Every June 5 National Moonshine Day is observed. This beverage has a notorious record of blurring the lines of history and the law, turning ordinary men (and women) into criminals and common criminals into legends.
The term “moonshine” was actually brought to this country by British settlers who used it to describe various tasks that had to be done at night. It was adapted as a nickname for different types of illegal endeavors that were undertaken under the cover of darkness.
Moonshine traditionally is an illegally distilled spirit. Mostly made from a corn mash, moonshine is a distilled whiskey that is typically produced by an individual illegally without a permit. Also known as white lightning, mountain dew, homebrew, hillbilly pop, rotgut and too many more to list here.
Distilling skills first came to the United States during the 1830s with the Scotch-Irish as they settled in Virginia.
Temperance laws and prohibition legislation were passed in several states before the Civil War, but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that the temperance movement picked up steam. By the time the 18th Amendment was ratified early in 1919, over half the country was dry.
Prohibition lasted 13 years. It created a demand for moonshine unlike any that may have existed before. Moonshine became big business overnight.
These days, moonshine in the legal sense has a following. Small-batch distilleries are producing legal moonshine giving moonshiners a new name. Bringing moonshine out of the woods and going up against other whiskeys for a place on the shelf. Many are packaging their homebrews in canning jars embracing their rich history while at the same time experimenting with flavor and branching out with food pairing similar to that of wine and beer.
- Shepherd was Uncle Jesse’s CB handle on the Dukes of Hazzard. Sweet Tillie was the name of his Ford LTD/Galaxie in the first episode – his moonshine runner.
- The X’s on the moonshine jugs symbol represents the number of times a batch was run through the still. If marked XXX, the moonshine is pure alcohol.
- What do Esther Clark, Edna Giard, Stella Beloumant, Mary Wazeniak all have in common? They were all bootleggers. Bootlegging was an equal opportunity profession.
- Lavinia Gilman was a bootlegger, too. At 80 years old she ran a 300 gallon still in Montana. The judge suspected her son was the true culprit, though.
- During prohibition, there were many ways to transport bootlegged moonshine. Faking a funeral was a convenient ruse to move the product. Out of respect for the dead, of course, those with the badge were reluctant to stop a funeral procession.
- NASCAR is the house that moonshine built. Outside of the sport’s hardcore fan base, it’s sometimes merely rumored and not widely known as a fact that stock car racing was born out of moonshining and bootlegging.