Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol' Demon Alcohol

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Not long after there was Homo sapiens there was Homo sippiens, or Man the Drinker. And yet despite the simplicity of its origins, alcohol has become one of the most tightly regulated commodities produced by human beings. Vilified from the pulpit, criminalized during Prohibition, and taxed to finance every war since the time of George Washington -- alcohol is the focus of a complex love/hate relationship worldwide.

As Gene Logsdon says, "On the subject of alcohol, hypocrisy is ...

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Overview

Not long after there was Homo sapiens there was Homo sippiens, or Man the Drinker. And yet despite the simplicity of its origins, alcohol has become one of the most tightly regulated commodities produced by human beings. Vilified from the pulpit, criminalized during Prohibition, and taxed to finance every war since the time of George Washington -- alcohol is the focus of a complex love/hate relationship worldwide.

As Gene Logsdon says, "On the subject of alcohol, hypocrisy is the standard-bearer of public opinion." Or expressed another way, "Isn't it absurd that our own government will not allow us to combine grain grown on our own land, water that falls from the sky, and yeast that is everywhere in the air around us?"

Instead, imagine a world where cottage farmers grow grain to make whiskey or fuel, feed grain residues to the livestock, then return the animals' manure to the fields to make the crops flourish. It's a vision distilled of common sense and tradition -- a vision simple enough to actually work. Alas, the entrenched interests of our government with its taxes and business with its obsession for profits prevent this vision from becoming reality.

"Remember, all this innocent and simple, home-centered work, leading to pleasurable and economical drinking after long and interesting experience, is illegal. But it is not illegal to read about it."

Here is vintage Logsdon, 100-proof straight talk, with practicality and poetry to temper the occasional tirade. From his tractor-seat perch in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, Gene Logsdon once again proves himself to be one of the most daring and original chroniclers of North American farm life.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Best known as The Contrary Farmer for the unconventional views he brings to agriculture, Ohio-based Logsdon proposes a simple program: cottage farmers grow grain to make whiskey or fuel, feed grain residues to the livestock, then return the animal's manure to the field to make the crops flourish. The problem, he admits, is that it makes no unearned profits for government or big business. He includes many anecdotes, historical and legendary. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781890132439
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Series: Gene Logsdon Titles Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

A prolific nonfiction writer, novelist, and journalist, Gene Logsdon has published more than two dozen books, both practical and philosophical. Gene’s nonfiction works include Holy Shit, Small-Scale Grain Raising, Living at Nature’s Pace, The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening, Good Spirits, and The Contrary Farmer. His most recent novel is Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food. He writes a popular blog, The Contrary Farmer, as well as an award-winning column for the Carey Ohio Progressor Times, and is a regular contributor to Farming Magazine and Draft Horse Journal. He lives and farms in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. You can visit his blog at http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/.

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Read an Excerpt

[From Chapter 2, My Father-in-Law, "The Old Moonshiner", pp.13-16]
It may seem that including a chapter on the distillation of alcohol before chapters on fermentation, which must precede distillation, is putting the cart before the horse, or the whiskey barrel before the fermenting beer vat. But the chapters that follow, dealing with the necessary partnership of fermentation and distillation, must presume some prior knowledge not only of the former, which is relatively well known, but of the latter, which is relatively unknown. Homo sippiens is an alcohol-loving animal, but most of us-myself included, until I sipped my way through myriad bottles of "research"-are rather alcohol-illiterate, no matter how fond we might be of drinking the stuff.

My father-in-law, whom we all called Granddaddy, is gone now, so I can't get him in trouble by relating his story. He decided during Prohibition and the Depression that he was going to make spirits despite the law. Mind you, in every other respect he was the most law-abiding and highly moral person I ever had the pleasure of knowing. So he became a moonshiner, and gathering from the way he signed his name, "The old moonshiner, Vassel Downs," on the parchment on which he left his directions for making whiskey, he was proud of it. Since his moonshine was well respected in those days by all accounts that I can gather, he had to have been, as he was in all his other work, an artisan skilled in, and respectful of, the details. I assume he also received some direction from his father-in-law, John Wesley Kurtz, who was a master distiller at Jim Beam, but Granddaddy never said. Moonshining was rarely discussed in the Downs family in earlier days and when I persisted in hearing about it, the subject was treated by some members as a shameful skeleton in the family closet. But eventually everyone came to be as openly proud of "the old moonshiner" as I was. He was my hero. He understood "value-added" agriculture long before that phrase had been coined. He told me that moonshine paid for his farm.

But before I tell how he made whiskey, I need to put down some detailed background about the process. Granddaddy understood it, and taught me some of it, but I doubt he could have written it down clearly enough for a modern audience that knows little about the tradition in which he grew up. Granddaddy took for granted knowledge which has been lost to most of us.

First, consider how biologically efficient is the fermentation/distillation process. The spirits industry is one in which there should be no waste management problem. When the juice from a bushel of apples is fermented into about two and a half gallons of cider or distilled into a half gallon of applejack brandy, the pomace remaining will make great vinegar or certain kinds of brandy or can be used for animal feed. Cows and sheep love it. (Don't give them too much at once, though.) Commercial cider mills in fact sell pomace to dairy farms. Or the pomace can be turned into a formidable amount of heat by way of composting, after which the compost makes a good fertilizer. Greenhouses in Austria are sometimes heated with grape pomace compost. Or, if you have a fencerow you'd like to plant to apple trees for wildlife and livestock food, dribble the pomace, which is full of apple seeds, over the area you want seeded, and some of the apple trees will sprout and grow. The acidic nature of the juice in the pomace enhances sprouting.

This natural efficiency can be seen even better in beer and whiskey making. The mash left after a bushel of grain has fermented into three gallons of beer or distilled into two and a half gallons of whiskey can be fed to animals. Granddaddy used to laugh about how his cows once got into the spent whiskey mash and came to the barn drunk that night. Actually, distillers grain, as the spent mash is called after it is dried and no longer intoxicating, can make nutritious human food too. Distillers have made cookies and other pastries out of it to prove the point. The mash contains at least half the nutrients found in the original corn-nearly all the proteins-and may actually be almost as nutritious because the grain has been rendered more digestible. Furthermore, in a commercial operation, carbon dioxide, a by-product of both fermentation and distillation, can be collected and sold, as can the acetates and aldehydes that are separated from the ethyl alcohol during distillation.

In other words, fermentation and distillation allow you to drink your cake and have it, too, which suggests a sort of victory over the "law" of entropy. That's a heady concept to be suggesting in the same breath with talk about cider and beer. But consider: the first law of thermodynamics states that energy in the universe is constant. The second law states that while the amount of energy is constant, it can change or be changed from one form to another indefinitely. A comforting thought, science has always said. We could go on using energy forever, and it wouldn't diminish. Then some smart-ass came along and argued that, while it is true that energy is never lost but only changed in form, it can't be used over and over again indefinitely without a loss. Burn a match and you can recover the sulfur and ash and other gases that originally made up the match. But you can't remake and reburn that match and get the same net amount of work or energy out of it. The unrecoverable energy is an example of entropy, and it means (fill my beer mug again, please) that we are doomed to a slow but inexorable extinction. (A good stout ale will be fine this time around.)Far be it from me to differ with brilliant scientists who understand this entropical doom descending upon us, but allow me in rebuttal to trumpet the miracle of fermentation. No doubt entropy comes into play here somewhere, but if I raise a bushel of corn, brew from it with water three gallons of good beer, feed the mash to livestock, eat the livestock while drinking my beer, collect and use the carbon dioxide given off in the process, and use the manure (mine and the livestock's) to grow another bushel of corn, how much should I really worry about entropy?

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Table of Contents

Foreword viii
Preface ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction: Toward a Sane Use of Alcohol xv
1 The American History You Were Never Taught 1
2 My Father-in-Law, "The Old Moonshiner" 13
3 From Cider to Applejack 32
4 The Fruit Juice: A Moonshine Story from 1935 49
5 Homemade Beer 65
6 The Backyard Winery 78
7 The Adventures of a Brandy & Liqueur Illiterate 98
8 The Midnight Fox: A Bootlegging Folktale 112
9 Wandering Wide-Eyed through the World of Whiskey 128
10 The "White Whiskey" Mixers & Other Popular Drinks 150
11 Fuel Alcohol: A Way to Make Untaxed Spirits Legally 166
12 "Not Necessarily": The Slightly Fictional Story of a Stubborn Winemaker 179
Bibliography 196
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