The Brew

I have friends who are brave, courageous, and bold…like Robin Hood they wear tights and shoot arrows into things. In many cases intentionally. But they harbour a dark secret…they all want to be moonshiners.

Not necessarily with corn liquor stills, shotguns, and rusty old trucks…they set their sights lower – they try to make booze from whatever is available and they try to do it in medieval ways. Sometimes they succeed.

I can’t tell you whether this is illegal, as our state has a welter of alcohol laws that have developed over time and so many people who cheerfully disregard them. It may be perfectly correct to make liqueur out of chicken feet provided you are a member of a religion that wears feather suits and clucks. And certainly there are beer stores that sell you the ingredients for home-brew beer quite legitimately and the only consequence you suffer is gas.

However, that’s commercial ingredients and known formulae…it gets more dangerous when people take recipes off the internet, consult someone’s Uncle Marko, or just look at a pile of vegetables about to rot and decide to wing it. The temptation to mash them up, add yeast, and bottle the result is satisfying to start with but becomes increasingly less so as the bottles detonate in the pantry.

It is generally a case of over-egging the pudding…or over filling and over nourishing the yeast. There is a reason distilling is done in big metal containers and far away from valuables…the same reason that they make gunpowder in small batches in wooden buildings.

The danger of fermentation and bottling over, the next hurdle is storage. Storage space for homemade booze falls into two categories; too cold or too hot. You are either going to end up with a bottled version of the city compost digester or Picatinny arsenal in a lightning storm. If you have bottled in glass the shrapnel damage will be spectacular, but even a PTFE bottle going off will get the neighbours out of their houses and the dogs barking.

Finally you will get to the day when you can taste the results. There may be far fewer bottles than when you started, and the economic results may make each one the equivalent of Dom Perignon ’22, but don’t expect to win gold medals. Most home-made liquor is best cut with fruit juice, soft drink, or motor oil. A good 20-40 weight should do it…I always liked to use Bardahl if the homebrew was particularly new.

Slugga Rye

The old movies were right. A slug of rye whiskey is the best way to solve the world’s problems. Or cause a bar fight.

The fact that a bar fight is the best solution to international tensions and the post-existential angst of shifting paradigms™ says a lot about the state of human relations. I find it a comfort in a changing world. The slugging and crashing of wooden chairs – the bartender ducking down below the line of fire – and the drunk being hurled through the window into the street gives me a warm glow. It’s been that way since kindergarten.

For a time there it was hard to find a bar in Perth that would serve straight rye. I tried the Victoria Hotel in Subiaco in about 2012 and got refused service at 1:30 in the afternoon based upon asking for a simple shot glass of whiskey with no water or ice . Apparently it contravened the state government regulations of Liquor, Gaming, and Making People Feel Uncomfortable. Times have changed, and I might have better luck in Perth today…though probably not at the Victoria Hotel. I’m not fashed – it’s hard to get parking in Subiaco anyway.

Most local Dan Murphys and Liquor Barons can now sell quite decent rye. There is still not the selection than a North American customer might find, but the situation has improved vastly. A home consumer* can feel comfortable.

The link between rye and prohibition is undeniable – just as it is with rough gin. That’s one of the attractions to it. It can be made into sophisticated and seductive solutions like the Manhattan or bashed down in shots like a cowboy or a gangster. It can be a highball anywhere on the North American continent. The Europeans probably look upon it with disdain, but what have they not? They would probably sneer at God and good health if they thought they came from the New World…

As an Australian who migrated from North America – a person who has not only one but two new worlds between him and the continental pig pen – I can celebrate the joy of rye whiskey. Smoother than scotch, devoid of the flavour of burnt moss. More masculine than gin, and more feminine as well. Possessed of a colour and an opinion that vodka never has. And free of the class snobbery of brandy. The only brother spirit is rum, and I say no bad thing about that. Rum and rye can sing together and damn the Governors!

*  ie a person not out on the roads. A person who can have another of the same and do it legally and safely. That second drink is the dangerous one – it either makes or breaks. Truth, sorrow, and appearances before the magistrate occur when the cork comes out for the second time. I only pull the cork twice when I am at home on front of my own hearth.

Booze At Bar Prices

When I am out of town – interstate or just in another part of Western Australia – I enjoy a drink in a pub or a tavern. Generally just the one and usually in defiance of the elements; a cold beer in summer and a whiskey or glass of port in winter. Part of the pleasure is the drink and part the experience of the place.

I accept that the price I will pay for the drink is more than I would pay if I had the same glass in my lounge room at home. This is sound business there in the hotel and sound management in front of my own fire. In neither case is there too much money spent – my tastes do not run to champagne or exotic vintages.

But I also do not wish to find that I have paid over the knocker for something that is under the measure – I suspect that this occurs in more places than you’d think. In some cases it is economics and in others ignorance.

The watering of a bottle of anything at a pub apart from a water bottle is supposed to be illegal. It is also impossible to police – at least from the drinking side of the bar. If you order a cocktail or other mixed drink you may very well see something poured from a bottle with a complex measuring spout, but you have no idea what went into the bottle before it was attached to the apparatus. If you order at a table, you get what comes back on a tray. And you are expected to drink it and approve by leaving a tip…in some cases the only authentic part of the transaction is the government banknote you hand over – not even the change is full-strength.

Has it happened to me? Only in three cities – Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney. And only in certain establishments – If you want to be properly served in Melbourne I should recommend that you frequent The Gin Palace or Young and Jackson’s – no half measures there. Here in Perth The Mechanic’s Institute is reliable, and I am still exploring Sydney. Country pubs generally manage beer well, though their kitchens can be problematical.

In all of these occasions you can depend upon your on-board sensors to tell you whether you are getting the real deal, the deal, or the reel. If it tastes fine, it is fine and if it tastes watered-down….well, it is watered down. The saving grace about an establishment that serves a cheatin’ drink is the threshold of the doorway. You can step over it on the way out and never re-cross it.