July 01, 2017

Raspberry Beetles

Moonshine has always been made in the countryside, under our Tsar-Father, and when the Revolution was on, and during the official crackdown on alcohol. Sure it has, because it’s stronger than the ruble and safer than gold. And, truth be told, it’s simple enough to make, though there is a trick to it. What’s the most important thing? To get a good mash going. That’s the basis of the process, and there’s nothing here that’s not important. Or you could just mix yeast and sugar, then pour in some warm water, following the proportions in the recipe. After that it’s like caring for a little tot, which means keeping it warm, even wrapping it in a blanket. You can also sprinkle in peas or some sort of grain, so it’ll have more bubbles. And after a week or so, you’re in business – fire up the stove, and then everyone does it his own way. Two cast-iron containers are set up, one on top of the other, with a coiled tube stuck between them. The containers are smeared with raw dough, to send the mash, when it boils, into the tube. The tube goes down into a washtub and this is where … Oh no you don’t! You stay right there! Cold water has to be poured over it the whole time, because that’s what makes the moonshine such a wonder. People who are especially picky about quality will add milk to it next. That “settles” it, making it come out clean and without that raw booze smell. Milk’s like charcoal: it attracts the fermentation by-products, so they stay in the bottom of the jar.

My neighbor Nadyukha – a well-to-do old gal of fifty or so who worked as a cook at the local hospital – was apt to turn to drink whenever fate got her down. Which would be on her days off. After a visit to the bathhouse. And on Fridays, I would give her the whey from my curd cheese, taking some milk in return. One time, though, I’d been brewing moonshine for my guests. I poured the milk in it and left it in the closet to clarify. But then I went and mixed up the jars. And gave Nadyukha a good three liters of pure alcohol.

I was woken in the morning by a knock at the window. Nadyukha was standing by the porch post, in a colorful housecoat that was inside-out. The post was damp with the morning dew and Nadyukha’s tears. Her face was frazzled, and her feet were bare.

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