Artisanal Pruno (Prison Wine)

Food artistry was once solely the work of chefs stationed behind the burners and ovens of Michelin-rated restaurants in major metropolitan areas. As we grew more aware of what we put in our bodies, we started to eat better. Dining would no longer merely a means to sustain ourselves. It became an experience meant to be savored and our collective consciousness skewed towards sustainable, organic, and responsibly grown, raised, and farmed food. At a price, of course. As consumers, we would bear the brunt of the cost burden.

The product of a newly minted upper middle class, foodie culture spawned a new breed of overpriced food. Cafes and restaurants, with their refined menus, had a ripe market of suckers willing to pay through the nose simply to flaunt their newfound knowledge and wealth. Bread, a staple of diets of both the rich and the poor, became toast that would sell for $4 a slice. Salads, essentially greens that one could grow in a backyard, $15. Ice cream, $5 a scoop... after a 20 minute wait in line. What's next? How much are people willing to overpay for the privilege of doing so?

For those unfamiliar with pruno, a little history lesson: since time immemorial, alcohol has served as the cause of and solution to all of our problems. A small percentage of people, for one reason or another, have made enough poor decisions that they now spend their days in prison. Does being behind bars keep them from getting drunk? Of course not! It's said that stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage; using fruit and ingredients from the commissary, our nation's inmates devised a way to booze themselves up to pass the time. Some call their concoction "prison wine." Some call it pruno.

Using exotic fruit and organic ingredients to cater to their discerning palates: Artisanal Pruno.

Disclaimer: PRUNO CAN KILL YOU. Before embarking on the adventure of fermenting fruit to make hooch, please be aware that the use of certain ingredients can make you seriously ill and/or result in death.

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Step 1: What You'll Need

Pruno's basic ingredients are fruit (traditionally oranges), sugar, some kind of yeasty starch, and water. Inmates have been known to use candy, fruit cocktail, packets of ketchup, moldy bread... we aren't going to be using any of that. We'll be using only the finest ingredients.

Organic Fruit - 7 oranges, 1 each of mango, papaya, pineapple, dragonfruit. If you have an ethnic or hipster market at your disposal, be sure to check there. If it's grossly overpriced, definitely use it. Oranges should be the base to remain true to the pruno name, but feel free to add whatever else you have available. The overall volume should be half oranges, half everything else. Do not use potatoes or any root vegetables/fruits - I've heard botulism isn't very fun.
Yeast - approx. 1 cup. bread or 1 packet of yeast. I chose to use whole wheat levain from a local bakery (baked fresh that morning in a wood-fired brick oven).
Sugar - 3/4 cup. Organic unrefined, unbleached, whole cane sugar.
Ketchup - 1/3 cup. Nothing says flavor like America's favorite condiment! Organic ketchup: it came in a glass bottle so you know it's fancy.
Water - 2 cups. Straight from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. You can also ask your local water sommelier for a water that best suites your tastes.

jar, large
freezer storage bag, large
pots, large and not-quite-as-large
measuring cups
long handled spoon
self loathing
cutting board
fruit knife

This recipe will yield approximately 5 cups of finished, drinkable* pruno.

*While it's technically drinkable, you might not actually want to.

Step 2: Prepare the Fruit

Peel and cut up the fruit into small chunks, taking care to remove any semblance of skin or rind. We wouldn't want any of the pesky healthy parts of the fruit - and the accompanying antioxidants and fiber - making their way into our hooch.

The entirety of your fruit chunks should mostly fill a freezer storage bag, as pictured.

Step 3: Mash the Fruit

With all of the fruit chunks in the bag, mash all of it into a homogenous mixture. Harder fruits, like pineapple, will require the use of a food processor or blender. Blend it separately and add it to the bag prior to mashing it into a fruity goop.

Using your hands, knead the lumps within like you would bread dough; if there's enough space in the bag, a rolling pin would also work.

Step 4: Sterilizing the Solution

Since we're making our pruno in a presumably clean kitchen and not within the confines of the clink, we can afford some luxuries that our inmate friends can't - namely, cooking our mash to eliminate (some of) the bacteria. While this isn't going to make the food completely safe and sterile (what's the fun in that?), it'll at least provide peace of mind later as you ingest what is essentially rotten fruit juice.

With the two pots, you'll be creating a double-boiler; in the outer pot, fill it with 3-4 inches of water with the inner pot already placed within, and in the inner pot, enough water to cover most of the bag of fruit. When the water in the outer pot reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to medium and place the bag o' fruit in the inner pot and let it sit for 15 minutes. The bag shouldn't melt, but you can double bag it just to be on the safe side (unlike some other instances where double bagging is not only inadvisable, but downright unsafe).

Remove the bag from the water and let it cool to room temperature. If you're the impatient type, an ice bath for 10 or so minutes will also do the trick.

Step 5: Science!

To turn our fruit mash into booze, we need it to ferment. Without getting into the science of it, fermentation converts carbohydrates into alcohol. We'll be providing our little yeast friends with a bunch of food so they'll reciprocate with boozy goodness.

Dump the contents of the now-cooled bag into your jar, followed by the sugar, ketchup, water, and bread (or yeast). Give it a good stir; everything should blend together into a foul smelling mash that very closely resembles the vomit from the first time you drank in that park on that one night, both appearance and smell-wise.

Attach plastic cling wrap to the top and secure it with a large, thick rubber band and place the lid on top. DO NOT tighten it - doing so will create a rotting fruit bomb and presumably - with enough pressure - it'll explode and cover everything around it in a putrid mess of pulp.

Step 6: Hide the Hooch

Hide your jar away somewhere warm(ish) and dark where it'll remain undisturbed. Closets and cupboards and the like should do nicely.

It will sit here for roughly a week while the yeast works its magic on the abundance of food we've provided it.

Step 7: Burp and Bathe

As the yeast feasts away on everything we've provided it, it'll create carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the fermentation process. At least once a day, bleed the gas from the jar by removing the plastic wrap.

Optional: add more sugar. Every couple days, I added a heaping tablespoon of sugar.

Now would also be a good time to stir the contents of the jar. Replace the plastic wrap.

Warmth speeds up the fermentation process so we'll be heating up the mixture, but not so much that it kills the yeast. In your large pot, heat 3-4 cups of water; if the water is too hot to comfortably immerse your hand, let it cool down to around 85 degrees. Let it sit in its bath for 15-20 minutes and return the jar to its hiding place.

Repeat this process every day for the next 7-10 days.

Step 8: Strain the Mash

Using a strainer, separate the drinkable hooch from the mash.

Metal will suffice but cloth works better (and stays true to the traditional method of pruno brewing, since inmates have to make do with shirts, bedsheets, etc) since less of the pulp makes it through to the final product. I used a jelly strainer.

Dumping the entirety of the mash in at once is inadvisable - using cloth, I had to spoon and shift the contents around quite frequently to keep it from getting clogged - transfer your large jar into a smaller one and strain it in batches.

Step 9: Chill

At room temperature, this stuff is barely drinkable.

It tastes just as bad as it looks; if you've ever had the displeasure of vomiting while sick, out with a bout of food poisoning, or maybe after a few too many drinks... that is what pruno tastes like.

Much like beer, our fine wine tastes much better chilled. Place the strained jar of pruno in a refrigerator for at least a few hours.

Step 10: The Taste Test...

In the week or so that the fruit had been fermenting, you may have had plenty of time.

You've done a lot of thinking.

The little voice in your head is telling you maybe drinking fruit juice that has been festering in the dark for 7-10 agonizingly long days isn't such a good idea. But we know nothing numbs the pain of bad decision making like... more bad decisions.

Pour into the beverage serving receptacle of your choice and serve to your friends, family, coworkers, or cellmates.

Just in case the photos above don't convey the point, a few thoughts from those who tried it:

"It's tart... and boozy. It's not that bad. Let me try some more."
"It tastes like puke."
"Bad decisions are one thing. This is just a Poor. Life. Decision."
"Oh dear god what did I just put in my mouth?"

And there you have it, the latest addition to the artisanal food craze: Pruno.

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    39 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    There is no doubt this process will produce alcohol, but let's try to make it


    I spent a number of years in Saudi Arabia making my own wine, so I have some experience.

    Winemaking 101........No matter what fruit/vegetable you are fermenting, for the first 3-4 days the 'mash' of fruit, sugar, yeast should be exposed to the air...this assists the growth of the yeast, and is call the aerobic stage ie exposed to oxygen. You will see a thick head on your 'mash'

    The remainder of the process is the anaerobic stage, ie oxygen is kept out, or you might end up with a vat of vinegar.This is when the conversion to alcohol takes place.

    All the sugar should be added at the beginning.

    So after 3-4 days, you put the mash under an airlock. You can buy corks and airlocks cheaply, but since you are in prison???, I suggest cut the thumb off a rubber glove and some plastic tubing. If the flagon mouth is large you might use the whole rubber glove. Cut a small hole in the end of a finger of the rubber glove, slide in the plastic tubing and bind with a rubber band. Put the other end over your container mouth and bind. The end of the tubing goes in a glass or jar of water. You will see the bubbles coming out into the water but nothing can get in. When the bubbles cease all the sugar in your 'mash' has been converted to alcohol .Depedending on your patience, alow the brew to clear, or have a party. You can also make a workable airlock using a condom, but I think that is for another post.

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    I have a question I hope you can answer. Given that your mash was open to the air for 3-4 days, is it possible that it could have picked up enough wild yeast to proceed to the anaerobic stage afterward if you didn't have any yeast of your own? Pruno makers don't have access to yeast, so is leaving it open to the air for a few days going to help?


    Reply 5 years ago

    The person I spoke to used some tubing and a circular stopper cut from the sole of a shoe forming an "N" from the tubing and placing one end in the sole and filling the "V" portion. half full of water to make the seal.

    Mi cha el

    3 years ago

    We called it "squawky". I haven't heard of Pruno in about 40 years. lol


    5 years ago on Introduction


    What a hilarious relief from one heck of a long week! Great I'ble and I may just try it... but I think I'll distill off the alcohol.

    Any thoughts?

    4 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    First off check the legality of doing that, in most countries distillation of alcohol for human consumption is illegal.
    If you are legal (or just don't care LOL), how well it works out depends
    on what type of distillation process you use. I would imagine cold
    distillation would taste the worst, but on the other hand if you run it a
    couple of times through a good refracting still you should get a very clean vodka like drink.


    Reply 3 years ago

    That's weird. It's totally legal in Canada. You just have to have your still in a detached building from any residence.


    Reply 5 years ago

    There are a lot of reasons why it's illegal. If you do it jail style then I've mentioned what's used as a distiller and will not do an instructable on it because it sounds VERY dangerous. If you Google it you will find lots of tutorials on distillation and making shine but the two biggest risks are poisoning (things like octanol and methanol are produced in fermenting and much safer to consume diluted in wine and beer but concentrated can cause death or blindness) and explosions. If you are going to try distilling it pay close attention during those parts of any tutorial you watch.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    mix it with fresh oj it takes summa the funk out


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not convinced that the yeast comes from the bread. The internal temp of bread is usually 180 oF or so when done which seems high enough to kill yeast. I suspect that the fermentation comes from germs in the fruit.

    Also, let that sh*t settle out. Gross.

    Cheap vodka, BTW, is about 10 $ for a 750 mL.

    3 replies

    Reply 5 years ago

    Volunteering at a homeless shelter has given me a place to seek answers to some of life's difficult questions... In this case, yes... the yeast comes from the bread. It will not ferment without it.
    And while not a direct reply... I'm told most inmates where I live do NOT drink pruno but instead refine it down to white lightning or shine using spoons, rubber bands, wire and pencil erasers.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Now I'm wondering how spoons, rubber bands, wire, and pencil erasers can be used to concentrate alcohol. Wait... what's MacGyver in for?


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I understand what you're saying. I believe you that they put bread in the pruno. But have you ever tried making it without the bread? Yeasts are everywhere, including on fruit, dust, and in the air. Even without the bread, it would ferment.

    In many commercial breads, the dough is raised chemically and the gluten network is developed through mechanical means. Yeast is added for taste, and generally it is the dried remains of yeast---nutritional yeast or yeast extract. In either case, the yeast flavor is present but no fermentation is possible. Point is, if the yeast comes from bread, most commercial breads just won't do.

    Anyway, there's no point in a pissing match over this. Even if I was right on this yeast issue, I hardly expect prison reform. Thanks for posting the write up and pictures. It's been an interesting discussion.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Sugar, sugar and more sugar. You simply can't smuggle a ten pound bag of sugar back to your cell... The guards will figure out your intentions! Instead ketchup, candies and Tang are used.


    No real use as far as I could tell, aside from the sugar. I only added it because most pruno recipes I saw on the internet used it. Also, because it would be an opportunity to present the absurdity of organic ketchup actually existing.