Glenn K. Beaton: I’ll take redneck moonshiners over bluenose revenuers
The Aspen Beat
The Discovery Channel has a series out on moonshiners. The characters are from red states like Tennessee and Kentucky, while the television producers are from blue states like California and New York.
The latter naturally portray the former as stupid.
The red state rednecks tell us that first you find a place for the still, then you haul all the stuff there. There’s a furnace, lots of piping, a condenser and miscellaneous things that go with it like duct tape, barrels, ATVs, propane tanks, sideburns, guns, denim overalls and tattoos.
Lots can go wrong in this business. If you use an old automobile radiator for the condenser, for example, you can poison yourself and your customers with the residual antifreeze. That’s bad for business.
In one episode, a guy named Red Dog had to hop in his pickup to drive his friend to the hospital to recover from heatstroke while they rehydrated with moonshine in mayonnaise jars. In another episode his dog, which wasn’t named Red Dog and wasn’t a labradoodle, got bit by a snake.
The show would have been more interesting — though I suppose less satisfying for the producers — if they had spent less time mocking people they regard as their cultural and political inferiors and more time on science and history. But alas, they’re best at mockery.
The science is straightforward to those rednecks and anyone else who has taken a high school chemistry class. Add yeast to grain mash and let it ferment the sugar into alcohol, then increase the alcohol concentration by heating the solution, letting the alcohol vaporize (it vaporizes at a lower temperature than the water) and condensing the alcohol vapor in the condenser into liquid alcohol.
Being a bit red on the back of my own neck, I made a still with my chemistry set back when chemistry sets contained substances more potent than vinegar and baking soda. My hooch, however, wasn’t strong. Without any special engineering, modern moonshiners (no, that’s not an oxymoron) can produce 190 proof.
That’s also true in commercial distilleries producing legitimate whiskey. The commercial distilleries then dilute the 190 proof with water, which seems a roundabout way to produce 86 proof. The moonshiners often don’t dilute much. Maybe they’re more ethical.
As for the history, I’m proud to report that whiskey-making is rooted in my ancestral home, Scotland, along with classical economics and rational political philosophy.
But whiskey is not the drug of choice for Hollywood producers and their underlings, and they don’t like the classical or rational version of anything, especially economics or political philosophy. When they’re not putting those underlings under them, they like to BS about the philosophy of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engles — whom they’ve never actually read — rather than David Hume and Adam Smith.
Back to whiskey. The Scots always started with malted barley, which is barley grain that has sprouted. They fermented it in the ordinary way.
But the next step in the process — the distillation — presented an unusual problem. Half a millennium ago the Scots denuded their countryside by burning all the trees. They were left with nothing to fuel their stills.
The Scots turned lemon into lemonade while turning spoiled grain into a cognitive-impairing beverage, by burning the only thing left. They burned the earth itself — peat.
As it turns out, peat is better than wood because the peat flavors the scotch. It acquires the distinctive taste of burnt manure, gooey tar, wet leather and dirty underwear. It’s better than it sounds.
Then they put the distilled scotch into old barrels for years where it acquires the taste of old barrels. That’s also where it acquires a little brownness — coming out of the still, it’s clear.
The end product is called scotch. If it’s made at one location with a single batch of barley, it’s single-malt scotch.
When the English began clearing the Scottish Highlands — a policy of genocide — refugees with the skill to make this concoction immigrated to America and often settled in Appalachia to reconstitute their clans, resume their feuds (remember the Hatfields and McCoys?) and practice their criminal art.
Immigrants truly make this country great, eh?
As often happens, the government wanted a piece of the action. The moonshiners refused to pay the stinking liquor tax, so the government types would search out and bust up the illicit stills of these hardworking and hard-drinking souls. Those government types seeking revenue on the trade were called “revenuers.”
So on one side we have entrepreneurial, armed, criminal, drunken, sweaty, backyard-engineering rednecks driving pickup trucks with gun racks while wearing filthy overalls over hairy backs and trying to make a semi-honest living by manufacturing a semi-safe drink.
On the other side we have pusillanimous, under-endowed revenuers with their smug and perverted media enablers stealing money for a leftist governmental empire.
I’ll take the rednecks. And the hooch, please.
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Like the trails we hike and ride upon, our forest journeys can be capricious, going down an intriguing path, unintended in the beginning, but bringing a sweet, or bitter, experience before we’re through.