If you’re like me, the stereotype that comes to mind when you think of a moonshine seller is a red-faced hick from the Deep South, hanging out the back of a pick-up truck parked behind a country hoedown, hawking overproof hooch that might as well be rubbing alcohol, spilling a little on his overalls as he chugs it from a mason jar.
The girl who sits down opposite me embodies none of this. Anna, as she asks to be called to protect her identity, is just a regular Reykjavík gal, born and raised—tall, pretty, 23, and legitimately employed. She just happens to sell moonshine on the side.
Life of the party
“I’m actually getting a little bit sick of it because I’ve been drinking it for two, three years,” she says. She must be getting creative with the mixing by this time. Of course, she says, but there’s a limit on how much you can do with the stuff, which is usually about 40 percent alcohol. She suggests making screwdrivers. Juice covers up the flavour better than soda does, and that’s what she wants when she’s making party punch.
That’s what it’s all about for Anna—being a good host. It makes the picking up, bottling, and coordinating with buyers all worthwhile. When I ask her to confirm that she’s doing something illegal, her voice hushes a little. It’s legal to buy and sell brewing equipment, and it’s legal to brew for yourself, but it’s illegal to sell. “I don’t feel it’s something bad,” she says. “I just feel like I’m helping my friends being able to have a party with some punch and not go broke.” Anna’s clients are all family and friends. When all is said and done she might have made enough to buy a couple packs of cigarettes.
What she does can hardly be called a business, she says, apologising that her story isn’t seedier. She buys a 10-litre case of landi, as moonshine is called in Icelandic, and keeps one or two bottles for herself. Then she sells the remaining bottles with a little mark-up to recoup her costs. She sells one-litre for 2.500 ISK, compared to about 6.500 ISK for one-litre of cheap vodka from your friendly state-run liquor store.
Anna got acquainted with moonshine as a teenager. “I used to drink moonshine because we couldn’t get into the liquor store. We started at 14 or 15, and we were getting it delivered by some 17-year-old guys.” The bottles were opaque so you couldn’t see inside, she remembers. “That was kind of nasty. That’s kind of unsafe to be drinking. You know, you’ve heard stories about people going blind,” she says. But Anna isn’t that kind of moonshine purveyor. “I never sell to underage kids,” she says.
On the dangers of bad moonshine, Anna is emphatic. “If it’s done improperly by just some kids who want to make a lot of money, I don’t think it’s a good idea. You have to know what you’re doing.” Brewing takes skill and commitment. Plus, moonshine stills stink, she says, so finding a brewing location can be a headache.
But her source is safe, she says. Her family has been buying from the same brewer for years. Even her grandmother drinks the stuff.
Everyone is drinking more moonshine these days. The economic crash has increased public thirst for cheap booze and as a result moonshine is rampant. The police largely ignore sellers like Anna, though recently a couple of bigger sellers have been busted. The Icelandic government is much more concerned about marijuana growing and sales.
Anna thinks it’s much better to defuse teenage interest in alcohol by allowing kids a glass with dinner every so often. That way young people won’t drink so much that they get alcohol poisoning the first time they get access to alcohol. “And they don’t go out when they’re 17 drinking moonshine,” she says.
5 lemons, 8 limes, a bunch of grapes, cut up
2 litres landi a.k.a. moonshine, or Vodka (if you’re some sort of millionaire)
3 litres pineapple juice
1 litre grapefruit soda
2 litres Sprite
2 litres mixed fruit juice (find some pineapple juice)
1 litre carrot and lemon juice (or strawberry, grape or whatever else)
Rule of thumb: Use 1 litre booze to 5 litres juice.
For something a little fancier, you can add flavour extract. You’ll find some at Áman, the brewing equipment store.