Iowa Legendary Rye: How a Bootlegging Grandma Became Legendary
How a recipe from a bootlegging grandma became legendary.
The premise behind RackHouse Whiskey Club is that every whiskey has a story. And man, does our first featured distillery have a tale to tell.
The head distiller of Iowa Legendary Rye, who is curating our very first box, goes by the name of Whiskey Rich. If that isn’t enough to sell you then wait for the story.
Legend has it Whiskey Rich salvaged a family prohibition era white rye recipe that was in danger of being lost forever. The holder of the secret recipe was a 90-year-old grandma hailing from Carroll County, Iowa.
Heath is the grandson and now works to preserve his family’s legacy alongside Whiskey Rich. We caught up with them both after a road trip across the state.
“It’s a great story. I think I have the only bootlegging grandma in Iowa and maybe the United States for the 1930 era,” Heath told us.
Yup, sign us up for a tipple and an opportunity to hear more.
Heath’s Grandma raised three children with her husband on their family farm during the Depression. What makes her story RackHouse worthy is that she helped bootleg almost 300 gallons of whiskey a day out of the family farm during prohibition. Heath says she did it out of necessity to keep food on the table and the family farm.
She had a cook living in the rear of the farmhouse who worked six days a week. The story goes, the cook was hidden out of sight during the day and worked at night distilling so he wouldn’t raise the neighbors’ suspicions.
While others used her land to make big batch, grandma made a “baker’s” version of it using a natural, non-enzyme pure spirit variation.
Eluding the feds
Like other families that bootlegged in that era, they hid the stills by putting them out in cornfields near a water source. A layer of dirt would be placed over it and corn grown so they would remain out of view. Legend has it some bootleggers using the farmland got caught when foxhunters stumbled upon their setup. It was torn down and the barrels and equipment were buried in nearby fields where they remain today.
Grandma, through a mix of luck and skill never got caught. She did have a close call when law enforcement came to town and searched the neighboring farmhouse. Word has it they had mistaken the address.
Grandma’s small batch recipe was distilled in 15 gallon barrels. When asked in her 90s why that was the case, she responded, “Have you ever tried to run with a 40 gallon barrel?” Heath and Whiskey Rich make today’s rye using the same recipe and method down to the 15 gallon barrels.
Nestled two miles from Templeton and Manning in Carroll County, the biggest market at that time for grandma’s bootlegged rye was likely Chicago. Spirits from the Templeton area frequently were distributed out of Chicago through organized crime. It’s alleged whiskeys from this region were Al Capone’s favorite, according to Heath.
Just like grandma made it
Today, the rye is made exactly as it was 100 years ago.
“When you drink this whiskey, it’s like going home for Thanksgiving dinner. When you drink anything else, it’s like going through a fast food restaurant. That’s the difference. Hell, it’s the best damn whiskey out there,” Whiskey Rich told us. “It’s true small batch. It’s the real shit.”
White rye is hard to make, Whiskey Rich explained to us as we admired his prohibition era replica setup with a glass in hand. He says the purity of Iowa Legendary Rye is down to the quality of Iowa’s topsoil and grandma’s recipe, which currently has two distill process patents pending.
“We believe there is magic in that formula. You will feel the magic. You will taste the magic. You will come back for more magic. It’s God’s whiskey. There’s nothing better.”
Whelp, Whiskey Rich you might just be right.
CLICK HERE to listen to the Rackhouse Whiskey Club Podcast and hear Whiskey Rich and Heath Schneider tell the full story.
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