Still Baby, Still

In 1996 the National Government did something revolutionary. They passed the Custom and Excise Amendment Bill.

By doing so, New Zealand became one of only four countries in the world where it is legal for people to produce and distil alcohol for their own personal consumption

The process of making alcohol is a relatively simple one and has been known for thousands of years. The key steps involve throwing sugar, water and yeast into a vat, fermenting it, and then distilling the result to produce ethanol.

However, for largely historical reasons the last step of this process, distillation, remains illegal in most countries.

Even here, prior to 1996, it was legal for New Zealanders to ferment sugar and water, and it was even legal to own a still, but using the two together, that was right out.

This is curious because distillation does not actually involve any manufacture of alcohol, that was already produced during fermentation.  All distillation involves is separating water and  impurities out from the good stuff, ethanol.

Bureaucrats will have people believe that alcohol must remain tightly controlled in order to maintain their tax revenue, or keep people from becoming raving drunks. This, of course, holds about as much water as the idea of cheap contraceptives enticing people to engage in wild rabid monkey sex.

Quite simply, in most places the law is an ass.

So, I feel obliged to exercise my legal right to produce alcohol.

For the past several months we have already been dabbling with making beer and cider, and although opinions vary on the taste*, it’s been an interesting experience, and I’ve been keen to learn more.

So, for my birthday, Beau gave me a still.

Yesterday, I started my first batch, and by the weekend should have my very own home-made gin.

Although still a newbie, I have already learned much about the home-brewing process. How well your brew tastes is largely dependent on the effort put into it, and there are varying stages of difficulty.

Much like baking cake, beginners will probably prefer to start out with the instant just-add-water kits available from Brewcraft on Mt Eden Road. However, that’s not particularly exciting unless your sole motivation is to acquire cheap alcohol for the neighbour’s 21st.

Taking a ground up approach seems more satisfying, and there are numerous secret websites dedicated to sharing recipes for blends of gins, whiskeys, and liquors – something the commercial distillers tend to keep a closely guarded secret.

So, as 2009 settles in, I look forward to learning more about the age-old process of not only making alcohol, but also concocting my own sherrys and liquors.

It will be a very good year.

*In one case the unfortunate guest ended up horribly contorting his face, before running out the door never to return.

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