This was a New Year’s Eve for partyers, starting on a Thursday night and leading into a multi-night, celebratory weekend that put lame, midweek Dec. 31s to shame. And just maybe you woke up Monday and stared into those bloodshot eyes in the mirror, vowing to do it differently in 2010. Go out less, workout more, maybe even take up a hobby. Here’s one worth a try: making some good old, 25-to-life, brewed-in-a-bag prison wine.
Brewing at home usually requires a pricey set-up and lots of time—usually just enough to scare off the casual brewer. Prison wine, or “pruno” does not. The stuff’s been made since the dawn of law enforcement and comes from the even older tradition of home brewing. Pruno can be made from almost anything, but it relies on the simple brewing principle that sugar + yeast + time = alcohol.
Traditionally, oranges and grapes are the preferred sugar in the equation, and moldy bread is the yeast (given that yeast packets probably aren’t sold at the prison commissary). But we’d rather not poison anyone with home-made botulism, so we’ll use the store-bought stuff, since we can go out and all. Also, since the genuine issue pruno generally is brewed on the DL, conditions are far from sanitary. We’ve added a few steps to replace just dumping everything into a trash bag and letting it molder under the bed. So, follow our advice, use the recipe below, and you’ll be imibing like a con in under a week.
10-12 oranges (or in a pinch, other sweet items you have around, like grape jelly or cake frosting)
1 large can of fruit cocktail (for a nice finishing flavor)
1 packet of dried yeast
3 cups of sugar
1 one-gallon plastic bag with strong seal
Peel all of the oranges and put them in the plastic bag. Add the can of fruit cocktail and squeeze out all of the excess air while securely closing the bag. Now mash up the fruit inside by squeezing the bag. This is the most labor-intensive part, and if you’re not careful, you’ll pop open the bag and have a sticky mess. Try to squeeze the fruit toward the bottom of the bag to avoid spills.
Once all the fruit is completely mashed up, add the sugar and mix well.
Now if you were really in prison, you’d forgo the next part. Since we want a safe and drinkable brew at the end, we’re going to have to sterilize the fruit mash. Put the bag of mash in a small pot and fill it with cold water so that most of the bag is covered. Next, place that pot in a larger pot of water and place it on the stove. The extra pot is needed to keep the bag from melting to the bottom. For all of you bakers out there, we’re essentially double-boiling.
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium and boil for 20 to 30 minutes: long enough to kill the bacteria that would ruin the batch later on. After the bag has been sterilized, you’ll need to cool it down. You can dunk it in an ice bath or chuck it in the freezer for a half-hour. Make sure to cool the mash down to room temperature before moving to the next step.
The Magic Begins
Now to start a beautiful chemical reaction that will turn our sugary pulp into a high-octane alcoholic beverage. We are going to add yeast, a microbe whose sole purpose is to eat sugar and create ethanol. Most yeast needs to be “proofed,” that is, the yeast needs to be awakened. To do this, fill a small bowl or cup with warm water and add a few teaspoons of sugar. Add the contents of the yeast packet and wait. After a few minutes the mixture will start bubbling—this is the sign of a healthy batch of yeast. Once the mixture is frothy, it’s ready to be added to the mash.
Carefully pour the yeasty water into the bag of prison wine, seal the bag and mix it up. You did remember to cool it down, right? Otherwise, the temperature will kill our little alcohol-producing friends.
The Waiting Game
Within an hour, the bag should start expanding. That’s the yeast feasting on the sugars inside, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide as a by-product. You’ll need to tend to your bag in the first twelve hours by opening a small portion of the seal and releasing the carbon dioxide as it builds up. If you don’t pay attention, the bag will pop and you’ll have one terrible mess. Store the bag in a cool, dry, dark place.
To keep the bag from tipping over, place it in a large bowl. After a couple of days you’ll notice your batch is inflating less and less, which means the carbon dioxide production is decreasing. The yeast is running out of sugar and slowing down. Periodically mix up the bag to spread the yeast throughout. After about five days you’ll notice that essentially all reaction stops, with little or no carbon dioxide being produced. What we have left is a gallon bag of fruit mash and if you’re lucky, tons of alcohol.
The Final Steps
The last thing we have to do is separate our fruit from our booze. Pour the bag through a colander and collect the liquid in a bowl. Get a large spoon and squeeze the mash to release as much liquid as possible. Throw out the mash when done.
What’s left in the bowl is your prison wine. It’s ready to drink (in theory) but it’ll smell and taste pretty strange. To make it more palatable, pour the pruno into a pitcher and let it sit in the fridge overnight. After the remaining yeast in the mixture sinks to the bottom, pour off the liquid into another container and throw out the yeast (or drink it—it is very nutritious). The final result will be something akin to a very poorly mixed screwdriver. Toss in some ice and enjoy while you reflect on all the poor life choices that got you to this point.
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