Posted on October 15 2018
In our recently-released novel, Black Autumn, we watch as the American Empire crumbles in the face of a Black Swan Event—a series of chance, unexpected minor catastrophes that accelerate into chaos. To make matters worse, the event takes place at the worst possible time of the year.
What would you guess is the worst time of the year for a collapse?
In terms of growing food, that would probably be late fall, right after the harvest has dropped off the vine. The peaches are gone. The summer squash has disappeared. The last of the tomatoes are shriveling.
All the little “ants” (from Aesop’s fable) will have “put up” their harvest in tidy Kerr jars while all the little “grasshoppers” will be screwed. The fields will be empty and the product shipped away to packing facilities.
Black Autumn kicks off at the end of September, when all the produce except for the grapes (in the Rocky Mountain West) have gone to waste.
Then comes the long, lean winter. Jeff and I are currently writing the second sequel, White Wasteland, where the Homestead fights to survive the icy month of December following the Black Autumn collapse.
After the big finale in Black Autumn, the folks of the Homestead pick the latent grapes—a windfall of sweet, sticky calories. But how can they make them last? You can only bottle so many jars of grape jelly.
In ancient times, people didn’t drink much water and it wasn’t because water is boring. Ground water is almost always full of bacteria, especially in rivers and swamps. Mostly, the poor drank water. Everyone else drank wine or beer, because it was clean and because it delivered CALORIES. More than anything, wine and beer hold over the calories of the harvest until the next season.
We often think of wine and booze as “trade goods” but we should also think of them as preserved calories, for adult and child alike.
Wine: hovering between 11 and 13% alcohol, wine allows the yeast to consume most of the sugars and then die in a vacuum. At that point, the wine will keep for at least a couple years, if not decades. Wine is a delicious, mild alcohol, with numerous positive health benefits beside the obvious calories. Most importantly, you only sacrifice the calories from the sediment and whatever remains in your grape press. After that sacrifice, you’re left with well-preserved beverage with plenty of life-giving calories (and a little morale boost.) Grapes actually come with their own yeast, coated on the skins. Other fruit will require a yeast boost.
Beer: as a prepper, I’m not a huge fan of beer because grain doesn’t need to be preserved like wine, apples or peaches. Most grain will hold over fine until the next season if stored properly. Plus, beer requires hops, which many preppers wouldn’t think to grow.
Whiskey and hard alcohol: while good for medicinal use, hard alcohol requires distillation and more loss of calories. Plus, you will likely be using corn or grain, which could’ve been preserved over a season and consumed in its full calorie form. As a preservation strategy, it’s probably not worth the sacrifices you’ll make in time and calories. You’d be better off buying a bunch of cheap whiskey and storing it for trade.
All of this is to say that booze is good for trade but wine (whether grape, peach, elderberry, dandelion or anything with natural sugar) is good for preserving calories and holding them over until the next harvest.
Plus, who wouldn’t want wine during the apocalypse?