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Yee-haw! National Moonshine Day!
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Yee-haw! National Moonshine Day!

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ROBBINSVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – June 5, 2018

"It's part of the American cultural heritage," Jaime Joyce, author of "Moonshine: A Cultural History of America's Infamous Liquor." explains. "It's about standing up to the government. Refusing to pay taxes. Supporting families when jobs and resources are scarce. People really respond to that."

The term Moonshine comes from the fact that distilling illegal liquor is done underground or “in the moonlight.” We also know shine as Hooch, White Lightning, Panther's Breath, Panther's P---, Mountain Dew, Kickapoo, Happy Sally, Ruckus Juice, Joy Juice, Hillbilly Pop, Skull Cracker, Bush Wisky, Stump, Mule Kick, Catdaddy, Cool Water, Old Horsey, Rot Gut, Wildcat, Rise and Shine and Splo. The term bootlegger comes from early colonists who hid liquor in their boots in order to smuggle it to the Native Americans.

It has become an icon of American values, former U.S. President George Washington used to distill his own liquor, which was reportedly very drinkable.

The governmental taxing of whiskey and illegal distilling is not a new thing at all. You could say Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton started the ruckus with the Excise Tax Act of 1791 in an effort to raise money to be used toward the War. This tax demanded 7 cents per gallon on alcohol and the registration of all stills with the government.

The so-called Whiskey Tax did not sit well with farmers and whiskey distillers -- particularly in Western Pennsylvania, where the "Whiskey Rebellion" lead to the largest confrontation among American citizens between the Revolution and the Civil War. The Whiskey Rebellion was put down by President George Washington. He led 12,950 militia men into Pennsylvania to quash the revolt in 1794. Those who outright refused to pay were the original American moonshiners, and that definition holds true even today.

In the 20th century, the U.S. Senate proposed the 18th Amendment 12/18/1917 which was ratified 1/16/1919 and effected into law 1/16/1920.

The Wartime Prohibition Act took effect 6/30/1919 (a.k.a. "Thirsty Act" Ratified under the premise of saving/ rationing grain for the War effort. This Law contradicted a world culture of whiskey production methods that date back possibly as early as the 2nd millennium BC.

Moonshine has been boosted by popular culture depictions, such as Robert Mitchum’s “Thunder Road” and “Moonrunners” movies as well as music from artists such as Bob Dylan. “Thunder Road,” the 1958 film, glorified the runners of the day. Most of the movie was filmed in western North Carolina. Other Hollywood moonshine movies fail to come close to the nostalgic popularity of “Thunder Road” with the theme song chorus, “Thunder, Thunder, over Thunder Road. Thunder was his engine, and white lightning was his load. Moonshine, moonshine, to quench the devil’s thirst. The law they never got him, ‘cause the devil got him first.”

Other moonshine movies: Why Kentucky Went Dry, Who’s Who in Hogg’s Hollow, Jerry and the Moonshiners all were corn pone comedies. Moonshine Mountain – 1964 gory; Moonshine War – 1970 starring Alan Alda; I Walk the Line – 1970 starring Gregory Peck; White Lightning – 1973 starring Burt Reynolds; Bootleggers – 1974; Female Moonshiners – 1975; Bad Georgia Road – 1977; Moonshine County Express – 1977; Ain’t No Way Back – 1989; Moonshine Highway – 1996; The Last One – 2008 starring Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, Emmy Award winner.

"Moonshine has huge crossover appeal," says Joyce. "Its renegade reputation makes it alluring to consumers who want a little taste of tradition. It makes them feel a little outlaw, too, without breaking any laws."

There are many different recipes for shine. “Fill your barrel on up with water, put 60 pounds of sugar in it, and a gallon of sprout malt corn, that’s just sprouty corn to make it work, and cover it up. After about four days it will be ready to pour back in the still and run it through,” Jim Tom says. 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.

But the industry is entering a new, legitimate era. When the global financial crisis hit the Appalachian heartlands, counties all over the region tapped into one of the few growth industries by legalizing moonshine. The first legal distillery in Tennessee opened its doors in 2010, and others followed in Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Now you can legally produce moonshine in some states, and “clear, unaged whiskey” is being exported around the world.

"We somewhat cheated by learning from the bootleggers down by the river outrunning the revenuers," says Trey Boggs, who along with his brother Bryan founded the first legal distillery in South Carolina in 2011. "The recipe is tried and true; the only difference is we pay taxes ... We make the real thing and use mason jars, nothing fancy."

The only loser is the black market, as the bootleggers' services are being rendered obsolete. But luckily, there will always be purists who prefer keep the tradition, hitching their stills to souped-up cars and lighting out for the Appalachian woods after dark, where they distill eye-watering liquor from corn mash, to be sold in mason jars off the books.

Author: USA Really