24 March 2009

Food & Drink: Do It Yourself Hooch

By Delia DeLeest

Mother's in the kitchen
Washing out the jugs;
Sister's in the pantry
Bottling the suds;
Father's in the cellar
Mixing up the hops;
Johnny's on the front porch
Watching for the cops.
(Mendelson and Mello, 1985, p. 86)
Not everyone during Prohibition was able or even wanted to go to a speakeasy to obtain their hit of liquor. Some preferred to do their drinking at home, and if they didn't have access to their friendly, neighborhood bootlegger, they made their own.

There were a couple ways to do this. My favorite was the company who manufactured a juice called Vine-Glo and put this warning label on their bottle:

"Warning: do not store a full bottle of this product in a cool, dark place for 60-80 days or it will ferment and become alcohol."

Nope, we wouldn't want that to happen, would we? They got a little more daring as time went on and soon were making claims "the product would come up to the standard of any pre-War wine," taking advantage of a loophole in the law that although you couldn't buy, sell or transport alcoholic beverages, you could make them. That line would become Vine-Glo's downfall, however, and the courts, sick of ambiguities, forced Vine-Glo's parent company, Fruit Industries, to take it off the market. Donald D. Conn, Managing Director for Fruit Industries responded that the company would no longer sell Vine-Glo and the company's other concentrates--Virginia Dare, Wine-Haven, Guasti--would be sold as soft drinks only. "If anyone still wants to let Virginia Dare, Wine-Haven or Guasti sit 60 days and ferment like Vine-Glo into wine, Fruit Industries will not and does not want to know anything about it." Sounds like he learned HIS lesson, didn't he? (Time Magazine, 1931)

If you were more of a do it yourselfer, there were other options open. You could always make Bathtub Gin. I've read conflicting information regarding bathtub gin. Some say that it was so-called because the ingredients needed to be mixed and steeped in a large tub and the bootleggers bathtub fit the bill--though I wouldn't want to stand downwind of the guy after he'd been using his bathtub for brewing purposes only for any length of time. Another report said that it wasn't made in a bathtub at all, but, because the long-necked bottles used for storage were too tall to fit under the kitchen tap, thus they got the water they needed from the bathtub.

As long as you mixed, brewed and drank your concoctions at home, you were okay. But the minute you tried to sell or transport them, you suddenly found yourself on the wrong side of the law, though it was a law that many scoffed at. I think old Mrs. Jeske said it best when my husband, who, when he was painting her house, found an old copper still up in her attic. With a little blush and a giggle, she said, "Well, you know, times were hard in those days, and you did what you could to make money."