My Experience With Raisin Jack Whiskey
David Christenson, as told to me by Ken Christenson
"It was 1953 or maybe 1954 that, although he denies it now, my first cousin, Jerry Kagels, and I hatched a sure-fire, full-proof plan to make, bottle & perhaps sell to our friends, our very own Raisin-Jack Whiskey.
The basement of my house at 509 Grant Street was more of a root cellar than an honest basement.
Directly below the kitchen on the back side of the house, it was just one small room with cinder block walls, an outside wooden stair way with a big heavy door at ground level like Dorothy's in Wizard-of-Oz -, and a single light bulb hanging on a cord from the unfinished ceiling.
An opening in the southwest corner provided access to the crawl space under the rest of the house and was mostly blocked with discarded, but too good to throw away, junk like outgrown toys, boards that had been cut too short for whatever project, a broken but fixable wooden chair and lots of spiders.
A few sagging shelves were attached to the west wall and a small window faced the alley on the north side. It was perfect.
We gathered the necessary equipment and supplies, cleaned the basement to a suitable condition and got down to business.
The recipe for Raisin-Jack is pretty simple; water, raisins, sugar, corn meal and yeast. Additional fruit may be desirable for flavor, oranges work well, and two appropriate sized wooden barrels.
Cook the raisins in enough water to cover until tender, then cool.
Mix the raisins with the sugar. Slice the unpeeled oranges and set aside. Mix the yeast with about 2 quarts lukewarm water. Mix the cornmeal with warm water to a consistency of watery mush. Now dump the raisins, oranges, cornmeal, yeast, and more sugar into the first barrel. Fill with water to within 10 inches of top. Stir well.
Cover with a couple layers of clean cheesecloth or something similar. Let sit 10 days, stirring every day. On day 11, strain out the fruit and pour the fermented liquid into your second barrel.
Water seal the barrel and let age 6 months or longer.
The key here is 'water seal', which means 'water tight''.... it does not mean 'air tight'.
Somehow, the directions were not followed completely and suitable wooden barrels are hard to come by for boys of sixteen.
Not to be deterred, we decided to ferment our liquid gold in mason jars. Mason jars were meant for canning fruits and vegetables for storage. They have a wide mouth, a rubber seal, and a metal screw-on lid. And they are air tight. The ensuing disaster was predictable to a more experienced hand, but was a complete surprise to us.
The fermenting yeast created pressures enough to burst the jars and plaster the entire basement with sticky, olive sized raisins and goo. The smell was enough to keep Mom out of the kitchen as much as possible for several weeks.
My Dad's response to this most unfortunate turn of events was simply, 'clean it up'."