5388U.S. Homedistillation in the 1920's
- Jul 5, 2002From 'Five Generations of an Ozarks Family: The Browns of Douglas
County, Missouri' (OzarksWatch Vol 5, No 4, 1992):
"During the twenties and early thirties was prohibition. No legal
alcohol could be bought in Missouri; so much illegal alcohol was made.
Dad made quite a bit of home brew or beer. One time I remember he had
several cases made up. He would keep it in the cellar where it was
cool. Friends would come by and drink a few, especially on weekends.
He had been notified by a friend that law officials were coming to
search the house, so we carried all of the beer to a cornfield near
the house. This was in late summer when corn was higher than a man's
head, so it made a good hiding place. The officials did come by, and
looked a little. One deputy was a friend of Dad's so he didn't look
Dad and a partner made a whiskey still from a copper wash boiler,
which was easy to come by in those days since many women used these to
boil laundry in. It had a lid made of sheets of copper soldered to the
boiler with a sort of funnel in the center which tapered down to about
a three-eights inch copper tubing. This funnel affair was removable so
the boiler could be filled with beer, from which whiskey was
distilled. This beer was made in an oak fifty-five gallon barrel. The
ingredients were water, sugar, ground corn, and yeast, which were
allowed to work for about three weeks. Then it was strained and put in
the boiler on a low fire - usually on the wood range in the kitchen.
The vapor condensed to raw whiskey, which went into a container of
charcoal which acted as a filter. Finally it was put in quart and
half-gallon fruit jars. As I remember a half-gallon would bring about
$4.50, which was good money in those days. Mom never approved of Dad's
bootlegging. In fact she nearly worried herself to death over it. She
was sure he'd wind up in the pen (penitentiary) over it, but Dad felt
it was a way he could feed and clothe his family. As I said, times
were hard. We lived on a farm and had our own chickens, eggs, pork,
vegetables, etc. but very little cash. The whiskey was a cash sale.
After all, the Ozarks hills he'd grown up on had a still in every
hollow - many of them belonging to Browns. One of Dad's best customers
for his whiskey was our mail carrier. He would take three or four
gallons at a time. He and Dad had a system worked out. On days that
Dad had some for sale he notified the carrier by raising the flag on
the mailbox. The carrier would check to see that everything was clear
before the transaction was made. This was a rural area so there was
hardly any traffic on the road except the mailman."