Give me two fingers of your best sipping liquor
August 24, 2017 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Old West Recipes: Snakehead Trade Whiskey - Mefi's own Max Sparber recreates the adulterated whiskey of the wild west. It has bits in. [via mefi projects]
posted by Artw (49 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
And I'm still alive the next day! A sure sign of success or failure, depending on how you think these things should go!
posted by maxsparber at 10:34 AM on August 24 [30 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of alcohol, but that sounds fascinating and kind of delicious. Also "malignant testosterone driven narcissism" is my new sockpuppet.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:41 AM on August 24 [10 favorites]


Interesting experiment. Glad you lived to tell about it.
posted by Oyéah at 10:43 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I'd drink it. (At least once).
posted by Samizdata at 10:45 AM on August 24


The question is do you kiss the snake?
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


there's good food grade sources of castoreum, it's sold under the name "artificial vanilla flavoring"
posted by idiopath at 10:54 AM on August 24 [7 favorites]


The question is do you kiss the snake?

It's not a sourtoe cocktail.

Which I will also make and drink if someone can get me a severed toe.
posted by maxsparber at 10:55 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


Anyone would think that you're a zombie
posted by adamvasco at 10:56 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who skimmed this and thought "bits of fingers?!!?!?"
posted by praemunire at 10:59 AM on August 24


It tastes, as my girlfriend said, like an antique shop.

It's probably cheaper to just go lick an antique shop, if you don't mind being "that guy".
posted by Wolfdog at 10:59 AM on August 24 [5 favorites]


MetaFilter: Placebo effect combined with malignant testosterone driven narcissism.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:00 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


In Togo, they make this liquor called sodabi. They take palm wine, which already has a ... distinct ... flavor, then distill it through copper tubing running through stagnant water in oil cans. It is dangerously vile stuff. I once knew a Peace Corps Volunteer in a coastal village where their local voodoo priest had developed his own particular voodoo tradition (or maybe all voodoo traditions are their own particular kind, I was only visiting for a few days). Apparently one of the first things that happened when she moved in was that they took her to the priest, who made her drink from a jar of sodabi with a dead snake in it. Drinking from the jar was supposed to protect you - not as a curative, but as a preventative; having drunk from it, she was told, the snakes were bound to leave her alone. She told me that it tasted even worse than the normal sodabi, which I frankly have a hard time imagining.

So, a few days after this, she saw her first snake. And as soon as it saw her, it quickly slithered off into the bush. So she remarked to the priest that his drink worked, the snake had left her alone! And that's when she found out that it only worked once per snake encounter, so she was going to need to drink some more, and continue doing so whenever she saw another one.

There are a lot of snakes in coastal Togo, it turns out. Not just so many that you're bound to see a bunch, but so many that you're bound to BE seen seeing a bunch. Fortunately, her neighbors were very conscientious about her health and always made sure her protection wouldn't lapse.
posted by solotoro at 11:01 AM on August 24 [22 favorites]


Which I will also make and drink if someone can get me a severed toe.
posted by maxsparber at 1:55 PM on August 24


You want a toe? I can get you a toe, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me. Hell, I can get you a toe by 3 o'clock this afternoon...with nail polish.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:02 AM on August 24 [15 favorites]


Congratulations; cowboys have officially outdone pirates in the annals of booze adulteration. Spices and citrus juice have nothing on leather and rattlesnake heads. (Although gunpowder, as you mention, is a mutual favorite.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:02 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


My standard whisky tumbler for everyday drinks is a one of those Nutella glasses. So technically it's always Whisky In The Jar.

Probably won't bother looking for a snake's head... though we do have four to choose from here now.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:04 AM on August 24


I drank some of the snake wine fifteen or so years ago, but it was at the end of a rather long night of drinking that ended with slicing up a pint of ice cream with a bread knife because it was too frozen to scoop, so I don't really remember much about its taste or immediate effects.

I do remember that I woke up the next morning and passed out in the kitchen while drinking a glass of orange juice, though, but I won't blame it on the snake.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:08 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Yeah I am not so all about the snake head but the tobacco, leather, and gunpowder flavors do sound right up my alley.
posted by Captain_Science at 11:08 AM on August 24


This was a fun read, thanks maxsparber. All I can contribute to this thread is Steve, Don't Eat It! Vol. 8: Prison Wine, from 2005.
posted by christopherious at 11:14 AM on August 24 [5 favorites]


leather that had been tanned naturally [...]would have no toxic chemicals in it

I feel that this is leaving out some intermediate research, or leaning very hard on the strict meaning of "toxic", though perhaps dogshit soaked in alcohol is safe to drink.
posted by clew at 11:25 AM on August 24 [3 favorites]


I think the Wild Turkey was a big mistake...it's a far better distillate than what would have been used as the basis for a rectified (imitation) whiskey, which is what you were trying to recreate. Most rectified whiskey was made using some kind of molasses-based spirit, far cheaper than one made from grain. It also would have been 100% unaged. If I were to attempt a recreation, I'd probably start with Wray & Nephew Overproof rum or maybe some brand of aguadiente. Alternatively, you could use unaged grain distillate, so-called "white dog."
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 11:27 AM on August 24 [10 favorites]


Great read. My only question is, since pure moonshine has been imbibed in its unadulterated form for ages, why add all the other stuff? Does it taste that much better?
posted by Splunge at 11:28 AM on August 24


Aging spirit in wood, especially barrels that had been charred on the inside, greatly improves smoothness and, given enough time, enhances its flavor. This was well known by the second half of the 19th century and grain spirits so aged we're recognized to be superior to unaged product. (In the US this is the origin of what came to be known as Bourbon whiskey.) But that took time and money (for the barrels, at least). So lots of ways to quickly simulate some of these effects were developed.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 11:36 AM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Wray & Nephew Overproof

Interesting. Next iteration!
posted by maxsparber at 11:40 AM on August 24 [4 favorites]


And I should add: there was a great fight in the US over what could or couldn't be labeled as whiskey, one that didn't really get resolved until after the repeal of Prohibition. It's a fascinating topic...I've spent a lot of time studying it.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 11:41 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Agreeing with ICNH: I also wondered why this re-creation started with Wild Turkey rather than rotgut alcohol plus "river water (in flood)". If you're going through all the trouble of making gunpowder and sourcing snake heads, you should use the right spirits base, too.
posted by beagle at 11:50 AM on August 24 [1 favorite]


yep, Max, nothing for it but to do it again! I have used Everclear cut to 80 proof in similar experiments, without the snake, gunpowder, and leather. I just threw in various varieties of barbecue wood chips in untoasted and toasted states.

the result: a passable alcoholic wood tea.

I've done this with elcheapo rotgut white rum and also with both well-made and elcheapo vodka. In the end I've settled on using a cheap 7x filtered vodka and I refer to the result as "vodsky".

regarding the toe, aren't there any of those on etsy? what about a freeze-dried pig trotter?
posted by mwhybark at 12:08 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I can't speak to rattlesnake venom, but I can attest that if you eat the scorpion in scorpion vodka, your damn lips will go numb for twenty minutes. *That* was a concerning medical scenario to navigate while hammered at a party... "Ithh thith gonn get worthh? Ummmm..."
posted by FatherDagon at 12:09 PM on August 24 [8 favorites]


Some other "white" whiskeys that might make a good starter as well , if you aren't keen on "rotgut".

I recently sampled one from a distillery in Maine called Wiggly Bridge, and it was pretty strong stuff.
posted by briank at 12:10 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Mississippi river water. Sheesh. I'm looking NOT to poison myself. But there will be future versions trying different ingredients!

For some reason, I thought it would be easier to find a toe. I bought a fake one created by a makeup artists, but it just didn't have that same zing.
posted by maxsparber at 12:10 PM on August 24 [4 favorites]


For some reason, I thought it would be easier to find a toe.

Well, you can order a whole foot... not much meat on the bone however.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:16 PM on August 24


A 1:10 ratio of alcohol to "river water" is going to give a finished strength of strictly less than 19 proof, right? Seems like a recipe for disappointment, all else being equal. That's barely wine-strength!
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 12:18 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


River water in flood. Rising limb of the hydrograph? Falling? What topography in the headwaters? Are we trying to avoid sediment, or include some clay fines for adsorption, or get that drowned-cattle flavor, or what?
posted by clew at 12:35 PM on August 24 [4 favorites]


I've eaten the scorpion in tequila to no ill effect previously, and believe it to be common practice.
posted by Peter B-S at 12:39 PM on August 24


My grandfather on my father's side, was a skilled 'shiner, run out of Oklahoma in the '30s for selling his stuff to Baby Face Nelson's gang. I looked this up to the best of my ability, and that gang, had an outlet or seller in San Francisco. Anyway, my father told me that grandfather would use apricots in his mash to add color, and he strained the run through the brim of his wool Stetson hat, to filter out the copper sulfate from the still.
posted by Oyéah at 12:48 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


You should send a sample of this stuff to the InRangeTV guys. It'd fit right in with their "Old West Vignettes" series.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:57 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Needs more gunpowder and petemoss.
posted by clavdivs at 2:25 PM on August 24 [2 favorites]


Electronic dance artist Pete Moss?
posted by maxsparber at 2:34 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


On one hand I take my hat off to the author's willingness to try something odd, because anything having to do with oddball historical food is kinda neat, but I really feel like they could have done a bit more research about whiskey.

The use of a reasonably high-end, barrel aged whiskey is going to produce something that's entirely inconsistent with an adulterated 19th century product. That doesn't even make any sense... it's like making Mock Turtle Soup out of actual turtle.

Wild Turkey is what the adulterators were trying to approximate when they dumped all sorts of weird shit into whatever shitty grain alcohol they could get their hands on. TBH, it's probably hard to get drinking alcohol that's as rough as what they might have had access to locally. Even stuff that's bottom-shelf by modern standards would probably be better than what I'd imagine you'd get at a backwoods trading post...
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:57 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I've had a Chinese version of snake wine. Probably pretty raw sorghum liquor with a snake in the bottle.

It's fucking horrible. And the smell...lingers.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:57 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


Maybe next time as a chaser, some Red Tick Beer?

*sip* Needs more dog.
posted by sysinfo at 4:37 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


I would absolutely try this.

I always thought that cowboy nicknames for booze like "snake juice" came about because you'd be more likely to step on or near and be bitten by a snake once you'd had too much of the juice.
posted by rtha at 7:11 PM on August 24


From the comments section:

Also, pregnant women should avoid ingesting the Potassium nitrate in black powder, does bad things to the foetal oxygen balance and can cause "blue baby".

So the snake head was just a warning.
posted by Brian B. at 9:10 PM on August 24 [1 favorite]


This is fantastic. Is there a name for the process of soaking things in liquor to get the flavors? I definitely want to try experimenting sometime.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 7:34 AM on August 25


Is there a name for the process of soaking things in liquor to get the flavors?

steeping / infusing
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:03 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


I once had a cocktail that used a tobacco infusion. It was really good! I'm not going to recommend anyone try doing this without much, much more research, but my impression was that getting enough nicotine to be toxic in a liquid form required quite a lot more tobacco than anyone would use for a bit of flavor.

But, again, don't take half-remembered internet factoids as advice on what to do with poisons.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:49 AM on August 25


If mid-century Anglo-British mysteries are to be believed, it didn't require a particularly huge volume of tobacco to be soaked to extract enough nicotine to be lethal. However, I suspect the real problem would just be making people feel sick, as it takes a great deal less to do that.
posted by tavella at 11:24 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


mmmm, woodchip infused baiju! a new goal!
posted by mwhybark at 3:42 PM on August 25


If you did want to infuse ethanol with tobacco (and not saying you should, but if you did), it would be pretty straightforward to estimate the amount of available nicotine in the tobacco, and then — assuming 100% extraction just for safety's sake — make sure you don't exceed a reasonable dose in the output, where "reasonable" could be based on some existing product (e.g. nicotine gum or similar).

If you did the infusion carefully you could probably ensure an end product where the ethanol (which, presumably, the end consumer is or at least should be familiar with) is more toxic than the nicotine — i.e. the ethanol will kill you before the nicotine does, if you tried to drink too much. That's about the best you could say for such a product, since either way it's going to be toxic.

Given that caramel coloring exists it's probably not a great idea today, if the goal is to add color. But I suppose on the 19th century frontier, it's entirely possible that tobacco was more available and less dear (particularly if the tobacco were, uh, used) than any sugar that you'd use to make caramel...

IIRC, during my misspent youth, I ran across some old guerrilla warfare manual published by the SAS or OSS or similar agency, which had a procedure for creating poison out of a pack of cigarettes and high-proof alcohol. It was basically "soak the tobacco in alcohol, strain out the leaves, evaporate off the alcohol, carefully boil off the water, and scrape up the remaining tarry junk — then go stab a Nazi with it". I'm a little unclear if anyone ever managed to kill any Nazis this way, but it does illustrate the toxicity of nicotine.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:18 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


If you did want to infuse ethanol with tobacco (and not saying you should, but if you did), it would be pretty straightforward to estimate the amount of available nicotine in the tobacco, and then — assuming 100% extraction just for safety's sake — make sure you don't exceed a reasonable dose in the output, where "reasonable" could be based on some existing product (e.g. nicotine gum or similar).

From the Imbibe Magazine article Dangerous Drinks and How To Spot Them:
English says the ingredient they’re most concerned about is tobacco, which continues to be used in bitters and tinctures. “We felt obligated to raise our voices and say it’s a really bad idea,” he says. “We both believe there’s no safe amount of tobacco you can consume in beverage form.”
posted by Lexica at 3:40 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]


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