When the zombie apocalypse finally arrives, people with old-world skills will be in high demand. Nobody's going to need a yoga teacher or a social media guru, nor are they going to need any writers. But the gal who can make her own wine from the local flora? She'll have a price beyond rubies. Ditto the guys who know how to make moonshine. They shall inherit the earth.
Enter two topical books: One is homespun and mas macho, the other homespun and feminine. The first waxes passionate on the merits of distilling your own alcoholic spirits, specifically, whiskey; the second is a primer on making your own wine from what you have in your garden.
The moonshiner's guide to the universe
Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining by Colin Spoelman and David Haskell (Abrams, Oct. 2013) is a surprisingly readable, straight-out-of-Brooklyn primer on that oldest of American pasttimes, making moonshine.
With its clear instructions on how to set up a still and the chemistry behind the distilling of corn whiskey, you could call this book a how-to. But, let me point out that this is still illegal in all states unless you have a license from the feds, although laws have loosened considerably in the last 15 years. It also can be dangerous--Googling "distillery explosions" will harden your heart. Making your own whiskey is not for the dilettante.
The book is also a love letter to the art and history of making spirits. There are essays, diagrams, a chapter on the history of whiskey, a survey of whiskeys, notes on how to drink whiskey, photographs, maps, and so on.
Spoelman, who grew up in a dry county in rural Kentucky, begins the book with an essay on his early experiences with bootlegging liquor and how he and a friend came to start New York City's first distillery since Prohibition.
Middle-aged wine-swilling moms like me are probably not the target audience of this book. The only reason I keep a bottle of whiskey in my pantry at all is because my Irish grandmother extolled its medicinal qualities. And yet I was delighted and riveted.
Like the 20-something hipsters at the forefront of a growing industry of small independent distillers, I find reviving this very American craft incredibly cool. Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining is a great read for historical and reference reasons. Just make sure your husband doesn't get any ideas.
Live off the land
Also dedicated to the merits of MYOB (making your own booze) is the much-anticipated update of Judith Glover's 1979 classic, Drink Your Own Garden (Batsford, Aug. 2013).
The author got the idea for the original book when a neighbor brought her a big box of parsnips, out of which she decided to make wine. It's actually easy, if not exactly expedient. Nor will it produce the quality of wine of Napa, CA, or Bordeaux, France. But if you can handle basic chemistry, can afford some small start-up costs, and don't mind waiting the six or more months it will take for your homemade wine to ferment, you're good to go foraging in your garden.
And Glover uses the word "garden" loosely. It turns out that if you can ferment it, you can probably turn it into wine. I shudder to think what kinds of improbable concoctions are fermenting right now in the back on my refrigerator--black bean wine, forgotten leftover lunch wine…
I digress. The book, which features charming 19th-century fruit and veg illustrations, goes over the basic home wine-making techniques and then delves into the various "kinds" of wine you can concoct, including fruit wines (with recipes for apples, apricots, citrus, plums, and peaches), flower wines (carnation, cowslip, honeysuckle, primrose), herbal wines, grain wines, and even vegetable wines.
Rose petal wine sounds lovely, thank you, but artichoke wine? It's the spirit of the thing. Nothing goes wasted!
The book includes a list of necessary equipment, much of which you probably already own, and the rest you can buy online. New urban homesteaders will love this book for the information it provides, but it's challenging on the immediate gratification front. I half-thought of giving one of these wines a shot until I noted I'd have to wait six months to drink a glass. Oh, dear.
In that amount of time I'll have lost interest in drinking my own parsnips and be well onto the next obsession. And in any case, how can I wait half the year for wine when BevMo! is only a 20-minute drive away?
For those with my patience, Glover also includes various "ades," (lemon, orange, and raspberry), fruit syrups, and cordials, all of which sound fun and more reasonably doable.
Think you're crafty enough to make your own tipple? Tell us about your spectacular success or epic fails.
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