Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moonshine Revisited

A re-post from '08. It may be the continuing snow that has me thinking of strong drink...

I wouldn't know, myself, where to find moonshine for sale but thanks to the proverbial 'friend of a friend,' we were given a jar a few months ago. It came from Tennessee and, who knows, maybe even from Pop Corn (see Thursday's post) himself. Those are sliced peaches in the jar and I'm told this is a fairly common practice -- using fresh fruit of various kinds to flavor and color the white liquor.

We've been given jars of 'white' before this -- always from friends who swear they know the origin of the stuff and can vouch for its safety. We keep it around to offer a 'sup' to visiting flatlanders who are curious about this infamous local product. (It tastes a lot like tequila to me -- not bad but not something I'm crazy about.)

In the old days, the local folks didn't go to making whiskey out of a desire to break the law or to get drunk. It was a simple matter of economics. If you live in a remote mountain cove and your main crop is field corn, how will you make more money -- hauling bushel after bushel of dried corn down the mountain and to market to sell for animal feed or cornmeal -- or do you turn that same corn into distilled whiskey, using the knowledge and skills your ancestors brought over from Scotland and Ireland?

Whiskey was easier to haul, more valuable, and it kept well. One of the earliest 'value added' products.

Of course, with taxation, Prohibition, and dry counties, things changed and moonshining turned dangerous. And then, as the bootleggers used fast cars to transport their illegal cargo over twisting mountain roads (see Thunder Road with Robert Mitchum), it all led to NASCAR.

Aye, law.



I have no idea what folks pay for white lightning but I suspect it's not cheap. I've heard tell of the tour buses of country music stars lined up at one particular bootlegger's home and and the quart jars being loaded on by the case.

It's a nostalgia thing, I suspect.


A Wilkes County copper moonshine still
Courtesy of Applachian Cultural Museum
Applachian State University
Boone, North Carolina

For more information on moonshine, go here

24 comments:

Martin H. said...

I guess, if you didn't have a fondness for hard liquor, you could always run your truck on it.

Friko said...

great post, Vicki.
A story like that, padded out, would make an excellent scene in a book, wouldn't it?

I probably wouldn't want to drink it myself.

Elora said...

Right now, according to a local PBS program we watched a couple of weeks ago, moonshine is selling for around $100 per quart. Drinking it's like drinking fire! There was another aspect of making/keeping moonshine on hand "back then..." and it was truly "medicinal." According to participants in the documentary we watched (on making it)white lightnin' was the "go to" cure for just about everything because medical remedies were often far away. It was poured on wounds, drunk for settling coughs...whenever some "cure" was required, folks tapped into their precious supply.

Elora

Brian Miller said...

oh...worst night of my life (over 20 years ago) involved a mason jar kept in the freezer...ugh...frankline county, the next one over, is a huge shine producer...

Alan Burnett said...

Thanks for re-posting this. As you can imagine, I found it fascinating.

tony said...

I would love to try it (once!).It's origin reminds me a little of 'Spiritus'.Illicit Polish Spirit.Cheers!

Brenda said...

If the sun doesn't come out soon, I am seriously going to need some "shine."

Louise said...

That's interesting. Never had any, never want to try any. But, it's fun knowing that fruit is often put in to flavor it. That's a fact I didn't know.

Kaye Barley said...

Great post, Vickie!
I loved the movie Thunder Road. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd end up living in "moonshine country." Sadly, although there are still places to get 'shine, some of those same family entrepreneurs are now in the meth lab business.

Another sad note - the wonderful Appalachian Cultural Museum is now closed due to economic (and some say, University political reasons). Breaks my heat, it was a treasure.

Mama-Bug said...

Loved this post Vicki. Sad old Pop Corn is gone now. The Documentary channel did a great episode on him called "the last run". It was quite interesting to watch him make a batch of shine.

R. Burnett Baker said...

Tried it once in my twenties. The thought of it this morning made the hair on my arms stand!

I got a giggle out of the NASCAR line...

Rick

Deanna said...

The whole history of moonshine makes it fascinating and desirable. However, having had it I'll admit I'm not a big fan. I always thought my grandpa ran moonshine and was actually disappointed when I found out that wasn't true.

Paul C said...

Speaking of moonshine my son in law is engaged in marketing with some friends a home brew beer kit. Interesting post.

Vicki Lane said...

Re medicinal use --Not too many years ago, the sheriff of our county would 'dispense' seized moonshine to those sufferers who had notes from their doctors.

It is sad that meth labs have pretty mush replaced moon shining. Properly made, moonshine is no more dangerous that legal liquor.

Tess Kincaid said...

I'll take a shot! You know, I didn't realize, until recently, that bootlegging led to NASCAR.

Kath said...

Aw, RAts. I was going to through in the history bit about moonshine and Nascar.

I do know this. The subdivision I live in was once tenant farms. A few years ago my walking partner and I hiked into the undeveloped center of the subdivision and found a structure next to a pond. Stone, small containing nothing more than an empty refrigerator and some copper tubing. I have my suspicions. Although I know the refrigerator would not have been part of the cooking, I wonder.

dana said...

When I first saw your bottle of shine, I thought: "That isn't shine. It's yellow instead of clear!" Then I read about the peaches inside. Whew! LOL

To increase the alcoholic "kick" of shine, kerosene was sometimes used. This sounds awful, but shine is timid compared to what is now being produced.

I often wonder who first decided to combine kerosene, brake fluid, drain cleaner, phosphorus, ephedrine, etc., boil it and say: "This would be perfect to inject into my veins!"

How do these horrible things come into usage!?

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, yes, the good old boys who hauled liquor honed their driving skills in car chases with the law.

Re the refrigerator, Kath. Old refrigerators and freezers make great critter proof storage. Possibly that was its function.

Vicki Lane said...

The pure, unadulterated shine is a good deal like brandy -- or, as I said, tequila (to my taste buds anyway.) Some folks took pleasure in producing quality stuff -- other cut corners and turned out poison. Usually in an attempt to up the proof of the product. You had (have) to know your supplier.

NCmountainwoman said...

When my daughter was visiting, we watched an old documentary on "Popcorn" Sutton. I filled her in on the recent happenings. Maybe you could share an update with your readers.

My grandpa make liquor (he never called it "moonshine") but not for sale. I never got to taste any of it, but his neighbors appreciated their Christmas gifts of Apple Jack or peach brandy along with a jar of his liquor. The only payment he requested was that they return the jars.

Jill said...

Great stuff in small doses.

Kath said...

Head thunk! Of course, storage. A refrigerator would be good storage. Although the raccoons here are large and really wily. They remove the bulbs from my walking partners elaborate outdoor garden lights.

One theory is they want the heat of the bulb. Frankly I think they're collecting stuff to build their own house.

Daryl Putnam said...

Hi to Vicki and all the commenters, I enjoyed reading the post and all the comments by your readers. I live just down the road and have sat and watched a "likker still" more than one time. In one post someone said shine was selling for $100 a quart. It's a $100 a gallon and there's 6 gallons to a case for good "drinking" whiskey". "Selling whiskey", is run off faster and is made specifically to sell.

The most famous local bootlegger would be NASCAR driver Junior Johnson who started hauling whiskey out of Wilksboro when he was just a boy.

The only difference in moonshine and "store bought sourmash likker" is that it's not filtered through charcoal. Charcoal is what gives it that amber color and a little different flavor.

There is still shine being made, the old way, but it's on a small scale and for personal use only. I'm glad to see the old tradition being kept alive. So much of what made the mountains and it's people unique is disappearing.

I like to run my shine through apple peelings. It gives it a subtle taste and smell of apples and is called "apple Jack". Keep up the great work, and thanks.

Vicki Lane said...

Thanks, Daryl -- I thought $100 a quart seemed a little high -- so to speak.

My husband has been talking about trying to make some -- for personal use.

You say you live down the road -- From me? From Pop Corn? I'd love to know more about your still. . .