Sunday, November 20, 2005


Homebrew over the years, a footnote or two

(Run originally 5/22/04 on our old site)

Grandpa and Tom Martindale, Part Deux

Ernie Simpson

I tried some of grandpa’s home brew once, and I can tell you it was no culinary delight. However, it could be considered effective for its end result. Grandpa was not even close to being an enologist, but he didn’t care to be one, either. Having thought I might enjoy the hobby, I started in 1985, and I considered some of my results both good and bad. My favorite was a recipe I came up with that created a brew called Barkshack Ginger Mead, a great bubbly wine with hints of ginger and strawberries. My latest effort, more recently, was what I considered a decent sake, made of crushed rice and white raisins.

Now, I also had an Uncle Everett, who lived at Georgetown, at the extreme eastern end of highway 36, and he loved to make moonshine. Everett came to Moye and Young one afternoon while my dad was working there, and bought four 100 pound bags of sugar. Dad thought he knew why Everett wanted it, but couldn’t resist asking the question: “Hey, Everett, what are you going to do with all that sugar?” Everett replied, “I god, I like my tea sweet!” Enough said.

Grandpa and Tom Martindale were young men who loved their homebrew, but would rather buy it than make it. I do understand.

On the way home from fun in town one Saturday evening, they had used all their money and were headed home on foot, broke and inebriated. Tom felt he had a stone in his shoe, and they stopped on the side of the road to let him take his shoe off and rub the sore foot.

Much to their surprise, when he took his shoe off, they discovered there was a five-dollar bill folded in the bottom of the shoe, placed there as a safety measure in case of an emergency. They decided their situation definitely qualified as an emergency, so Tom put his shoe back on; they took the five dollars, and headed back to Searcy.

No word of how long it took them to spend it, or on what.

Tom Pry

The use of, first, butane and, later, its even more potent cousin, propane, created a real headache for the revenooers. Prior to the discovery that these hitherto considered worthless petroleum byproducts made great heating fuels, one of the ways the alcohol control people found stills was watching for smoke from the wood fires essential to the brewing process. Butane/propane was and is smokeless.

It was also, like sugar, legal, and this forced the revenue agents to extraordinary measures in order to discover what the end use was intended to be.

Granddad and Billie lived at the very end of what is now North Valley Road. Since, though, there were no signs saying “Past this point, there be dragons,” once or twice a month, some soul out for a drive would end up in the yard by mistake. Once there, in order to (a) be polite and (b) find out where in hell they were, plus (c) find out how to get where they’d intended to go, instead of just circling the oak tree and going back the way they came, they’d stop, get out, and “visit” a while.

This was considered a normal event around here.

Granddad got tired of chopping wood for the wooden cookstove so, when he got a little flush, he bought a butane (pronounced by those who didn’t know any better, “bu-tan-ee”) kitchen stove … only to discover it was too heavy for the God-only-knows-how-old kitchen floor. This necessitated him putting in a new floor.

He was busy at this when a car drove up in the yard, stopped, and a nice fellow got out and struck up a conversation. No abnormal situation, and they talked about this and that for quite a while before the visitor ‘fessed up that he was a revenooer, and they were having to follow up on the sale of every butane stove and storage tank, for all of the aforementioned reasons.

Finally, he pronounced himself satisfied that it was all legitimate .. which just goes to show you that federal agents are NOT infallible. You see, Billie/grandma, had a stove-top still that fit very nicely on that new stove, thank you. It was copper, and just slightly larger than good-sized stewpot; the whole thing was tidy enough to fit handily in a burlap sack (or “gunny sack,” as it was more often called).

Now, possession of a still was, in-and-of-itself, illegal. For this reason, when a strange car passed what is now Collins Road, rather than turning on to it and heading back towards town, it was my job to grab the tote sack and carry it up on the hill, stashing it someplace where I could find it again, all this “just in case” it was the revenooers coming to call.

Billie did not make moonshine to sell, though that wouldn’t have made any difference in court, had it ever come to that (it never did). Rather, she used it to fix the bead on her homemade wine.

To the uninitiated, when you want to check the alcoholic strength of home brew and wine, you shake the Mason™ jar the booze is in. The resultant bubbles at the top of the brew indicate the horsepower of the liquid: the more bead, the more kick.

Billie made wine for home consumption (which IS legal) but, before the final bottling, she’d check the bead and, if it wasn’t quite up to her horsepower preferences, she’d lace it with some of her own home-made white lightning until it reached what she considered par.

Billie, over the years, made wine out of almost everything: wild muscadines, boysenberries … even dandelions (makes a WICKED brew).

Grandma Billie has been dead for far too many years, but a couple of gallons of her hooch survive, assuming those glass jugs haven’t dissolved. We in the family are firmly convinced that, if you poured this stuff into an old Allis-Chalmers tractor, in the tractor fuel tank, the cotton-pickin’ machine would run. It might hiccup instead of backfire, but it would run.

Thanks for the legacy, Billie. Someday, we’ll get around to drinking it .. in your honor.


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