July 3, 2011

Since you'll all be drunk today

I figured it was time to investigate the word "hooch". And there's nowhere better to look than "A Browser's Dictionary: A Compendium of Curious Expressions and Intriguing Facts" by John Ciardi. The words you see below are all his.

Hooch. 1. Rotgut. 2. Any hard liquor. [Hoochino, the American rendering of the name of a Tlingit tribe of Eskimos of southern Alaska, the name in its unpronounceable original meaning "the people of the strait of the grizzly bear."]

HISTORIC. No Amerinds had developed fermented or distilled drinks before the coming of the white man, though many then developed a disastrous taste for firewater. Under the Russian occupation, the Alaskan Indians seem to have acquired no knowledge of alcohol. With the arrival of the Americans in the mid nineteenth century, however, the Alaskan Indians became riotous drunkards.

The Americans ate sourdough bread. A bucket of sourdough starter, if left for a few days, exudes a slightly fermented liquid, a sort of noxious flat beer for which the Tlingits developed a taste; but "hooch" was yet to come.

Regulations forbade hard liquor on the military post, and a still would be too fragrant to conceal. An American army sergeant, therefore, scrounged the parts for a still, rigged up a cooker and coils in the Hoochino village, and showed the natives how to distill.

With access to sugar and molasses from the American trading post, and with a natural talent for throwing into the mash anything else they could find, the Hoochinos soon became manufacturers of a perilous rotgut which they not only drank in binges that involved the whole village and all nearby white men, but took to distributing through most of southern Alaska. In a memoir of Alaskan travels in 1880, John Muir tells of meeting a party of Chilcat Indians on a 200-mile trek to a Hoochino village to demand blood money for a Chilcat woman who had diet of drinking their rotgut.

1 comment:

Artichoke Annie said...

I'll drink to that! Happy 4th of July everybody and I'll go out on a limb and wish for a Happy Fifth as well.