It matters little if you call it moonshine, moontang, mountain dew, white lightening or hooch; it all comes down to one thing, a romantic and colorful part of our nation’s history.
Corn liquor came to America with the settlers from all parts of the world. If a thing could be fermented, it was, and liquor, beer and wine were made of anything too slow to get out of the way or to un-profitable to make money on otherwise.
My family has a long history in the moonshine business. There were uncles and grandpa’s who were moonshine makers and moon runners but above all else and perhaps more importantly, they were all consumers. In fact, most of my family falls deeply into the consumer category. I no longer drink, but a can of worms, a cane pole and a jar of shine on a moonlit river bank, is truly a beautiful thing.
Americans made moonshine for profit, for fun, for the thrill, for the buzz, but mostly they made it for the same reason Americans do anything, someone, be it their parents, or in this case the government said you could absolutely not make it. The moonshine still was the place to hang with the boys. The only folks allowed were the boys and the old slack skinned hound dogs. Women had socials, balls and quilting parties, men had the old still out back, this was long before workshops and garages became popular.
My grandpas were moonshiners; my daddy was a moon runner. His last running car was a fifty-eight Ford, with the engine from a fifty-one Cadillac ambulance, it was turbocharged and had no discernible exhaust system. The old stories say that the revenuers could hear him coming across the dirt roads of Wilkinson County for ten mile or more, but hearing a moon runner and seeing one who might be driving through the night without headlights and catching one if you’d seen him, was another thing altogether.
Moon runners were the masters of invention, creating hot rods and stock car racing. In fact, the muscle cars coming out of Detroit in the sixties were clandestinely being built for the moonshine industry. Do you honestly believe Joe American needed all that power to take a Sunday drive? As the roads filled with fast cars and the opportunity for every American, with or without a brain to drive, increased, the moon runners literally raced themselves into the history books.
Their fast driving, hauling tax free liquor and a dangerous combination of drinking and driving, actually considered a sport, back in the day, were to eventually affect their ultimate demise. My daddy and racing legend Junior Johnson were never caught behind the wheel.
The only reason moonshine lasted as long as it did, was because of the effort put forth by the government to stop it. If it’s one thing that guarantees a things continuance, it’s to make it absolutely, positively, without a doubt, against the law, to do it.
In 1919 after many years of lobbying, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Prohibition Party and the Anti-Saloon league were finally successful and all forms of alcohol were outlawed in our country. One of their biggest arguments, the Germans ran the brewing industry, and we were giving it our best shot to beat up on the Germans at the time. Take alcohol from Americans, that’ll teach em. Let me get this straight, there were a bunch of better than thou women, who weren’t allowed to go down to the still, who decided their husbands couldn’t either. What about this Prohibition Party, how much of a blamed party could it have been without moonshine?
The second idea was to slow down domestic violence. One of the biggest accomplishments of prohibition was to spawn the American Mafia. It is estimated that infamous gangster Al Capone earned around 60 million dollars a year from 1919 until prohibition ended in 1933, even as the depression raged on. That’s the way to take a stand against violence. By the time prohibition was repealed, the only persons sorry to see it go were the better than thou’s and the American Mafia.
In the end, the revenuers, who drove inadequate cars, arrested remarkably few of those producing or profiting from moonshine. Instead accountants arrested them, many including Al Capone eventually served prison time for tax evasion.
A person can now buy a permit from the A.T.F. to produce mountain dew, but only for their automobile’s consumption. Everyone is simply amazed that a car can run on hooch, but this too was pioneered by the moonshiners of old.
Racing across the back roads of Georgia in an old turbo charged Ford without headlights, with a jug of Wilkinson County’s finest in the seat beside you and the smell of burning liquor blowing from a non-existent exhaust system, now that was freedom.