Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

That old demon alcohol

Recently, The New York Times wrote up a piece on the growth of micro distillers, Farmyard Stills Quench a Thirst for Local Spirits. We couldn’t help but be reminded of Gene “The Contrary Farmer” Logsdon’s book Good Spirits. Maybe it’s time to revive that book. The Times article points out: “On the heels of the microbrewing boom, new microdistilleries are thriving from coast to coast. And some of the latest and quirkiest entrants to the industry are in places like Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, [and] Michigan.” One Kansas farmer, Seth Fox, said no bank would give him a loan, so he struck out on his own.
“I talked to banks, told them I wanted to make vodka on my farm here, and they said, ‘Yeah, right you are,’” recalled Mr. Fox, whose company went on to become the first distillery in Kansas since Prohibition. “Well, I had a million dollars in sales last year.” “I’m the seventh generation to be in alcohol,” he said proudly. “Just the first to do it legally.”
In his book, Logsdon focuses on the traditional role of alcohol on the family homestead. Alcohol has historically played a significant role in agricultural life. In colonial times it was the most “liquid” alternative to hard currency as a means of exchange. Alcohol was the most reliable, safest, and most convenient way to store the grain harvest, and was an integral commodity on nearly every farmstead. Because it was so valued—does this surprise us?—the government muscled in, looking for its own piece of the action. George Washington was the first of many politicians to regulate alcohol as a means to generate revenues and gain political control. In between good-natured tirades, Logsdon makes sure the reader learns some valuable lessons. He tells us how to make beer; he teaches the rudiments of distilling; he interviews Booker Noe (patron of America’s First Family of bourbon) to tell us how to sip and tell; and he adds lively tales from alcohol’s quasi-legitimate past. This is vintage Contrary Farmer: 100-proof, single-barrel select. Good Spirits is outrageous, entertaining, enlightening, and an eye-poppingly interesting, natural and holistic look at the role of alcohol. You will savor this book like a snifter of Calvados, the double-distilled apple brandy of Normandy that evaporates on the tongue like a heavenly ambrosia. Heady stuff, but delicious when consumed in moderation.

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