Moonshiners were misunderstood by too many for too long

“The South is no stranger to small-batch spirits. Moonshiners were microdistilling long before such a word existed. The clear (often questionable) spirit was available only if you knew someone who knew someone. But the landscape of legal moonshine has changed dramatically. Now, this grain distillate sits conspicuously in stores—all taxes paid. And according to the American Distilling Institute, the number of craft distilleries is growing by 30% each year. Here are some of our favorite “moonshines” to come out of the woodwork. And they actually taste good.” – Southern Living

thunderroadI’m glad to see legal moonshine showing up in restaurants and liquor stores. Try a glass. You might be surprised. And now that it’s legal and sort of a fad, you won’t need to worry about lead poisoning because some clown used the radiator of his Ford truck in the still.

When I watch old movies that I’ve seen before, I always pretend I haven’t seen them before. That means pretending, for example, as I watch Kate Winslet running through the ship, that this time Titanic won’t sink and that Jack won’t die in the icy waters. I felt the same way about the moonshiner movie “Thunder Road.” I always wanted the movie to end well with moonshiner  Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) getting away from the Feds forever and retiring in Cuba or Bermuda.

I grew up in a shine-free house (not counting furniture polish and floor wax) 

My parents, who didn’t allow booze in the house in those days, couldn’t figure out why I liked that movie, much less why I was on the moonshiners’ side in real life. Then, as now, I thought people should be able to make all the spirits whey wanted without any interference from the government. And what’s the deal with those taxes–really out of line, I thought then–and still think now.

This is one of the eight brands featured in the Southern Living article.
This is one of the eight brands featured in the Southern Living article.

Moonshining was big in Florida where I grew up and big in the Smoky Mountains where we went on many vacations. I wanted my parents to pay somebody who knew somebody to get us a Kerr jar full of high quality shine. But they never did, stealing from my brothers and I what could have been a wonderful part of the vacation experience. Seemed like it would have helped us in school and kept us from getting summer colds and chigger bites.

Now, for research purposes only, I can taste it so that when I describe Eulalie in Conjure Woman’s Cat as making plenty of her own jick and sipping it regularly, I can make the scenes accurate. There’s nothing better than accuracy.

One challenge for the moonshiner, of course, was buying all that sugar and all that corn for the mash without attracting attention. Fortunately, in Florida one could grow sugar cane and buy the corn from a farmer across the road who loved the shine.

Nothing beats telling stories while passing the jar back and forth on the back porch. As kids, we had all the sugar cane stalks to chew and juice to drink we wanted because it was old on street corners. If we could have dipped those stalks in sweet, syrupy smooth shine, life would have been better for everyone.

Now with it being legal (as long as you take care of all those licenses and fees), the newspapers are no longer filled with those horrifying pictures of a bunch of cops chopping apart beautiful stills or smashing bottles of moonshine so it all went to waste.

Good Lord, it must have taken a special kind of stupid to dump a hundred gallons of Granny Henderson’s best hooch into the Wakulla River. 

Folks would be better off if there was more sipping happening now. At any rate, for those of you who are keeping score, when Eulalie and her friend Willie talk about the taste of apple-flavored shine in the novella, I’m writing what I know.



3 thoughts on “Moonshiners were misunderstood by too many for too long

  1. You post triggered a cascade of memories.

    Back in the 70’s I worked as a research tech at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Several of the island natives made moonshine and we (ie, younger techs) were hot to buy it. But which one?

    We bought small samples of each and ran them through a gas chromatograph looking for the diesel or gasoline spike which would show if the moonshiner used a truck fuel tank as a boiler. This is actually what makes you “snowblind” if you drink too much of it.

    Sure enough, it showed on all of them but Helen’s. We bought our hooch from her and had no ill effects even tho I’m sure we tested its limits severely. 😉

    I still have a little bit of it in the back of our liquor cabinet. I’ll have to sample it and see if it tastes like I remember it. For research purposes only, of course.

  2. I remember when I was stationed in North Carolina back in the 60’s, white lightning was available at several outlets (once you developed enough trust for them to sell it to you). Fascinating stuff, although best consumed in small quantities.

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