Saturday, April 22, 2017

Drive - A Memoir 99th Installment

This disaster notwithstanding, Russ and I begged Edith and Vernon out of a gallon of the good wine and set out to build a still. We decided to use an old pressure canner. We took the pressure regulator weight fob off and connected a ¼ inch, twenty foot long copper tube to it. We stretched the tube out, and then curled it into a coil with the other end in a mason jar. We stuck a thermometer onto the lid with some sticky paste we found. Lastly, we parked the cooker on our Coleman two-burner camp stove and lit it up.

I’ve been reading in the Encyclopedia Britannica for the last few minutes and discovered that alcohol evaporates at 176 degrees, and we know from school that water boils at 212 degrees.” I began explaining to Russ.

So what?” Russ said. “Less talk and more cooking. I always say, turn up the heat – only cowards cook on low.”

No, this is important!” I said, irked by his lack of patience. “If we boil the wine, we’ll get steam mixed in the alcohol which will make really watered down booze. On the other hand, if we carefully cook it at 180 degrees we’ll get pure ‘white lightning’! We have to sit here and watch the thermometer and adjust the flame to maintain the perfect temperature.”

We brought the brew to 180 degrees and re-adjusted the flame – and then – and then – drip, drip, drip.

Hallelujah!” Russ was really getting into this. “Praise the lord, we have white lightning!” We cooked for another hour or two and soon the still almost stopped dripping and the last drops were a little off color. Done. We were probably burning the mash. The distillation of the gallon of wine produced 2/3 cup of white lightning that we figured it was over 90% alcohol because it would flash at room temperature.

Now to the tasting,” I remarked a little excited. I took a sip from the jar. Bam! A slap in the face impact of burn in my mouth, the tiny bit reaching my throat took my breath away, and the attempt to swallow was like a spasm. “Holy Moly!” I managed to say, seemingly without breathing, “It’s so strong, I believe it evaporated in my mouth before I could swallow. This batch is perfect!”

Let me try,” Russ was reaching for the jar. His reaction was much like mine. First a gasp, then he threw his head forward and gave three hacks–cough, cough, cough and then the long, slow exhale of all the air in his lungs. At last he rasped, “Bottle it and save it for the gods.” We carefully put it in a small glass bottle with a tight screw–on cap. We didn’t drink it. We only allowed ourselves small sips and sample sips to folks that asked us and then only if we liked them.
500 more words tomorrow

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