American Toddy: Prison Hooch Recipe

December 12, 2019


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After deliberation, I feel this recipe would be great way to begin the fermentation journey. The equipment and ingredients used are so readily available that it can be made even inside a prison cell (hence the name). Also, it is an inexpensive way to test ones fermentation aptitude.


Yes! You had it right!! Contrary to popular misconception, one can make a decent wine for less than ₹200/- ($3) and in 3-7 days. No wonder, utilitarian first timers like students, amateur cooks or anybody on either a shoestring budget love this recipe. Alcohol is still a taboo for those fearing religious persecution or in some orthodox joint families. If a mere sight of empty wine bottle in trash is going to be a scandal, then this discreet recipe comes handy.


We are starting with this recipe because it helps one to get started without being scared by something over-complicated. However, be cautious of being trolled by wine snobs for using this style.



  1. Tetra pack juice: 1 packet,

  2. Dry yeast (if wine yeast is not available then bakers or distillers yeast can be used): ½ teaspoon,

  3. Table sugar ~80-150gm per liter (essentially as much as we can dissolve),

  4. An airlock or blow off tube, or makeshift valve (possible substitutes, a balloon)



  1. Open a tetra pack juice packet and add some sugar and yeast.

    1. (Optional) Put it in a blender to ensure sugar is mixed well and the mixture aerated.

    2. (Optional) Add some over-ripe fruits, fresh fruit juice or sugarcane juice to make it more flavorful.

    3. (Advanced) Wild yeast can be cultured and used instead of dry yeast.




  1. Seal it with an airlock or balloon and observe the escaping air bubbles. If airlock is not available, use a sanitized PET soda bottle with a screw lid. Twice a day, unscrew the cap slightly to vent off the buildup of excess air.


  1. Keep it in a cool place (15o-25oC) away from sunlight and of course children.


  1. After 3-5 days the fermentation activity (escaping of air bubbles) will almost stop.


  1. Decant/ strain with a handkerchief to remove sediments, pulp and other haze causing elements. Coffee strainer can also be used.


  1. (Optional) Keep it in refrigerator at 4oC for 24 hours to accelerate clearing of haze and reduce the bready notes from fresh yeast.


This drink is often consumed fresh, hence will taste a bit yeasty. It needs a lot of residual sugar to mask those off flavors. Flavor can be altered by adding some more fresh juices/ sugar/ lime/ spices, freeze it into a slush to make a good multi-colored cocktail. Alternatively, add a few fresh apple pieces to give the Sangria like feeling.


Wines can be made effortlessly from any bottled juice, as long as it does not have too much artificial colors or synthetic flavors. Black currant, pomegranate, strawberries, beetroot or cranberry will make red wine/ hooch. While orange, apple and mixed fruit juices will make white/ golden wines. A bit of tea (in boiled water) can be added to enhance the body and colors.


Pro-Tip: Choose fruits, which are flavorful. Litchi, watermelon and tomato juices often taste like spirits because they lack the accompanying body. Fresh mangoes are great but as packaged mango juice is often added sugar and colors only, the wine will be watery.


High (15-18% abv) alcohol and high temperature brewing means that guests will get drunk really fast. So keep the serving size low and have plenty of other food and snacks around.


If fresh sugarcane is used, then no need to add yeast. We can use wild yeast which is naturally present in sugarcane (and in the earthen pots) to ferment the juice. After 2-3 days, it will taste like Toddy, a bit sour, mildly intoxicating bubbly drink that is hazy brownish in color. In Indian villages, toddy is still considered the beverage of choice to overcome the summer heat and relive pain from a day of hard work.

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