” that makes good bread and liquor, too.

Once the ingredients get acquainted for about 12 to 15 days, it was time for the cooking and retrieving the alcohol from the still into the Mason jar.

I’m not going to provide any more specifics; the Internet is available for you moonshine enthusiasts. Be sure to check existing laws.

Many years ago, however, I arose early before dawn to visit the old man. He was running off his brew, and I could see the shine dropping from the copper tube into the Mason jar.

“Take a swig,” he said. I did. “Pretty strong,” I said back.

He put the lid on the jar and shook it. Good moonshiners can tell you the proof of the alcohol by observing the size of the bubbles after shaking.

“Needs some water,” he said.

“Would you like a piece of raspberry cheesecake?” the old man asked.

Sure, I responded, and he went into his house to get me a slice. When he came back out, he gave me another little swig of his proud shine.

“How is it now?” he asked. “That’s a lot better,” I said.

I offered him one last comment.

“You know, I bet there’s not a king or queen in the rest of the world drinking moonshine and eating raspberry cheesecake before dawn,” I said.

He laughed and agreed.

For sure, the old man was an artist.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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