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Ultimate Moonshine History

A Little Bit of Background

Right after the American Revolution in the 1770’s, people started to make their own

moonshine. As new nation struggled to pay its new obligations to citizens and creditors, a federal tax on liquor and spirits was enacted, which led many Americans to begin making their own alcohol at home – moonshine.

Making your own alcohol back then wasn’t so much a hobby or a side job as a way for farmers to ensure that they could make ends meet after a hard growing season. Farmers learned to survive by utilizing their corn and turning it into whiskey for a profit, usually ignoring the federal tax law on liquor. This is how they were able to feed their families and keep their assets.

In the 1920’s, Prohibition went into effect, banning the sale of alcohol, manufacture, transportation and consumption. This was good news for moonshiners, who were already clandestinely producing and selling liquor on the black market. Since the demand was so high, moonshiners had a hard time meeting demand, and the quality of moonshine was very poor.

In 1933 when Prohibition ended, the market for moonshine plummeted. Alcohol became cheaper, and there was no longer a need for moonshine. Today, many people

continue to make moonshine, but as a hobby rather than a source of income.

State and Federal Laws

It’s LEGAL to own a still for water distillation or any other non-alcoholic liquid. However, by law, it’s ILLEGAL to distill any form of alcohol without a permit.

The Man of Moonshine

Marvin Sutton was a legendary Appalachian moonshiner and bootlegger born in Maggie Valley, North Carolina on October 5th 1946. After beating a popcorn machine with a pool cue in the mid 70’s, he inherited the unusual nickname Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton.

In 2008, Sutton made the mistake of admitting to an undercover agent that he had

approximately 500 gallons of moonshine in Tennessee and another 400 gallons in Maggie Valley. This ultimately led to a raid by ATF, and Sutton was later charged with illegally distilling spirits and possession of a firearm.

Since he had a long background of criminal charges, the judge wanted to sentence Sutton to 24 months in prison. However, he was diagnosed with cancer, so the judge decided to sentence him to 18 months.

Unfortunately, Sutton’s age and medical condition led him to commit suicide to avoid federal prison. On March 16th 2009, Sutton was found in his green Ford Fairmont by his wife in Cocke County, Tennessee with the engine running.

Fun Facts

In Oklahoma it’s LEGAL to distill ethanol to produce spirits, but it’s ILLEGAL to produce a drinkable spirit which exceeds the amount of alcoholic content that is permitted by the state.

The iconic “XXX” on growlers of moonshine signified how many times the batch had been run through the still. Three X’s meant it had been run through three times and that the shine was PURE ALCOHOL.

Junior Johnson was the most famous bootlegger to make a name for himself in NASCAR, and was known as a “moonrunner.” Johnson would use his souped-up car to haul some bounty and race for the state line to make a profit on some homemade moonshine.

The main ingredient in moonshine is CORN MASH. Other ingredients include: corn, sugar, yeast, and water. Honey, fruits, agave, and rye can also be added for additional flavor.

Moonshine was not only consumed as an intoxicating spirit, but also as a MEDICINE. Scottish and Irish farmers who settled in Appalachia used moonshine as a disinfectant, a solvent, an anesthetic, a tranquilizer, and a currency.

Posted by Jason Stone on


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