A Night on Barrel Wash
This is yet another bad idea that turned into a horrible experience. Any story that involves homemade liquor and thirsty twenty-something men with a will to drink anything is never going to end well. In retrospect, this one is fairly amusing simply for the sheer ignorance of the participants - Phlegm, Mad Dog Johnny, Myself and an acquaintance named Marty. while you will undoubtedly laugh at our foolish antics, I hope this serves as a warning to any self-respecting boozer who is looking for a super-cheap drunk.
On a spring afternoon in my early twenties, I received a call from Phlegm, who's parents own a nursery north of Cobourg, Ontario. The nursery had contracts with many surrounding municipalities to provide flower arrangements for their downtown areas. Many of these flower arrangements were created in a half-barrel, within which the flower arrangements were planted. The nursery usually obtained the barrels from a distillery that had used them to age whiskey and other spirits. When Phlegm called, the delivery truck that had brought the barrels had just left.
"Dude, you'll never guess what I got brewing!"
"What?" I asked.
"The barrels for our flower arrangements were just delivered from the distillery and they just reek of booze. Are you up for some barrel wash?"
It was back in public school when I first heard of barrel wash (or "swish"). For those of you who don't know, barrel wash is a form of cheap homemade liquor that is made by filling a freshly used whiskey barrel with water, recorking it and lying it on its side in the sun. Every day, one rotates the barrel a quarter turn. Usually within two weeks or so, the alcohol that has been absorbed in the wood of the barrel leeches into the water, and you have a barrel of watered-down whiskey to drink. Being a opportunistic drunkard, Phlegm had apparently taken a whiskey barrel and started the process.
"In two weeks, we'll have some piss-up," he promised. I should have taken it as a warning.
Approximately two weeks later, Phlegm called to say the wash was finished and ready to drink. I rounded up Mad Dog Johnny and Marty and headed up to the nursery, which was situated in a valley in the middle of prime farmland. Within the valley was a small creek, which Phlegm's family had dammed up to create a pond. The pond then served as a scummy, stagnant frog sanctuary which could then be used in an emergency to water the greenhouses in the event the wells ran down. The valley area around this pond was what Phlegm referred to as "The Pit" and was a prime location for bonfires, keg parties and other drunken tomfoolery regularly undertaken in our irresponsible youth.
We arrived in the late afternoon and pitched tents in The Pit. Phlegm used his tractor to bring down the barrel of wash while we gathered wood for the fire. As is got dusk, the fire was set and the barrel was tapped. We poured out the liquid in a juice jug and filled our glasses. The finished product just tasted like whiskey and water. Not harsh at all. We continued drinking as the night wore on, until Mad Dog Johnny suddenly spit his drink into the grass.
"There's a chunk of something in this booze!" he exclaimed.
We filled a glass from the barrel and checked it with a flashlight. Even in our drunkenness we could see that there were definitely black chunks in the liquid. Thoroughly grossed out, we thought the party was over until one of us realized it was char from the inside of the barrel. Apparently, the years of soaking in harsh alcohol, slight drying after being emptied followed by the water Phlegm added caused some of the char to come loose from the inside of the barrel and start floating on the liquid's surface. Relieved, we continued to drink thinking a little charred wood would never hurt anyone.
After a while, the taste of the swill was getting tiresome. Having a drunken brainstorm, Phlegm went up to the house and came back with a can of peach concentrate. He poured some of the concentrate in the jug and mixed it with the hooch. It was kinda gross, but cut away the tiresome taste of the watery whiskey. We continued drinking around the fire until we were all in a very drunken state. At some point, Marty went to his tent to pass out, Johnny was crashed on the ground someplace and Phlegm and I were finishing a final drink. I recall falling backwards off the log I was sitting on, and being unable to sit back on it. I crawled to my tent, and after several minutes of drunkenly trying to open the fly, finally opened it and crawled inside.
I somehow managed to close the fly and get inside my sleeping bag. I lay there maybe 3 minutes before I suddenly got the urge to vomit. However, being in the dark of my tent and in a very inebriated state, I couldn't work the zipper to get out. I was unable to get out, and proceeded to throw up my last drink on the floor of my tent. My last conscious memory was trying to position myself as far from the mess as possible as I (in the words of Mike Tyson) "disappeared into Bolivia."
I awoke to a world of pain. My head ached and my stomach felt like it had been kicked by a mule. Wondering what had roused me from the sweet embrace of unconsciousness, I heard Mad Dog Johnny slapping on my tent.
"Hey," he asked. "Is that pond water safe to drink?"
I vaguely recalled the scum-covered swampy pond that was used as an emergency resevoir for the greenhouses. "I don't think so, man."
"What?" I asked.
"I already drank it." he replied.
I drifted off for a while longer until I felt well enough to wander up to the house to wash my face and get some water and a paper towel with some vinegar. I washed the floor of my tent with the vinegar and took my tent down. Marty and Johnny had taken their tent down, and Johnny was lying on the grass looking pretty grim.
"What's wrong with him?" asked Phlegm.
"He drank the pond water," I replied as everyone but Johnny broke into fits of laughter.
"FUCK OFF!" cursed Johnny, as Phlegm pondered the possible bacterial and parasitic infections one could suffer as a result from drinking from a stagnant frog pond.
As we loaded our sorry asses into my old Malibu for the ride home, Johnny climbed into the back seat and lay down. Marty and I decided that a greasy burger from Harvey's might help with the hangover. We asked Johnny if he would like anything, to which we heard only mumbled curses as replies. We finished eating and headed down the highway, all the while listening to Johnny mumbling and cursing to himself. In fact, I don't think he stopped cursing until I dropped him off.
"I am pissed off and in a vile mood," he stated as he got out. "I'm going to go lay down. I feel like shit. GODDAMN IT!!"
I don't believe Johnny got too sick from drinking the pond water, but it wouldn't be something I would want to risk. More telling is the fact he willingly chose a filthy home for frogs to drink from, rather than the remains of the barrel of wash he willingly guzzled the night before. Seeing how Johnny will willingly chug Cisco, there would seem to be some kind of moral lesson in that somewhere.