Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A post about something other than chickens

During my time here in Alabama, I have been on the lookout to accumulate authentic rural southern experiences (ARSE). I have butchered hogs, sorted eggs in a factory farm, played dominoes with old men in a shack in the woods, attended cockfights, spent a night in the pokey, traipsed through the woods with my faithful yeller hound dog, eaten boiled okra (the nastiest thing I've ever eaten - far more disgusting than pig lungs or intestines) and, of course, drank my fair share of moonshine.

Well, add a new one to the list because I finally actually got to witness the production of moonshine. Yep, one of the locals trusted me enough to show me his still. Even let me take a picture of it. He went so far as to offer to let me take a picture of him standing next to it but I declined. See, his trust was not misplaced.

In case you don't know how this works, let me give you the basics. The modified beer keg on the right is holding homemade apple wine made last fall. It's heated by propane (the keg is out of frame but you can see the tube leading away from the keg). The alcohol in the wine is the first thing to evaporate and it rises up the copper tubing on top of the keg that leads to the blue barrel full of water. The water cools the alcohol which then condenses back to liquid form, finally dripping out the pipe into the jar on the left.

Notice how the moonshine is blue? At first I thought it was just reflecting the color of the barrel but it was explained to me that the color is actually caused by the corrosive alcohol dissolving the copper, giving the first jar of moonshine a blue tint. The color fades as more alcohol passes through the tubing.

The first jar is also very potent. The alcohol in the jar pictured above is probably around 130 proof. Subsequent jars have lower proofs. When all the jars are mixed together, the final product will hover somewhere around 90 proof. I was told the leftover apple wine still has an alcohol content roughly equal to beer but I didn't think to ask if they drink it or dump it.

I even got to take home a souvenir Mason jar full of moonshine - for display purposes only, of course.


Marlen said...

Hmmm...is this for personal use or for sale in an underground market? How much for a jar? How do people know where to get it?
Man! Between the chicken, family history, caretaking, farming, cockfight, justice system and moonshine stories it's like PBS' American Experience, Nature, Antiques Roadshow and NOVA shows all in one blog!

Ray Clifton said...

Good post. Most people don't realize this still goes on. I'm not really much of a drinker, but I had my first taste in Clay county a few weeks ago. I was expecting it to be strong like bourbon--but it was as smooth as coca cola. I could definitely feel the effect though, with only one sip.

It's pretty cool that you inspired that much confidence to be able to get a photograph.