During my recent trip to Virginia I procured my second-ever bottle of moonshine. This post from February 2011 on the old blog tells what happened when I bought my first.
Just back from a few days at the in-laws’ in Virginia, a trip chiefly memorable for producing two reminders of how short, nasty and brutish life used to be.
Took the family to Mount Vernon on Washington’s birthday.
We saw the General and Martha their ownselves, and toured the buildings and grounds.
I was vaguely aware that Washington died of quinsy, but I’d never realized what that was until I heard a tour guide explain it.
(Several times, in fact. The line wasn’t moving very quickly.)
Turns out what killed Washington was an infection that swelled his throat shut, closed off his windpipe and suffocated him.
That’s a pretty goddamn horrible way to die, in my humble opinion.
I was not able to visit George Washington’s restored whiskey distillery, which was closed for the day.
But I did check out one of Virginia’s state-run liquor stores, which, not surprisingly, offer about four times as much of everything as your average Pennsylvania state store.
I couldn’t resist bringing a couple bottles of bourbon back with me — as well as a bottle of Virginia Lightning brand 100-proof corn whiskey, a.k.a. moonshine.
I’d been intrigued by descriptions of corn whiskey, and had toyed for a while with the idea of trying it.
So — with visions of frontier corn-drinkers in my head — I invested in a bottle of the clear stuff; ran it past the hapless gendarmerie of two states; opened it up and tried some.
Holy crap, is that stuff toxic.
It tastes a tiny bit like corn if you use your imagination … but mostly it tastes like Prestone.
As a spoiled modern drinker, I am used to beverages that bring joy to an occasion; that spur conversation, and sparkle and dance in the mouth.
Stuff that tastes good, in other words.
There is no joy or pleasure in corn whiskey.
This is stuff you drink to escape.
Stuff to help you stop thinking about your wife who died in childbirth, or to temporarily forget that you’re expected to work 12 hours at the mill tomorrow even though you are physically unable to straighten your back.
Stuff you drink when the average lifespan in your county is 40 years, and you’re 37, and you’re feeling like those extra three years ain’t gonna bring you much besides pain anyhow.
It smacks you in the face with every sip — and I can only imagine the brainhammer hangovers this stuff produces.
(I hope only to imagine them, anyway.)
Even pleasure came hard in the old days, it seems.
The 20th-century equivalent of a corn-whiskey bender would have been to take a fistful of pills at a Black Oak Arkansas concert, wash ’em down with some Mad Dog 20/20 and fall asleep directly in front of a tweeter.
It might have been corn whiskey that fired the “old, weird America” that Dylan summoned so well.
But I prefer to think all those 19th-century Mrs. Henrys and Ruben Remuses were drinking rye.
So much more convivial.
Having vomited all that vitriol out of my system, it is worth noting that I fully expect to finish the remainder of the bottle.
Maybe before I get to the much friendlier bottles of bourbon in my haul.
And almost certainly at a pace that will surprise me with its quickness.
(April 2015 editor’s note: I did indeed finish my first bottle. The stuff goes very nicely in stone fences. Shame I bought this second bottle outside of peak cider season.)
Maybe someday I will explore what drives me to drink.
But right now I gotta go to bed and get my head into the gray race again.
It’s possible that a week in the corporate world will make a shot of corn whiskey seem as comforting as a featherbed.