MOONSHINE ON PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
written by Adam Doolittle August 31, 2016
Being from “away”, it takes a bit of time to acclimate to how things are here on Prince Edward Island, but over time you learn. You learn that there’s a lot of Islanders that hated (some still do) the Confederation Bridge. You learn that Islanders aren’t creeped out one bit by a jellyfish. And you learn that Islanders are experts when it comes to making moonshine — both legal and illegal kinds.
Prohibition on PEI
Prohibition was around for a very long time on the Island. In 1900, the Scott Act was passed which effectively made it illegal to sell/buy alcohol. Most of Canada only had prohibition in place for a span of fewer than 10 years between (roughly) 1916–1926. For some reason, PEI had prohibition in place before any other province in the country and it was also the last to end prohibition in 1948. Just think about having to go 48 years without legally being able to buy alcohol in the province you call home. That’s pretty remarkable.
Also, think about this. 48 years…with no alcohol…on an Island! It’s no wonder Islanders took to producing moonshine. Essentially, an entire generation of Islanders knew nothing other than Island made moonshine, aside from what booze that may have been smuggled onto the Island in cans of mackerel. This was basically the point in PEI history where ‘shine became an Island tradition that still is prevalent, even in 2016.
My Introduction to ‘Shine
Earlier this summer, I was sitting around a table with some friends at a café in Charlottetown when one of the girls I was with pulled out a mason jar. No, she wasn’t showing us her recent homemade décor item inspired by Pinterest. Rather, the mason jar was filled with ‘shine. Apple pie ‘shine to be specific.
I thought it was a bit hilarious that she had this jar of ‘shine to sip from while we were in an establishment that sold alcohol. The incident piqued my interest in ‘shine, though, because I realized that even though it was 2016 and many years after prohibition had ended, there were a lot of Islanders still making ‘shine. I also knew that there was a distillery on PEI making legal ‘shine, so why are Islanders still making ‘shine?
My friend informed me that some Islanders prefer the taste of their homemade booze. Some others prefer the fact that it’s cheaper than buying booze from the liquor store and/or bars. I have yet to attend a wedding or funeral on the Island, but my friends tell me that ‘shine is frequently passed about at both of these types of social gatherings.
I must admit, it still shocked me a bit to learn that Islanders still choose to make ‘shine over actually just buying alcohol. During the days of prohibition, it’s believed many people actually went blind from bad batches of ‘shine that contained methanol. I have yet to hear any stories of Islanders going blind from drinking ‘shine these days, but I’m guessing that’s because they have really perfected the recipe and process over the years.
I had now learned about illegal ‘shine being made on the Island, but I still wanted to know more about the legal stuff.
One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, Kate and I hopped in the truck with Bella and took a trip down East to Rollo Bay, home of the Myriad View Artisan Distillery. Upon arriving at the distillery you drive up a laneway lined with grape vines (used for their brandy) before you arrive at a bright red building. Once you walk into the building, you enter the storefront where immediately the smell of booze hits you.
The entrance to Myriad View Artisan Distillery
After a quick look at the products, Shelia came from out back and welcomed us. I had informed her that we were there for a tour, she quickly started to tell us about the various products that Myriad View produces which includes Strait Shine, Gin, Vodka, Brandy, Whisky, Rum, and Pastis. They also make a type of shine they call Strait Lightning which, at 75% alcohol closely resembles the ‘shine made during the days of prohibitions.
Once Shelia was done introducing us to the products, we made our way out back to where all the magic happens. As soon as the door opens and you make your way into the large room, you see the impressive copper still that fills the room. That copper still produces every single product that Myriad View makes. It was handcrafted and shipped from Germany. We couldn’t help but think how futuristic it looked. It kind of reminded me of the Time Machine (from the movie) for some reason.
The futuristic looking copper still that produces every Myriad View product.
In much detail, Sheila described to us how each of the products is made including the Strait Shine. The one thing of interest in regards to how Strait Shine is made is the fact that the methanol doesn’t have to be disposed of by Myriad View. Instead, they have someone who takes the methanol from them and they then turn it into biofuel.
The History of Legal Shine
As soon as Shelia was done discussing how the products were made, I had to ask her about why Myriad View decided to make legal moonshine. Myriad View was initially opened in 2006, when two couples, Paul and Angela Berry & Ken and Danielle Mill teamed up to launch the distillery. The couples decided to pair up with one another and attempt to sell legal shine.
Paul and Angela, originally from England, would frequent Island parties where they would often witness partygoers downing ‘shine. Like myself, Paul wondered why Islanders were consuming so much ‘shine in the time when alcohol was legal and readily available. Paul then set his eyes on legalizing moonshine. People would tell him he was crazy and that moonshine would never be legal, but he found the one guy who believed it would be possible and that was Ken.
Ken told Paul that if he wanted to, they could be partners and try to legalize ‘shine. To the pair, it was a plan. They were going to make legal moonshine. It wasn’t that easy, though. Their initial attempt to legalize moonshine was declined. Ken and Paul would study different laws and acts trying to find a way to make their Strait Shine.
Finally, after 3 years they were allowed to make legal moonshine with one caveat. Myriad View could not call their product moonshine. A crafty way they got around that was to have their label include an image of a moon with the word Shine in front of it. Very clever.
I also wondered what the main difference between illegal and legal ‘shine was. Sheila told us that it’s basically the fact that it’s made in a controlled and monitored setting and you know that you’re going to get a quality product. This means that you can be assured of what you’re drinking. You know that there’s no methanol in Strait Shine. You can’t necessarily say the same about that mason jar hiding under the kitchen sink sitting along with your kitchen cleaners.
Throughout our tour and Sheila’s great stories, I was wondering what the Strait Shine actually tasted like. Finally, it was time to find out as we made our way back to the storefront for some tasting. Just prior to our tasting, however, a gentleman came into the store.
He proceeded to talk about his experiences with illegal ‘shine up in Tignish. He informed us that back in the day — and perhaps even still today — lobster fishermen would wake themselves up in the morning with a shot from the mason jar. They would then come home at lunch for another shot before heading back out for the remainder of the day. Just another day on the boat, I suppose.
It was finally time to try some Strait Shine. For some unknown reason, I was a bit nervous. Sheila poured a small shot of the Strait Shine. I gave it a quick sniff and said, “this will probably take the hair off of my chest.” Shelia replied, “The Strait Shine will PUT hair on your chest. The Lightning Shine will take it off.” Good to know. I tipped my head back and down it went. My first sample of shine. It was quite good and had a nice hint of sweetness to it.
Shelia then asked if I would like to try the Lightning Shine. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous based on her previous comment about the Lightning Shine. At first, I insisted that I was ok not trying it but Kate peer pressured me into doing it, because unlike most adults, I apparently can’t stand by my own decisions.
The shot of Lightning Shine was then poured. I took a sniff. Wow. I could tell that this stuff was powerful based just on the smell. 75% alcohol. Here we go. I tipped the shot into my mouth and immediately felt it. It felt like fire in my mouth and then warmth overtook my body as it made its way through my system. This was some strong stuff for sure. I could definitely picture Islanders drinking a similar shine back in the day to warm up on a cool, damp day.
Bottles of Strait Shine line the shelves of store.
Try Some Shine
Should you find yourself visiting the Island, make a trip up to Rollo Bay and enjoy the tour and tasting at the Myriad View Artisan Distillery. If you can’t make it all the way down East, you can buy all of the Myriad View products at liquor stores across the Island. Sheila recommends that if you buy some Strait Shine to mix it with a citrus based drink like orange, pineapple or grapefruit juice. She also explained that back in the day, Seaman’s (an Island company) made a Lime Ricky drink that was perfect for mixing with ‘shine. These days, Seaman’s no longer makes Lime Ricky, but you can find a version of it made by Pop Shoppe in various stores across the Island.
Big thanks to Shelia for the tour at Myriad View. She was fantastic and didn’t rush us out of there even though she was bottling Lightning Shine when we first arrived. Thanks, Sheila!
Have you ever tried moonshine? What was your experience like?
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