During the prohibition era, people used to distill their own liquor in their bathtubs.
Long Road Distillery, the recently opened craft distillery on Grand Rapids’ West Side, is offering an unusual way to remember that slice of American history.
In conjunction with the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s opening of the exhibit “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” the distillery will release a “bathtub gin kit” featuring a bottle of Long Road vodka, botanicals for infusing, straining cloth, funnel, instruction card and commemorative bottle with specially designed label.
“Bathtub gin” was a phrase used in reference to any inexpensive, homemade liquor, not just gin.
Of course, distilling liquor at home is still illegal. Long Road features the first four legal stills ever in the city of Grand Rapids. The kit is designed to enhance the flavor of the vodka, the kit is also in the spirit – pun intended – of the 1920s era, when Americans used ingenuity to make their own alcoholic beverages, a trait in common with modern craft distilleries and breweries.
The kit is priced at $49.99 and for sale at the distillery, 537 Leonard St. NW, with $5 from each kit sold donated to the museum to support the exhibit.
“It’s a simple botanical blend included with the kit,” said Long Road co-owner Kyle Van Strien. “It’s not just going to cover up the flavor, because I think our vodka is exceptional. But it will enhance it, make it different and unique.”
The National Constitution Center’s exhibit, which opens Sept. 26, 2015 and runs through Jan. 17, 2016, will cover the temperance movement, the Roaring ’20s and the repeal of the constitutional amendment banning alcoholic beverages. More than 100 artifacts will be featured, including flapper dresses, prohibition propaganda, Al Capone’s guilty verdict and, of course, home equipment used to brew illegal beer and moonshine.
Van Strien said the idea for the tie-in came when he attended a museum fundraiser for the exhibit, and inquired whether Long Road would feature the city’s first legal still. He and Long Road partner Jon O’Connor considered making a special sugar shine or corn whiskey in conjunction with the exhibit, similar to how Founders Brewing Co. created Furniture City Stock Ale for a museum beer exhibit in 2012. But they struggled to come up with a good, unique liquor, and faced time restraints in getting legal approval for a new formula and label.
So they decided to make the product interactive, and reusable. Van Strien said different botanical blends will be sold at the distillery, adding that people could go to the spice shop and use the kit to experiment with their own flavors.
“Honestly, it was easier for us to use an existing product, then have people do the alterations at home,” Van Strien said. “It’s a fun way to commemorate the period and it’s period-specific.”
Long Road opened in June 2015 and offers vodka, gin, whisky, apple brandy and more, made on-site. The distillery offers tours, cocktails and a farm-to-table food menu.