Sly-grogging 'to pay for restoring car'

AGE-OLD TRADITION: Edwin Wilson, 80, in his garage, where he has been brewing at least nine types of liquor. He pleaded guilty to six charges.
AGE-OLD TRADITION: Edwin Wilson, 80, in his garage, where he has been brewing at least nine types of liquor. He pleaded guilty to six charges.

An 80-year-old widower who admitted selling his homemade liquor in a "sly-grogging" operation was only trying to cover the cost of restoring his vintage car, a court has been told.

Edwin Lowry Wilson was making up to 500 per cent profit on at least nine varieties of spirits he brewed in the garage of his Hastings house.

He appeared in Hastings District Court yesterday, where he pleaded guilty to six charges of being an unlicensed person keeping and selling liquor. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of three months' prison or a $40,000 fine.

Wilson sold a plainclothes policewoman an old 750ml wine bottle marked "Midori" for $20 on April 21. He told her he was open for business from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm and she could come back anytime.

Two days later he sold another bottle to volunteers.

A search on June 9 found 34 bottles of assorted spirits for sale, labelled gin, Kahlua, vodka, red sambuca, Midori, Jim Beam, Malibu, rum and whiskey.

Police also found a large amount of brewing equipment and ingredients, as well as miniature bottles, which Wilson told them he sold "as a shot" or as samples.

He told police he had been distilling and selling spirits for 20 years.

Wilson's lawyer, Cliff Church, requested an order to come up for sentence if called upon.

He said Wilson's wife of 60 years had died two years ago, and to occupy his time Wilson had bought a vintage Model A Ford car to restore. At the same time he decided to distil liquor.

"The liquor and the Model A were closely allied because they were both being made within the same shed," Mr Church said.

He only charged people for the liquor to offset the cost of producing it and cover the cost of restoring the car, Mr Church said.

He said Wilson was a returned serviceman and only had a few minor previous convictions in 1972 and 1973.

He knew he had broken the law by selling his home brew, but it was not a sophisticated operation and he had not intended to make a profit.

Judge Lindsay Moore was not convinced.

"According to this [note] you handed in to me it costs $4 to $7 a litre to make and he's flogging it off for $20 for a 750 [ml bottle]. That sounds to me like a pretty good profit."

"There's an old-fashioned name for this. It's called sly-grogging. It's been an offence since before you were born," the judge said to Wilson, who cupped a hand to his ear so he could hear what was being said.

"You were taking used bottles of well known brands, brewing your own stuff, putting it in the bottles and selling it ..." the judge said, at which point Wilson interrupted with "It was a better brew."

The judge said "on the face of it" Wilson could find himself writing out "a very, very large cheque".

He ordered a probation report and a statement of means. Wilson was remanded at large until August 25. An order for forfeiture and destruction of the liquor and equipment would be sought then.

The Dominion Post