Moonshine is engrained in the American story…..right from the very beginning. George Washington himself was a moonshiner. On his property in present day Virginia, he operated a distillery and grist mill that boasted five stills and a boiler capable of producing 11,000 gallons of sweet, brand spanking New American whiskey. He was paramount in establishing the distilling process as we know it today.
George Washington's distillery equipment
Shortly after the Revolution (something else old George is famous for), the newly formed United States was struggling to pay the debt created by fighting such a long but necessary war. That’s when politicians got creative (that’s never a good thing) and decided to enact a federal tax on liquors and spirits. This didn’t sit well for many new Americans especially in the wake of fighting a war that was rooted in opposition against such taxes. In true American style our ancestors decided to embrace their rebellious spirit and just keep making whiskey, ignoring outright federal tax law.
During this time it was common to find moonshine (or corn whiskey) being sold in clay Jars marked by the letter X. The X’s were a labeling system designed to inform the consumer how many times the whiskey was run through the still. A Jar with X X X on the label signified it was run through a still three times and was guaranteed to be at least 90 proof or better.
Making and selling alcohol wasn’t just a way to earn extra income for early bootleggers. It was a method of survival, farmers could survive a bad year by turning their corn into liquid gold (moonshine). The ability to salvage a small crop yield and turn a dollar could be the difference between life and death for many. Federal Agents (Called “Revenuers,” because they worked for the department of Revenue) were routinely attacked when investigating claims of bootlegging and several were tarred and feathered (colonial justice).
NASCAR has moonshine to thank for it's existence! That’s right, the American past time of watching cars go around a circle was born from moonshining culture. Bootleggers would modify their cars for speed and maneuverability to outrun the law. This led to the creation of stock car racing and what is now called NASCAR. In fact some tracks in the NASCAR circuit are located in the same places that were frequented by moonshiners when they made their runs.
Revenuers were from the alcohol authority back in the days of prohibition and they're responsibility was to halt the unlawful bootlegging of alcohol.
Here they are pictured shooting barrels after a successful raid to prevent the moonshiners from using them again!
Location: Johnson County Courthouse, North Carolina
Pictured above is the police showing off their haul of confiscated illegal liquor in 1951. A win for the authorities, a loss for the bootleggers and moonshiners!
Revenuers leave a message for any moonshiners in the area.
A Moonshine Legend: Popcorn Sutton. He was a moonshiner for the majority of his life and had a number of run ins with the law.
When the public were warned not to drink moonshine that was made in the back woods.
Moonshine's popularity boomed during the Prohibition Era. At this time, bootleggers and moonshiners would often operate in wooded areas, by the light of the moon, to evade law enforcement officials seeking out illegal liquor production. To further limit the risk, many would also bare "cow shoes" to conceal their footprints, leading police astray.