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Illegal Drinks, Fueled By Bad Economy, Crop Up in Harlem

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Fashionable “speakeasy” bars have been cropping up in New York City for a few years now, offering patrons a nice, wood-paneled environment to sip on $12 perfect Manhattans and Mint Juleps. It’s a throwback to simpler times, when drinking was federally prohibited and moonshine could literally kill you.

The fad has now traveled uptown to Harlem. But, unlike their ritzier cousins downtown, these “bars” are actually illegal, the prices are low, and it’s not a “fad.”

They exist in barbershops, hallways, and in local bodegas.

The New York Times reports:

“The drinks, a blend of various hard liquors and fruit juices, are called nutcracker, and they are being sold in sealed plastic bottles or Styrofoam cups for $5 throughout Harlem.

Sales of the drink have been part of the underground economy for years, but with this summer’s heat and the economic slump they have become more visible. Visitors to any block party or outdoor event in Harlem this summer could not have missed the chant of “Nutcrackers! Nutcrackers!”

Now do-it-yourself alcohol is definitely, positively, absolutely a terrible idea.

But in the spirit of honoring a long-forgotten era that's back in full-force, here’s a recipe for a delicious White Lightning that will knock your socks off:

The basic ingredients:

  • 50 lbs. corn meal
  • 200 lbs. sugar
  • 200 gallons water
  • 12 oz. yeast
  • 10 lbs. bran (optional)

    To boiled corn meal add the yeast and sugar to ferment the mash.

    When the mash quits bubbling, it is cooked in the still and the steam is captured in a barrel filled with water (the "thump").

    From the thump, the steam is allowed to cool and condense by running it through a long copper coil (the "worm") submerged in another barrel (the "flakestand") that is constantly cooled with water troughed in from a nearby stream.

    Condensed, the clear liquor drips from the bottom of the flakestand into a catch can or 1/2 gallon glass jars.

    The liquor is tested for alcohol content, or "proof," by adding gunpowder to it and igniting the mixture.

    If it burns, its "proof" is established at somewhere between 100 and 200 proof or 50% to 100% pure alcohol.
    POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.