Ricky Harpole

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Memorial Day weekend I got roped by Robert Earl Reed and packed off to Harmontown to do a little guitar pickin’, shine sampling, and general socializing at Captain Boogies annual Memorial Festival.

It was a unique event in more than one respect. I’ll start with the moonshine. It was aged. Whoever heard of such a thing? In my experience with this potent elixir (which is considerable) it seldom got a chance to settle in the bottle before the guzzling began.

I was told by the alleged “Master of Recipes” that it was concocted from last year’s blackberry wine and cantaloupes. It had a beautiful bo-kay and, as far as my research went, nobody went blind and only one skull was busted and even then not until the next morning. I once was blessed with an especially bountiful blackberry harvest and cooked off a batch that was passable but not nearly as good.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I thought it was because the wine wasn’t up to par. From a connoisseur’s standpoint it would’ve served better as an egg pickling solution than a beverage and made pretty good ink to write these columns with, but wasn’t fit for much else.

Well, to make a long story longer we decided to run it through the still and bring the octane level up. Like I say it was “fair to middlin” quality but that batch old (name deleted to protect the guilty) cooked was the Rothschild Lafite and DeWars Scotch rolled into one. (My dismal concoction was christened wrecked-child Lafoote and Baravars vinegar). Naturally as an advanced hobbyist in the finest art, I asked him why his product was so superior to mind and what I was doing wrong.

I walked him thru my recipe and he said it sounded OK and chewed on it a while. After a few minutes he opened his eyes and said, “Let me ask a few questions ‘cause I got me a notion, but I ain’t quite sure. You say you cleaned and washed tha’ still up real good?”

I said, “yessir and I air-dried everything in the sun for two days.”

“Wal, did you pick the berries yourself?”

“Yessir, every one and there were three five-gallon buckets of em.”

“Did you wash your hands good?”

“Yessir, before and after,” I reported.

He went to studying again and let his pipe go out and had to relight it.

“Did you proof test the first run?”

“Yessir, with a brand new Internet-bought hydrometer and the first run averaged 81.04 proof.”

“In my day we didn’t have no fancy tools like Hyde no ro meters,” he said. “We worked on the farm engine test.”

He dumped the ashes out of the pipe and reloaded, “It’s more accurate and less likely to get the FEDs down on you (They’ll watch what you buy on them computers and track you to the still.”

“Tell me about the motor test, how does it work? How can you tell different levels of proof?” I queried.

“Wa’ll, you start with a diesel engine that has water in the fuel and won’t run right. You take that first run which, it being’ partly water, will mix and emulsify around and it leads the water thru the “injector” pump. If the motor runs better you’re at least 75 proof, but it’ll drop. Wa’ll you takes that run and run it again and try it on a chainsaw. Iffin it’ll fire up on the fifth pull it’s about 130 proof.

Will the wonders of a bygone era never cease, I thought.

He continued “If you run it a third time you can go back to the diesel engine and pass it through and it’ll burn all the soot and slag out’n the combustion chamber (just like it’ll do for a cankered liver in a human bean).

“But don’t let’er run too long on ‘that’ mix or she’ll start burning valves and slangin’ rods an’ might (he pronounced it mought) jus’ run away on you like a woman in May.

“Back to yore recipe,” he said then.

“Did you wash them blackberries off ‘fore you mashed ‘em up?”

“Yesser, I rinsed ‘em off real good in clear cold water,” I boasted.

Wal, that’s whar that trouble is!”  the old Master of Recipes said.

“With about everything ‘cept berries its a good idea on a sound principle, but berries is special. Don’t never wash a berry ‘fore you mash it for the still.”

(Ideas and principles be damned, I thought to myself. This old fraud is takin’ me for a ride on the tinhorn train.)

“Ya see, what ruint yore flavor on that batch wuz you washed all the chiggers off ‘em. Hell I shoulda seen it right off. That’s bettern’ half the flavor, plus if you drank it regular enough a chigger won’t bite you.”

He went on to swear he’d been drinking his recipe for most of his life and hadn’t been chigger bit since he forgot one time and washed the berries.

I’m believing he is the biggest, best and most revered and venerated liar in Lafayette County and I also know for a fact also that he makes or steals or borrows some of the best brandy I’ve had the headache to come across.

If I had been thinking I’da brought home a quart of it to try out on moccasins or mad dogs. If it’ll shut a chigger’s mouth, it’s the wonder drug of the 21st century and he deserves at least a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

All in agreement say “aye” and pass out quietly.

On an aspirin or tomato juice binge,

Ricky Harpole
(Contact Harpole at www.facebook.com/harpolive or www.colespointrecords.com)