Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mama's singin' you to sleep With a moonshine lullaby

When Mad Scientist told me he was going to make moonshine at home, I realized I had two options:
1. Freak out and forbid it.
2. Allow it, with the knowledge that he would probably not be successful.

I usually choose the path of least resistance, so I went with option number two. While not encouraging the moonshine hobby, I voiced only the mildest of objections: (But how will you build a still? Where will we put it? Isn't it illegal? Do you promise not to blow up the house? If you're not planning to drink it, what will you do with it?)

One morning I got up to get ready for work and discovered the kitchen counters, and indeed most flat surfaces were mysteriously sticky. The sink was cluttered with sticky measuring cups and spoons, there were circular stains on the stovetop and the whole kitchen had an aura of feverish activity only recently abandoned, though it was 5:30am. I knew that Mad Scientist was responsible for the mess but did not connect it with the moonshine business until I got home from work that night and he revealed assorted recycled containers--including plastic milk jugs which he claimed he'd "sterilized"-- filled to the brim with homemade "mash" that he had filed away in the drawer of a filing cabinet in his bedroom--the original contents of which he had transferred to his backpack (and probably the space under his bed and who knows where else--they were Jon's papers he relocated, not his own.) The room had an unpleasant yeasty smell, and Mr. McP, who shares the room with Mad Scientist complained vociferously.

There followed several very uncomfortable days. The yeasty smell pervaded the upstairs, and the rest of the house as Mad Scientist moved the containers about, trying to find the ideal warm spot for his mash to ferment. You never knew where you'd encounter the reeking jugs--wrapped in towels and stacked on the dresser in the bathroom, resting on the heating ducts in the living room, in the sink, which was plugged and filled part way with hot water. There were dribbles of spilled mash everywhere and Mr. McP refused to sleep in his room because of the smell.

And still I didn't get mad. No, I didn't get mad until I realized that he had used almost an entire 1-pound package of SAF instant yeast for his mash. Instant yeast is about three times stronger than regular baking yeast. I have to order it specially. The amount he used was probably a six month supply for me, and I bake a lot. By a conservative estimate, Mad Scientist used enough yeast, in his mash, to bake 75 pizzas.

Then he started asking me to buy him materials with which to make a still. I didn't recall, in not specifically forbidding the moonshine, to agreeing to buy my son a still. I was trying to be all Zen Mom about the whole thing so I told him to put the items on his Christmas list. My last drop of Zen dried up when the Christmas list specified a six-gallon kettle and twenty feet of copper tubing. Twenty feet of copper tubing?! This is a 1600 sq foot house with two adults, three teen-agers, one admitedly slim ten year old--but he comes with fencing equipment-- and three pets. George-the-bunny took up our last remaining spare square inches of living space. We do not have room for twenty feet of sunbeams delivered personally by the Angel Gabriel, let alone twenty feet of illegal still tubing. Suddenly, I wasn't Zen Mom. I was Mom-Whose-Mug-Shot-is-Displayed-on-the-Evening-News.

Meanwhile, Mad Scientist would step away from the computer, where he was shopping for the best buys in Still Supplies and I would find on it unsettling pictures of grimy home stoves holding enormous makeshift stills--the one Mad seemed to favor involved a pot lid that was held down with a load of bricks. I was so worried about space, tidiness and legality, it didn't even occur to me to wonder why the bricks were necessary, but clearly things blowing up is a potential hazard of the home lickker making biznes.

But Zen prevailed. Mad Scientist could not find a satisfactory connector or fitting that he needed, and announced abruptly that he was abandoning the whole project. Well not quite abandoning. There was still all that mash, which he said he would like to taste. I knew I had two options:
1. Freak out and force him to flush the whole mess down the toilet.
2. Say nothing because one sip would be disgusting enough to prompt him to throw it away on his own.

He did drink wine while we were in Italy. It is just expected there that kids his age will drink with dinner, so would a taste of poorly-fermented and probably non-alcoholic sugar, yeast & water really hurt him other than to make him puke, an outcome he deserved anyway after subjecting us all to the smell?

I went with number two. The outcome? I am proven right again.


  1. Maybe you can encourage him to lactoferment veggies, instead. Or make vinegar.

    We do hot peppers. And have done kimchi. Thinking about doing daikon and beets. And I want a kraut crock.

    Or he could make yogurt. Or kefir. There are folks locally trading different cultures.

    And when he's ready to try alcohol again, suggest something Mom actually wants to drink, like cider or mead.

  2. He could try making kombucha. I think there's a lot of money in the kombucha business, whereas moonshine stills are a dime a dozen. He could be a feted local supplier to the raw foodists of Charlottesville.

  3. I think you should save about a pint of it for toasting him at his wedding some day!

  4. You are PATIENT. I think I'd have lost it at the sticky kitchen! Why didn't he use the bathtub for making his gin? isn't that how they did it in the old days? That's a story for the grandkids...

  5. Doesn't he know that in limited space, wine is much easier to make yourself? ...requires a lot less specialized equipment, anyway.

    RYC: I do wonder if a sizeable portion of the people who are helped by low-carb diets are being helped not so much because of the reduced carbs, but because they are cutting out wheat.

  6. Hilarious.

    "We do not have room for twenty feet of sunbeams delivered personally by the Angel Gabriel, let alone twenty feet of illegal still tubing."


  7. And tell me again why this kid is called Mad Scientist?

    I hope you save this one to tell the grandchildren. Great story!