Moonshining as a Fine Art: The Foxfire Americana Library - Foxfire Students (2011)
HOW GOOD WHISKEY IS BEING RUINED
1. Stills are often made of sheet iron or valley tin instead of copper. These metals often burn the beer and give it a strange taste.
2. The beer is often run too early before it has a chance to sour properly.
3. The whiskey is sometimes condensed in a straight worm which does not let it slow down enough to cool off properly. This gives it a harsh, hot taste.
4. Often whiskey is scorched because it is not watched properly, not stirred while heating, or because the fire under the still is too hot.
5. If whiskey is not strained properly, it will contain elements that can make one violently ill.
6. Radiators used as condensers are extremely dangerous. They can never be cleaned out completely, and the end result is sometimes whiskey that can cause lead poisoning.
7. Potash is sometimes used to “fake” a high bead. This is the same material soap is made out of, and it can be poisonous.
8. Sometimes potash and ground up Irish potatoes are added to the malt to make it work off quicker and yield more.
9. Often vessels are left dirty, and produce “popskull” liquor.
10. Instead of pure corn malt, some use yeast.
11. Instead of pure corn meal, some use “wheat shorts” so it won’t stick to the still.
12. Many cut the final product to 60-70 proof and add beading oil to fake quality and high proof.
13. It is rumored that some people set batteries down in the mash boxes to make it work more quickly; but another we talked to hinted that that might just have been a rumor put out by federal agents to hurt the sale of whiskey. We could get nothing concrete on this one way or another.
14. One of our contacts knows a man who uses a groundhog still which he fills two-thirds full of water which he then heats. Then he adds fifty pounds of wheat bran, four 100-pound sacks of sugar, and two cans of yeast. That’s it. No souring—nothing. Apparently it makes “pretty” whiskey which holds a good bead, but has a funny “whang” flavor.
The biggest problem, of course, is as we have hinted several times before—the desire for quantity rather than quality. One retired moonshiner said, “When I was working for th’ forest service and saw th’ filth and th’ nature of most of th’ stills in th’ woods today, th’ prouder I was that I quit drinkin’ th’ stuff. I don’t see how more people don’t get killed.”
Another claimed that he had often had people who make whiskey themselves come to him to buy the liquor they were going to drink. They were afraid to drink their own.
It apparently is not that difficult to get away with making bad whiskey, because most of it is sold through bootleggers who themselves don’t know where it came from. In addition, much of it is shipped to the poorer districts of some of the bigger cities, and the people who buy it there have no means of finding out who made it. Thus the operator of the still is reasonably safe, rarely having to pay for his sloppiness.
He earns little respect among his neighbors, however. As one said, “A man ought to be put in a chain gang with a ball tied to him if he uses potash to make whiskey. ’Bout all you can call that is low-down meanness. He ain’t makin’ it t’drink himself, and he ain’t makin’ it fit for anyone else to drink neither.”