Bathtub Gin

Bathtub Gin

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Bathtub gin came about as a result of prohibition courtesy of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. Beginning on January 17, 1920 and continuing until around December 5, 1933, the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol was banned in the U.S. ### Bathtub Gin ###

Prohibition doesn’t work. People are going to drink. (The Volstead Act did not outlaw the consumption of alcohol, it just made alcohol illegal to sell, make, and transport.) And in order to drink alcohol, somebody had to make it.

And thus came the term bathtub gin. While it was usually made in stills or large cans, it could also be made in a bathtub. Initially, bathtub gin was made using cheap grain alcohol and fruit, such as juniper berries. The mixture would steep in a tub for hours or sometimes days. Given that even quality gin is fairly undrinkable on it’s own (and it typically paired with tonic water or fruit juices), you can only imagine how nasty bathtub gin tasted.

Drinking during Prohibition was a risky proposition. A lot of the alcohol was bad and, in some cases, poisonous. As if drinking alcohol brewed in a rusty barrel wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. government actively poisoned industrial alcohol, resulting in at least 10,000 deaths. Industrial alcohol is typically used by the medical community, but during Prohibition it was often stolen by bootleggers and used in their stills.

Gin and Tonic

Gin and tonic was introduced by the army of the British East India Company in India. Tonic water contains quinine, which is used to prevent malaria. When gin and tonic was first introduced, the tonic water contained a large amount of quinine. Today’s tonic water doesn’t contain enough quinine to be an effective preventative. When asked about this back in 1999, Cecil at the Straight Dope noted:

Tonic water contains less than 20 milligrams of quinine per six fluid ounces. The recommended quinine dosage for treatment of malaria is two or three 200-350 milligram tablets three times a day. If you drink the equivalent of that in gin and tonics, malaria will be the least of your problems.

Back to the Tub

After digging around, I located a recipe for gin:

[I]f you want to make gin safely at home, it’s very easy. Well not very easy, but not that tough. You’ll need a large pot that you can tightly secure a lid onto, a condenser like one of these: (you can buy one new, the size really doesn’t matter, or you can befriend an undergrad who can steal one from a chemistry lab for you), some plastic tubing, juniper berries, other spices of your choosing, everclear (190 proof), and a stove. You’ll have to attach the condenser to the lid of your pot so there’s no break in the seal (bore a hole in it or something). Attach the tubes to the condenser (bottom is in, top is out), and attach the bottom one to your faucet. Put the everclear and spices and berries in the pot, seal lid, turn water on, and let simmer for 8 hours or so. If you let it boil too fast or there’s a break in the seal, you’ll lose almost all your alcohol, also if the water’s not running, and running cold. As for the spices and berries, you can filter them out when you’re done or in the first place put them in a little pouch that lets the alcohol soak with them. When you’re done, dilute with water to the proof you want and you’re finished. The first one I ever made was using juniper berries and cinnamon, and pretty good. As for ratios, you must suffer for it and learn what is best for you, but the process is fun and the results quite enjoyable. Also, it is perfectly safe, though heed the caveats above if you don’t want to have 0 product remaining at the end of 8 hours.

The end result should be close to bathtub gin. However, if you’re hankering for something closer to the real deal, just follow the recipe given above. Dump some cheap grain alcohol into a tub, toss in some fruit, and let it steep for several hours. Once done, you’re drinking the stuff of legend.

Enjoy, if possible.

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