The Motorcycle.com staffers and their work-release crew of not-yet-paroled freelancers have been around the block, done some things, and seen what can’t be unseen, but never in anyone’s memory have they tasted Harley-Davidson flavored liquor. Is this another attempt by the Motor Company to trademark the un-markable? Rather than a distinctive syncopated sound, was the factory trying to brand an exclusive taste? The taste of old motor parts soaked in gin?
There have been office incidents, of course – a splash of motor oil gone awry, a dribble of fork lube miraculously finding Editor Duke’s breakfast beer – you know, the usual accidental cocktails. Leave it, however, to German builder Uwe Ehinger, who with driven purpose and sober intent, built bottles of gin around unearthed Harley parts, American Picker style, by digging through barns and bunkers and such. There’s a reason why they call him “The Archaeologist,” or that’s what he calls himself, we’re not sure, but after a few shots of liquid motor manna at about $42 per shot, we didn’t care.
We had to look once and taste twice to believe it. Okay, full disclosure — starting at $1,058 for a 750ml bottle, we didn’t actually purchase and pour, swirl and sniff the subtle steel notes of a 1939 Flathead camshaft, but after some unscientific experimentation with spare parts, we got the idea. Harley banks on nostalgia, and what better way to experience years of Milwaukee tradition than drinking up some history.
Ehinger has created three varieties of his premium-priced gin based on bits and pieces of a 1939 Flathead, 1947 Knucklehead and 1962 Panhead, all vintage years for sure. Each bottle comes with the part’s backstory and from what far corner of the world it was exhumed. The period-look packaging of waxed paper and cardboard was printed on a 1931 Heidelberg Tiegel printing press, according to a spokesman for Hamburg-based Ehinger Kraftrad, which builds customs based on vintage Harleys.
Using old and gritty Harley parts to make liquor is nothing new. My grandfather was a bootlegger in the 1930s and used to refer to the process as “cooking up some oil pan stew,” which was family code for making moonshine. Grandpa was an avid motorcyclist in the first half of the last century, riding Indians, Harleys, Excelsiors and pretty much anything else he could drag from the junkyard and restore to life. Story goes, some engine parts didn’t make it back into the engine but instead were used to “add character” to the batch. Seems he believed the porous parts held a hint of burnt oil, which he swore with a mischievous smile gave his shine a “distinctive smoky flavor.”
So if your beer is tasting a little bland, just stir in a greasy bolt or two, garnish with a bit of chrome and enjoy. In the entrepreneurial spirit of free thinkers like Grandpa and Uwe the Archeologist, perhaps it is time to fire up the family business, serving those citizens who want a bold taste of the biker life. Just have to dig through some old piles of parts to find Grandpa’s old oil pan.