Fans of cop, prison and dystopian entertainment don't have to miss out on the unique kick of hooch just because they're law-abiding citizens. Whether you call it hooch, buck, prison wine or pruno, the alcoholic beverage is notorious for its illicit and cheap buzz – as well as its vile taste.
Though the prison version of hooch is not recommended for human consumption, you can brew your own version of the hooch alcoholic drink that's not only safe, but tasty too.
The Prison Version of Hooch
Prison-made hooch is a concoction of prunes, oranges or fruit cocktail, sugar, moldy bread, ketchup and water, brewed in a plastic bag. The mixture is allowed to ferment for several days, then filtered through a sock or other cloth to make a crude alcoholic beverage that reportedly tastes as vile as it sounds. It is also a recipe for disaster.
The CDC has compiled information on botulism outbreaks in Arizona, California, Mississippi and Utah prisons that were caused by inmates brewing and drinking hooch. Botulism develops from a toxin produced by bacteria and can result in paralysis and death. The inmates who got botulism used potatoes, honey or spoiled fruit from damaged cans in their hooch.
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A Hooch Alcoholic Drink
While you really shouldn't brew up a batch of prison wine using the traditional "recipe," British chemist William Hooper invented the alcopop drink that was the precursor to today's hard lemonades and other beverages. The original Hooper's Hooch had ingredients that included fruit flavors like lemons and black currants. Its alcoholic content was 5 percent. It was discontinued in the UK in 2003 and reintroduced in Britain in 2012, with a less sugary formula and a reduced alcoholic content of 4 percent. In the U.S., the available flavors are Hard Berry, Hard Lemonade, Hard Orange and ICE (citrus).
An Overview on Making Your Own Hooch
The prison recipe is definitely a "No," but you can still brew a flavorful hooch, also known as fruit wine, at home. Choose a fruit wine recipe from a reputable source, such as a university cooperative extension or home winemaking organization.
Possible hooch drink flavors vary, depending on what fruits, vegetables and herbs are available in your area. Apples, all types of berries, cherries, grapes, peaches, pomegranates and prickly pears are all suitable candidates for your drink-making efforts. If fresh fruits are not available, you can use juice, syrup or concentrate. You can also make hooch with beets, cucumbers, rhubarb or other vegetables, or herbs like elderflowers or hibiscus.
Keep It Clean
Cleanliness is the key to making a safe-to-drink hooch. Wash and sanitize all containers and equipment before you begin. Use crushed Campden tablets dissolved in of water or potassium metabisulfite powder to sanitize the equipment. Don't use chlorine bleach – it can give your hooch a chlorine taste.
Prep for Fermentation
Wash the fruit thoroughly. Discard any spoiled fruits. Chop, crush or heat the fruit according to the recipe. Once readied, the fruit is called must. Put the must into a nylon bag inside of a glass or plastic container that is at least twice as large as the amount of hooch being made. If you're making 1 gallon of wine, use a 2-gallon container as a fermenter.
Add the additional ingredients to the must in the fermenter; these may include Campden tablets, pectic enzymes, sugar, sulfites and sugar. Cover the fermenter with a cloth. Wait 24 hours before adding wine yeast, then cover the fermenter again. Keep the fermenter between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit for three to 10 days, depending on your recipe's directions. Stir the liquid and squeeze the bag holding the must daily.
Age the Hooch
When fermentation is complete, squeeze the liquids from the must bag and remove it from the fermenter. Pour the liquid into a clean fermenter with an air lock. Place it in a dark room where it can age at 50 to 60 degrees. In two months, carefully pour the developing hooch into a new, clean fermenter, again with an air lock. Try not to disturb the sediments on the bottom of the container. Repeat every one to two months until the hooch is clear. Put it into a clean container and add stabilizers and sugar to taste. After three days, you can bottle your personal hooch.
Ruth de Jauregui is the author of The Soul of California - Cooking for the Holidays. She spent five summers working in the Napa Valley as a catering assistant, mostly for weddings and special events at the various wineries. While working in San Francisco for William (Bill) Yenne at American Graphic Systems, she assisted in the design and publication of several cookbooks. In addition to her interest in food and cooking, de Jauregui has several nonfiction garden books and her first novel in the works.