Patrick Schmitt steps into the shadows of his old pole barn. A navy blue 1954 tractor faces the open barn door. Its tires, almost as tall as the 82-year-old farmer, are caked with mud and grass.
Back in a dark corner of the hayloft stands a dusty old worn oak barrel. Schmitt tilts the barrel on its side and rolls it over the barn’s gravel floor.
“It’s just one of them things that everybody talked about in Dubois County,” Schmitt says. “They’d say is that Dubois Dew? Everybody knew what it was.”
A Part of History
Almost anyone you talk to in Dubois County has a tale to tell about moonshine. Homemade liquor flowed like a river through the area during the 1850s, into Prohibition, through the Depression and well into the 1960s but those stories are about all that is left.
This area is infamous for its white lightning. Dubois County historian Arthur Nordhoff says German settlers brought the art of distilling to the area.
“They were used to making schnapps, sherry and wine,” Nordhoff says.
The recipes were handed down over generations. They knew how to mix the ingredients safely and they didn’t cut corners like using lead in the still or adding lye to decrease fermentation time.
Schmitt grew up cooking moonshine. His grandfather taught his father, and his father taught his brother. Every August, after the hay was in and before the corn was ready to harvest, Schmitt’s father set up the still. A typical recipe for Schmitt dew looks something like this:
- 3 gallons of cracked corn
- Put the corn in a barrel and add water
- Add 100 pounds of sugar
- Add six packets of Fleishman’s yeast
- Stir it up and let the mixture ferment for about six days in the hot sun
Schmitt and his family strained the liquid mash through a burlap sack and poured what was left, the wash, into a copper pot. The wash boiled in the pot and created vapor that ran through a copper tube that was submerged and cooled in water.
“It comes out real white, no color to it at all, just crystal clear,” Schmitt says.
The Economics of Moonshine Production
Another old time farmer and distiller Francis Lindauer and his son Mike, like many Dubois County residents, still speak German. It was the language you heard floating around the still site.
In 1919, when Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol, the people of Dubois County saw opportunity. And since they were distilling whiskey anyway, farmers who could not make enough money off their crops turned to bootlegging to pay the mortgage. Illegal whiskey was also used to trade for farm equipment or to pay off debt.
Dubois County Dew flowed as far as St. Louis, Louisville and Chicago. Francis remembers a conversation he had about where he was from with a man during a bus ride in the 1940s.
“And he asked me where I’m from,” Francis says. “I said well, I’m from a small town in Southern Indiana you probably wouldn’t know where that was anyhow but the little town is Ferdinand and he said ‘oh well I get my whiskey from there’ and he was from Chicago.”
Bootlegging brought income for farmers, but it also brought revenuers looking to stop moonshine production and gangsters scheming to steal it. Mike Lindauer remembers a story about the gangsters, also known as raiders, who broke into his wife’s great uncle’s farm.
“Two of them were in the house with shotguns and they held the women and the kids in the bedroom over here on the left,” Mike says.
Mike is pointing to a room in a yellow house sitting on a hill overlooking the farm he works every day.
“Then they walked with Ed over here to this well sitting right here. It’s got a pump on top now but at that time there was an old barn on top and there was an empty well,” Mike says.
The raiders stole seven 55-gallon barrels of shine Ed had hidden in the well. The uncle did not make his mortgage payment that year.
The illegal sale of alcohol not only helped some Dubois County farmers make ends meet, but it also fueled the local economy.
Today, old red brick factories line the streets of downtown Jasper.
During the 1920s and ‘30s, those furniture companies were just starting up. Because revenuers checked bank accounts to see who was depositing suspicious amounts of cash, bootleggers invested their excess profits into company stocks, helping to make Jasper the furniture capital of the world at the time.
“When their parents died, a lot of their children asked how mom and dad had all this stock in local companies,” Nordhoff says. “Well, it was moonshine money.”
Pouring a glass of wine, Schmitt says he has not run a still in more than 60 years. Today the only alcohol he makes is wine. In his basement he has a batch fermenting in an oak barrel similar to the one in his barn. He serves it during holidays and gives bottles away to his friends.