The Good Life
with a Southern Drawl

Moonshine Revolution

By Amy Bailey — October 17, 2014

In the South there is much folklore about moonshine and as you get closer to the Smoky Mountains you realize that ‘moonshine’ is a part of life to many. You may have noticed this emergence of moonshine in recent years and that is because laws were changed in Tennessee and North Carolina making it 100% legal to distill moonshine as a company. So now along with having secret distilling in the backyards of Appalachia, you have brands like Ole Smoky, Firefly, Troy & Sons, American Spirit Whisky, and so many more – in fact over 20 brands of moonshine being distilled in different flavors like lemon drop, apple pie, and strawberry and sold all over the World. There is even a Moonshine Festival featuring 21 brands and over 60 varieties of Moonshine this weekend in Atlanta (click here to learn more and for tickets.) Try this outlaw, Southern legacy for yourself, but may we recommend doing it in moderation. The night I had moonshine for the first time I was feeling the love and hugging strangers as we were leaving the party – which I guess isn’t a bad buzz. Fun fact: Before XXX meant adult entertainment, it was the mark of moonshine, inscribed on the original clay jugs. Now XXX is used on many bottles of the new brands of moonshine.

How Do You Make Moonshine?

Distilling moonshine is similar to distilling almost any alcohol and just like distilling whisky only you do not age moonshine whereas whisky is aged in oak barrels for the more caramel color. Corn, sugar, and water are combined with yeast, and the yeast processes the sugars, creating alcohol. The resulting mash is heated nearly to boiling, which hastens the fermentation and releases alcohol steam. The steam is carefully filtered to remove any solid ingredients, then diverted into the “worm.” The worm is a coiled copper pipe bathed in cold water, which causes the alcohol steam to condense into moonshine. Corn is usually used because it is inexpensive and readily available, but can be substituted with barley, rye, etc.

So Why Was Moonshine Illegal?

It was political…imagine that. Right after the Revolutionary War our fledgling nation found itself saddled with debt. To help pay off the country’s obligations, a federal tax on liquor was established. Given that much of the point of fighting the revolution in the first place was to escape Britain’s taxes, citizens were furious, and most people continued to distill their own whiskey without giving the government its due. In response, tax collectors were sent out and often times were beaten, tarred, and feathered. Within three years, there was a riot. Angry farmers destroyed the home of a tax inspector and a militia force led by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Virginia Governor Henry Lee (the father of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee) was forced to stamp out the rebel movement. They succeeded on the surface, but really only served to drive whiskey distillers farther underground to the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Thomas Jefferson would later repeal the hated whiskey excise tax, and folks were free to make their own for another 60 years. Then, in a classic case of history repeating itself, the massive expense of the Civil War brought back the liquor taxes.

Famous Moonshiner

Right before the legalization of distilling moonshine in certain states, Popcorn Sutton a famous moonshiner was raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms on his property and sentenced to prison. Popcorn, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, pleaded to be given house arrest instead, but the request was denied, and he died before going to prison. The next year country star Hank Williams Jr. teamed up with his widow to bring Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey into distribution.