As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Making Homebrew

Well, my mother-in-law used to make homebrew, right? But her brew was made out of all kinds of things. Anything that was available, like raisins or rice or oranges or – anything that’s going to ferment. Threw into a big blue bucket, I remember that so well. And sugar and yeast. It’d be just bubbling – smelled terrible. This was even before, you know, we were allowed to have liquor. People found ways and means of making their own brew, but it was so gross! So some people used that – what are those berries? – tʼᶿɛwqʼ. We called “tʼᶿɛwqʼ” in our language. They’re red berries, looks like a cluster of grapes or something. You see them getting ripe now, they’re red – really red, and they’re in clusters. Some people use that for, to throw into the brew as well. I think some people call it “poison berries.” A lot of people wouldn’t touch it: they say it’s poison. But people ate it. My grandfather ate that too. Not so much as a dessert, but he said, “It doesn’t taste very good, but it’s good for you.” You’d have some in a dish, and they steam it down, and then all those little tiny berries fall off. So you don’t have to cook it in a lot of water. Just a bit of water in the bottom of a big pot. In – we’d have a big pile of it – in a big container of it, it melts down to nothing. So you shake it all off and those little branches that they’re on, you shake it and you’ll get, like, a bowl full.

So my granny used to preserve that, put it in jars, ’cause it’s good medicine. Or sometimes they’d add the wild blackberries into it so it gave it a different flavour. But you can’t eat too much of it because you’d get diarrhea. So I guess in that way it was medicine – it was good for that purpose. But people made brew with that, too. I don’t remember if my mother-in-law used that particular kind of berries, but she used everything else in her brew. And she always had a big pot of brew going, which was so gross. Then it’s strained – all that stuff is strained, like, with an old pillowcase or something like that. All the pieces then are separated from the liquid. It was yucky looking! [chuckles] And actually people got high on that. And my granny started making that too. Learned from my mother-in-law. Then they started to make it with the malt. They were sold in the stores, malt extract. So that was a better quality of brew. So that was more like beer.

And that’s what I used when I made – to surprise my husband who was away in camp up in Egmont. And he would be there until Christmas. I thought, “I’ll do this. I have enough time to do this, ’cause it might take maybe six weeks it’ll become really clear.” Six weeks to two months, I guess, ’cause he was up there in around October, November. Yeah, late October he went there. So I thought I would surprise him and make this, following the directions ever so carefully. I thought I’ll give it to him after Christmas. Not before Christmas, but it would be part of his Christmas gift. So I was really diligent and just followed the directions. And it turned out really nice, it was becoming really clear. You siphon it to another container, then you skim it. So I was quite proud of the fact that it was so clear. So when it was time to bottle it, I put it in, like, half-gallon jugs and a couple of one-gallon jugs. I didn’t put them in beer bottles. They were in these jugs. So I had it up in the attic of my old house.

So the police came around close to Christmas. Christmas night, I guess it was, Christmas Eve. People were in church, I guess, that night and somebody took advantage of that situation and broke into a house in the community, while the people were out of the home. And so they stole this very valuable wild blackberry preserve. It’s really hard to get that, ’cause the little blackberries are so tiny and they’re so tasty when they’re in the wild. So this lady had a couple cases of that, and the thieves took off with it. So the police came. It wasn’t a search warrant that they came with to search a house. No search warrant. And they just went door to door to door throughout the community, lookin’ for the culprit. So I heard about this and I was so scared. Someone was mentioning, “They’re coming this way now. They’re coming this way.” That’s when we still lived in the old house. So I had to divulge my secret. And my husband and his friend Charlie were in the house. So I told him, I said, “Police are coming this way and I have to tell you this right now. They’re searching the houses.” I would have gone to jail, for goodness’ sakes, for making homebrew.

So I said, “There’s some homemade beer upstairs I was going to give to you later, before New Year’s.” Boy, were they ever shocked – pleasant surprise. So they went upstairs, ’cause I had it up in the attic. I could hear them rattling around down there, and they’re coming down the stairs with all these jugs and went out the side door, and it was all bush back here then behind the house. There were no houses back there. That other street there was not there then. It was just brush. Off they went into the bushes with these jugs of beer.

And lo and behold! Two police officers come through that trail and knock on the door. Go to the door, pretend I don’t know what’s going on. They told me what their business was, and they’re looking for some house got broken into, and they didn’t ask to come and search in the house at all. I just talked to them at the door. And in the meantime could hear clanging and crashing through the bushes back there. And, “What is that up there? What was all that racket up there?” “Hmmm,” I said, “probably kids playing.” So they were gone. For several days they sat up in the woods and drank the beer. Invited all their other friends – and they tell me it was really strong beer. [laughs] They were gone until all the beer was gone. Yeah, that was quite the thing when people made brew.

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