How to make Prison Hooch

CKUT’s “Prison Radio” was included in the will of someone previously incarcerated.  As a result we were able to hire Gene as the coordinator of the Prison Radio show for a year. He educated us on a number of realities facing those behind babylon walls.  Check out Soundcloud for archives of this programming.

He also told us how to make alcohol out of ketchup inside prison.  Here is how you do it.


Ingredients for a three-gallon ketchup brew:

      1. 3 lbs of sugar

      2. 1 gallon of ketchup

      3. 1 ripe orange or approx. 4 ounces of bread dough for our homemade yeast starter

      4. 3 gallons of warm water

      5. bicarbonate soda powder

Materials to make the brew:

      1. 1 (preferably 2) large plastic garbage bags

      2. any clean rubber tube, preferably at least 12 to 18 inches, ¼ to ½ inch internal diameter

      3. any plastic/glass jar and lid (a clean 500 gr to 1 lb peanut jar is ideal size)

      4. tape (hockey, medical, packaging) or even a shoelace will work

      5. pillow case(s) (3 or 4 would be ideal)

      6.  cardboard box or footlocker or even a pillowcase will do here

Making a starter for our brew:

First we must have a working starter (our homemade yeast) if we cannot “liberate” fresh dough from the prison bakery, or if prison canteen sells no canned dough (croissants, etc.) This step can take as long as the actual brew does. We take our very ripe orange, remove skin and rip and squash into pieces inside a small container (prison styrofoam soup bowl or cup will do). Make sure you keep all the juice with it. Add enough warm water to cover about 2/3rd’s of the orange in bowl. (By the way, a lot of prisons use bulk canned fruit in syrup, like fruit cocktail, which can work great, too). Sprinkle about a gram of sugar over the orange and place in a warm spot. After a day, check if the orange is starting to ferment. Add another gram of sugar. Check twice a day. As it starts fermenting, continue adding sugar a couple times a day and add a bit more ripe fruit. By the third day it should be fermented enough for the next step.

Putting together our ketchup brew:

First we take the garbage bags, open them and place one inside the other. This insures that our bag will be stronger and also gives us more protection in case of a leak or tear as we go forward. Then we place the bag into a small cardboard box (or locker or similar container) and open it wide enough to add our ingredients. The box will give not only a firm protection and hide it, but it will also keep our bag upright and keep the top from flattening down onto the brew. Remember I said a pillow case could be used here if there is no other container (because it doesn’t stretch like plastic bags will), it will keep the brew upright and contained. Not as good as a box, but when in prison you make do with what you have.

Next, we put our ketchup and sugar into the bag along with 3 gallons of warm water. With our hand we mix it really well. Then we add our homemade starter and give it just a light mix. I had mentioned earlier that if we had fresh bread dough (which was made with real yeast) we could use this instead of the fruit yeast we made. Simply take our dough and loosely hand-roll 15 or so small balls and add to our brew as we did with fruit yeast.

So far, so good. This next part is just as easy as the first, but we have to pay close attention to the setup for reasons I will explain as we go along. Okay, we take our bag and loosely close the top of the bag together leaving enough space to push about 4-5 inches of the tube inside bag. Once that is done, we take our tape or shoelace and tape/tie bag tightly to the tube creating an airtight seal outside the inner tube itself. We should still have about 8-12 inches of tube coming out of the bag. We need an outlet for the gases from our fermenting brew otherwise our bag will eventually burst. Guards will smell and see it. You will go to the hole. Not good.

So, we took care of the bursting bag, now what about the telltale smell of our fermenting brew? This is where our jar comes in. First, we must make a hole in the center of the lid large enough to pass our tube, but keeping it a tight fit. More to keep the tube in place so it doesn’t slide in and out everytime our box is moved. Next we make small holes into the lid around the large hole. These are only large enough to let the expanded gases in our brew to leave the bag through our tube, into our jar, then out the small holes in the lid. If you think we will still have the telltale smell of brew, you will be right. So how do we remove the smell, but still let the gases out? With bicarbonate baking soda. We fill about 60 percent of the jar with water. Add 2-3 tablespoons of soda, mix and screw the lid on. The soda will kill most of the incoming brew smell. Slide your tube in through its hole in the lid to the bottom of jar. You can tape the tube to the lid to keep it more firmly in place. Just don’t cover your air holes. Put your jar inside your box and make sure it is always upright so that the incoming fumes are cleansed in our solution.

Also, the reason we said it is critically important to keep our bag upright is to make sure that this end of the tube does not go down into the brew itself. Otherwise it will either get plugged or the fermentation will force the brew up the tube and into the jar which will lead to plugging that end or overflow the air holes and make our solution useless.

You must now check the whole setup often each day to see if it is brewing well, the tube is not plugged and to replace the solution when needed. If all goes well, we can filter our ketchup brew 72 hours after it started fermenting. This is where the pillowcases come into play. Filtering thick, ketchupy sludge is hard. Pillowcase linen is tough and fine enough to filter most of the stuff you don’t want. You will need either a plastic bucket or another clean garbage bag to strain into. Open your brew bag, and with a cup or jar scoop out a couple quarts at a time into the clean pillowcase which is poised over your bucket or another garbage bag. Hold pillowcase at top and spin it one direction, forcing the tightening pressure to strain brew into bucket. When you squeezed as much as you could out (don’t force it to the point you are filtering out the ketchup dregs also), turn pillowcase inside out over sink and wash away the dregs. Re-use pillowcase again. After a few times you will need to use a new pillowcase. When done, get rid of all the evidence, and then enjoy your hard-earned efforts. They call it rot-gut for a reason, but considering where you are and what’s available, raise your glass of champagne! 🙂

1 thought on “How to make Prison Hooch

  1. Pingback: 2010’s Summary | CKUT TIME CAPSULE

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s