Southern pioneers ground corn, boiled it with water to make a thin gruel, stirred in sour milk or buttermilk (as nutrients and to inhibit other bacteria; the famous sour mash), and exposed the barrels to the air for fermentation by wild yeast. For controlled fermentation, however, the grain should be ground to a fine meal and heated with acid or malt to convert starch to sugar. For acid conversion, mix 1 Bu of corn meal, 20 gal water, and 3½ cups of battery acid (sulfuric acid; see “Security and safety”) from an auto parts store; soak several hours; boil and stir for 60 min; cool; add yeast and another 10 gal water; and ferment. Barley is used to make malt (grain sprouts) and beer commercially because it has the lowest content of protein, which can interfere with fermentation. However, malt can be made from all grains except wheat and rye. For corn malt, soak the kernels until swelled; drain; rinse and stir gently 2- or 3-times daily until the sprouts are ¼ to ½-inch long; and dry them in an oven or attic at 120 deg F. When dry and brittle, raise the oven temperature to 140 deg F (no higher or the enzymes that convert the starch to simple sugars will be decomposed) until the grain is slightly brown and has a roasted smell. For malt conversion, mix 1 Bu corn meal with 15 gal water and 6-8 lb. corn malt. Heat at 140 deg F (no higher) for 30-60 minutes, and allow to sit overnight to complete the conversion of starch to sugar. The next morning, heat to a slow boil for 30 minutes to kill all bacteria. Cool below 140 deg F, and mix in another 15 gal of water, yeast, and, if available, 3-6 gal of spent beer from an old still run; spent beer is acidic, which inhibits vinegar bacteria, and it contains nutrients for the yeast. Adding hops produces the familiar bitter taste in beer. Green wood chips from oak trees contain tannin and have been used as a substitute for hops, as have several bitter herbs.
Ferment the beer until bubbles of carbon dioxide cease (4-10 days, depending on air temperature; yeast is inactive below 60 deg F), but skim off floating yeast after 3 days. Cover the container with a wet blanket or ferment in a closed container with a vent; both methods release gas but keep out bacteria. Strain through a bed sheet. Distill the beer, or seal it in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. The spent mash has a strong smell but makes an good food for hogs because protein content is higher than in the original grain; they love it. The spent mash can also be dried at low heat and then boiled or added to other food for people. A similar procedure can be used for potatoes, sweet potatoes, and Jerusalem artichokes. However, first cut them in pieces, cover with water, cook until soft (3-4 hr for J. artichokes), and mash. Then add 3-4 lb. of malt for starch conversion to each 100 lb. of potatoes, and proceed as above. Corn stalks (remove all green leaves) can be processed the same way after grinding or shredding.