Friday, September 30, 2011

The bad old days of moonshine

Having grown up outside the USA, I'd heard occasional stories about the moonshiners of the Appalachians, but only in the context of 'folk legend'. We had similar stories in South Africa, of course, where what Americans call 'moonshine' was known as witblits ('white lightning') if made from grapes, or mampoer if made from fruit (usually peaches or marula berries). Indeed, there was a law on the books in the old Cape Colony to the effect that any merchant selling a case of witblits was obliged to include a white cane in the price, because of the likely effects of drinking twelve bottles of the stuff!

(I used to have access to unlicensed witblits made by a farmer I knew near Oudtshoorn. He triple-distilled the stuff in an old swimming pool filter! It certainly packed a kick - it tested out at something like 170 proof! Unfortunately, I couldn't bring any of his product with me when I immigrated to the USA. I was advised that for some strange reason, US customs officers looked askance on things like that. Pity . . . )

I've been learning more about American moonshine from Miss D. She tells of driving down the road with her parents as a child. She says she was able to look up at the hilltops and tell instantly which haze was morning mist, and which was produced by the fire beneath a moonshine still. She also informs me that the only proper way to buy (or drink) moonshine is in a Mason jar. I've also heard from other friends in Tennessee that the old days aren't necessarily past and gone. Apparently there are still parts of the Appalachians where one treads carefully; and, if one smells the distinctive odor of old mash, one turns around and walks (rapidly) the other way, for fear of a bullet from a suspicious 'shiner who thinks you might be a 'revenuer' snooping around.

Anyway, in honor of my education in the field of American moonshine, I thought I'd put up Steve Earle's classic hit, 'Copperhead Road'.

I think I've seen a few characters like that around Knoxville . . .



Keads said...

Ah, I could take you to some places still (pun intended)!

Arthur B. Burnett said...

Greetings from Texas,
Moonshining is alive and well, and wasn't just in the 'Hills' on the other side of the Mississippi. Google Moonshine + Borger Texas.

I've never cared about folks avoiding the tax on booze. And the thought that making achole (can't spell - Remember) illegal will stop drinking is stupid. I mean, if that works, maybe they should try it with drugs. Like I said, stupid!

My objection with moonshining has been when the 'shiners' abandon all thoughts of safity for increased production. If you have heard stories about moonshine blinding, crippling or killing people - they are all true.

'Legle' moonshine can be purchased in places like Spec's. As for the mason jar, I prefer mine in a crock jug.

Shell said...

It's not illegal to make 'shine, it's illegal to sell it without Uncle getting his bite.

Some of my Mama's cousins were among those who ran moonshine and decided to race to see whose car was more souped-up, the beginnings of NASCAR.

Tam said...

The University of Tennessee fight song boasts about killing federal law enforcement officers. As Marko was fond of pointing out, this ain't Europe. ;)

Anonymous said...

TINS - when I was flying out of an airport on the north side of Atlanta, we were instructed not to fly low over the mountains for multiple safety reasons. So one day a new-to-the-area pilot comes in and gets a rental check out. He goes flying and comes back with a small hole in the wing just outboard of the fuel tank. He saw something neat as he was cruising along and decided to drop down for a look-see. Yup, you guessed it, the Revenuers flew the same sort of small, slow high-wing plane that the rest of us did.


Tam said...



Dave H said...

Shell: I'm afraid it is indeed illegal to make distilled spirits for human consumption without the necessary permits.

If it's made for fuel it can be made without a permit but the process has to include a method of "denaturing" it. (I.e. making it unsafe to drink.) Farmers who make corn alcohol for fuel often distill it into a drum with some gasoline at the bottom for that purpose.

Making undistilled alcoholic beverages like beer and wine for personal use is legal, and a lot of fun. I have 7 gallons of ginger mead ready for bottling right now.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about moonshine but I do know this "vevo" won't let the video play for more than a couple of seconds here, and when i go to you tube there is an irritating ad and it still will not play....grrr

trailbee said...

On the west coast we just call it something more civilized, like home brewed, la-di-da, and suddenly it becomes acceptable; beer (we still have cases of bottling equipment in the shed), pomegranate wine from our two trees. What do you think three-car garages are for? :)

ironrailsironweights said...

Then there's always changaa, Kenya's version of moonshine. To give it some extra kick the makers often add extra ingredients. Such as battery acid, jet fuel, or embalming fluid.


Anonymous said...

And an honorable mention for Popcorn Sutton.