Moonshine: A Celebration of America's Original Rebel Spirit

Moonshine: A Celebration of America's Original Rebel Spirit

by John Schlimm


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806539195
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 135,288
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, artist, award-winning writer, and a member of one of the oldest and most historic brewing families in the U.S. (Straub Brewery, founded by his great-great-grandfather in the 1870s).  The consummate storyteller, John is a critically-acclaimed essayist and author of 17 previous books, including his Christopher Award-winning memoir Five Years in Heaven and several boozy cookbooks such as The Ultimate Beer Lover's Happy Hour, The Tipsy Vegan, and The Ultimate Beer Lover's Cookbook, which is the largest beer cookbook ever published and was awarded "Best Beer Book in the World" and "Best Beer Book in the U.S." by Gourmand International. John has appeared on such national media outlets as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, NPR, Martha Stewart Living's Everyday FoodThe Splendid Table, QVC, and Fox & Friends. For more information, please visit

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An American Story

Homegrown corn, mountain spring water, sugar, and yeast. These are the ingredients of a uniquely American story.

The recipe for moonshine — unaged, clear whiskey — distilled on U.S. soil has remained the same for more than two centuries and across the threshold of a new millennium. And the history of moonshine embodies the tale of immigrants braving the unknown to forge life and freedom in a savage new land. It is high proof of their grit and savvy as they chased the same primal desire for a good life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness still rooted deeply within our hearts.

Moonshine is our link to the beginning of America as we know it. It is an ancestral handshake — preserved in a Mason jar and extended across the annals of history to each of us today.

As far back as the fall of 1620, colonist George Thorpe, who co- founded Berkeley Hundred (now Berkeley Plantation) — on the north bank of the James River in current-day Charles City, Virginia, and site of the first Thanksgiving in 1619 — distilled a batch of beer, but in fact it wasn't beer at all. This new concoction launched a spirited alternative to the popular home-brewed English ales chugged throughout the colonies at this time.

Thorpe's secret ingredient: native-grown corn from Powhatan Indians.

The result: the first corn whiskey, and a great-granddaddy to the all-American moonshine that would soon emerge and be the heirloom pride of moonshiners passed down through the generations.

"Wee have found a waie to make soe good drink of Indian corne," Thorpe triumphantly reported of his creation in a letter to his friend and Berkeley Hundred historian John Smyth.

Throughout the next century onward, more than two hundred thousand Scots-Irish immigrants mostly from the province of Ulster in Ireland — who knew their way around a good time, a fiddle, and a copper pot still — settled in Pennsylvania and downward into the central and southern portions of the Appalachian region — Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee. They came to escape religious persecution and drought, and to protest such laws as the English Malt Tax of 1725 and the Gin Tax of 1736 that threatened their livelihoods and revelry back home. However, these taxes and government influences were only a stark foreshadowing of what lay ahead for these optimistic new residents in the Thirteen Colonies.

Along with an aversion to oppressive government authority, these early moonshine immigrants brought with them a rich distilling heritage dating back centuries in Europe, artisanal skills, and their ages-old whiskey recipe for uisce beatha, which when translated from Irish Gaelic means "water of life."

The American South — especially the topography of Appalachia, which encompasses the regions spread throughout and around the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains — reminded these Scots-Irish pioneers of home. They were drawn to the untouched wilds of this new frontier. The carved-out hollows, bluffs, peaks, flatlands, and pristine streams winding through the ancient mountains of hardwood forests. The laurel and huckleberry, the honeysuckle, dogwood, and columbines. The fertile land teeming with wildlife — bald eagles, falcons, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and songbirds; white-tailed deer, black bear, coyotes, otters, and shrews; brook trout and smallmouth bass.

Weary and exhausted from the journey of a lifetime, here the immigrants found a paradise off the beaten path where they could settle down and begin life anew, on their own terms. They had found a home at last.

These were folks for whom the land itself became a part of their souls. And the moonshine they wrought by hand from nature's purest bounty there — the farm-to-still corn, the freshest water — was akin to the very blood coursing through their veins.

The waves of immigrants populating the Thirteen Colonies, including those from countries like Germany, France, and England, were experts in fermentation and distillation — turning grains into whiskey and fruits into brandy. Their Old World talents for transforming a still into an instrument for creating art didn't originate in a textbook. Rather, moonshine was born from tradition, generation-to- generation apprenticing, trial and error, and, most importantly, the moonshiner's own hands.

For folks with little or no formal schooling, distilling — especially in its allergic-to-the-law incarnation as moonshining — offered a logical trade skill that played to every moonshiner's dirt-road street smarts and gutsy approach to securing a better life for their families. Moonshiners were backwoods inventors and craftsmen, and entrepreneurs. These were common, everyday men and women, who, in combining a grassroots ingenuity and perfection that only human hands can render, altered the course of American history.

In fact, ingenuity was a moonshiner's middle name. Still is. For example, while early batches of colonial moonshine proved a bit weak because of primitive equipment and impurities, resourceful moonshiners soon solved the problem. They discovered that running the white lightning through the still three times, instead of one or two, guaranteed a 90-proof or better result. This next-generation moonshine that resulted was signified by "XXX" on the jug, letting revelers know forever after that they were getting their money's worth of a good buzz!

Early moonshiners were free-spirited — a hallmark of living handed down along with every family's special moonshine recipe to the next of kin in line — and they took their craft to heart. As the classic early twentieth-century ballad "The Moonshiner" declares: "Moonshine dear moonshine, oh how I love thee."

It was love first that flowed from every still. The 'shine itself was only further proof of the pride and adventurous nature that drove these pioneering artisans to advance their craft.

Once settled in the colonies, moonshiners shared their boozy knowhow with neighbors, morphing experiences, tips, and methods. They developed friendships and alliances, and a ring of cohorts they could trust when authorities closed in.

Soon, unaged whiskey — authentic all-American-made moonshine that would become a national staple enduring through good times and bad — flowed freely throughout the colonies like the crystal-clear mountain creeks along which it was often distilled.

Since colonial days, every batch of moonshine has embodied the passion, patriotism, and cunning of a people who were fearless in creating a new life and homeland from scratch. In doing so, early moonshiners did their share to embroider the belief that anything is possible into the American tapestry.

One batch of 'shine at a time, moonshiners as nation builders launched armies of free thinkers, leaders, and dreamers — and, yes, revolutionaries. At every step along the march of history, their efforts were paired with the original American outlaw they had perfected and that has fueled the can-do attitude of U.S. patriotism ever since.


The Dawn of Moonshiners as Revolutionaries

From the early 1600s, the Thirteen Colonies were subjected to rules and laws limiting alcohol consumption. These ranged from controlling liquor sales in taverns to preventative measures for reining in the perceived evils of imbibing and public drunkenness. The restrictions were a slow ramping-up toward revolution; each constraint was like sticking a pin in the colonial consciousness, needling away public tolerance toward authority sip by sip.

Among the more notable regulations:

By the 1770s, colonists each consumed more than six gallons of alcohol annually.

In 1629, the Virginia Colonial Assembly declared: "Ministers shall not give themselves to excess in drinkinge, or riott, or spending their tyme idellye day or night."

In 1633, Plymouth Colony forbade "more than 2 pence worth" of spirits being sold to anyone other than "strangers just arrived."

In 1637, Massachusetts ordered that folks could not stay in a tavern "longer than necessary occasions."

In 1672, a law prevented alcohol from being used to pay wages. As a result, one of the first labor strikes ensued.

In 1679, Massachusetts formed the office of tithingman to monitor alcohol consumption and spotlight any liquor violations in colonists' homes.

Laws even prohibited the sale of liquor to Native Americans. Plus, fines and penalties were levied against those who were discovered drunk in public, and included other behavior such as gossiping — often two birds of a feather.

Minister John Wesley especially decried the wickedness of distilling throughout first his native England and later the Thirteen Colonies. He chastised both drinkers and liquor sellers. In a December 9, 1772 letter to the editor of Lloyd's Evening Post titled "Thoughts on the Present Scarcity of Provisions," he declared liquor a "deadly poison — poison that naturally destroys, not only the strength and life, but also the morals of our countrymen."

Wesley's solution to this evildoing was "prohibiting for ever that bane of health, that destroyer of strength, of life, and of virtue, distilling." This theme snaked its way throughout his sermons and those of his staunchest contemporaries. Pontifications like this on the immorality of alcohol and drunkenness relegated colonists to the razor- sharp precipice between heaven and hell.

The message: Change your drunken ways or be damned.

This was also the era of fire-and-brimstone preachers like Jonathan Edwards, who delivered his famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon. Also, George Whitefield, whose advocacy for the Great Awakening throughout the colonies rocked folks — and their favorite boozy thirst quenchers — to the core. Among Whitefield's most famous revivalist preaching was "The Heinous Sin of Drunkenness" in which he methodically enumerated the case against imbibing: "SIXTH reason against the sin of drunkenness; it absolutely unfits a man for the enjoyment of God in heaven, and exposes him to his eternal wrath."

This was the puritanical origin of the temperance efforts that would one day target moonshiners and cement their reputation as ultimate rebels.

However, the tipping point came later in the eighteenth century, when the combustible combination of war and angry, disenfranchised citizens led to outright revolt.

On the heels of the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), Great Britain decided the Thirteen Colonies should kick in their fair share of the resulting war debt. The British forces had protected the colonies from the French military, and now the Crown wanted an even greater commitment of loyalty and money in return. With previous experience in the area of taxing liquor and other goods, Great Britain cast a lustful eye toward whiskey production in the colonies. The English deemed this the surest, quickest way to squeeze more money from strapped colonists under their control.

Squashed beneath this prickly thumb, the colonists declared enough is enough. Taxing liquor to line the Crown's pockets provoked bad memories and proved the final straw amid mounting tension between an out-of-touch British ruling class and everyday merchants and farmers. The immigrants did not brave more than three thousand miles of an unrelenting Atlantic Ocean in search of a new life in an untamed foreign land only to be wrenched backward into submission. Contributing their fair share was one thing, but being treated unfairly was unacceptable.

Angry colonial merchants, moonshiners, and their customers realized that the mantle of change was now squarely on their shoulders. The first protests and boycotts against British government and products began. Colonists now understood that the independence they desired, especially pertaining to the sale and jovial swigs of XXX, would depend upon their willingness to take a stand and fight for their voices to be heard, even at an ultimate cost.

From the moment the Sons of Liberty — a secret society organized to protect the rights of colonists and oppose British laws and taxes — transformed Boston Harbor into the world's largest teapot on December 16, 1773, they proved to be a new breed of pioneer. This was a unified citizenry unlike the world had ever seen. Their badge of honor was marked by a fierce and visionary drive toward one goal: freedom.

Their motto: No taxation without representation.

Their clear message: Don't mess with us!

Samuel Adams, a chief architect of the Boston Tea Party and a Sons of Liberty leader, declared: "Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. ... and in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another."

Moonshiners especially had found their battle cry in these tenets. They were ready to become citizen-soldiers in the coming battle.

Spurred onward by the events and emerging new leaders of the day, colonists soon created their own Continental Congress, which met in three variations from 1774 to 1789. They established a Continental Army on July 14, 1775, as well as state militias, under the leadership of General George Washington. As a result of this groundwork, the colonists successfully mounted the most famous revolution in the history of the world.

Independence, including the future of moonshining, was now up for grabs. It all came down to which side could outwit, outlast, and outfight in order to claim victory. Big risk, big return was a concept reared by these patriots and sewn into the very fabric of the moonshiner's credo from this moment forward.

From 1765 to 1783, the American Revolution was waged across storied battlefields such as Lexington and Concord, Saratoga, and Yorktown. Moonshiners left their families back in the hills, hollows, and small towns, just as other patriots did, taking up arms to secure their right to produce magic in a still.

A pinnacle moment came midway through the war with the masterful crafting of the Declaration of Independence by the Committee of Five—lead author Thomas Jefferson, along with John Adams, Ben Franklin, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman. The statement was formally adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

What emerged from Jefferson's declaratory pen was pure poetry that would be evermore committed to memory by proud and free Americans, including moonshiners who would themselves exert their own declarations of independence many times in the coming years: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Embracing these principles, the colonists fought even harder, sacrificed even more, and eventually prevailed in securing their independence from Great Britain in 1783. But victory and freedom came at a staggering cost to the United States: nearly seven thousand soldiers were killed in battle and millions of dollars in expenses marked not only the price tag strung around the neck of a new nation, but also the birth of its national debt.

Also around this time, Founding Father and a signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush delivered a slap across the face of every moonshiner and their customers when he published a 1784 tract titled An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind. Americans had transitioned from drinking weaker brews and other alcohol in colonial days to the current and much stronger XXX-proof moonshine, and Rush proclaimed this shift physically and mentally detrimental to citizens. He labeled drunkenness an "odious disease."

Rush's claims took root in conservative and religious minds, launching a more formal temperance movement throughout the country. Moonshiners were now seen even more clearly by these early temperance activists as distillers of doom and ill health. In the coming years and decades, this effort would be formalized into state associations and societies — a path that would eventually lead to Prohibition almost a century and a half later.


Excerpted from "Moonshine"
by .
Copyright © 2018 John Schlimm.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Table of Contents

Part 1 The Story of Moonshine 9

Chapter 1 An American Story 11

Chapter 2 The Dawn of Moonshiners as Revolutionaries 19

Chapter 3 Whiskey Rebellion 31

Chapter 4 By the Light of the Silvery Moon 43

Chapter 5 Temperance Tantrum 51

Chapter 6 The First Golden Age of Moonshiners, 1920 to 1933 59

Chapter 7 Moonshine Paves the Way for NASCAR 73

Chapter 8 A Shining Star is Born 81

Chapter 9 The New Golden Age of Moonshiners 99

Part 2 Party Like a Moonshiner 107

Chapter 10 Moonshine Infusions 109

Fruit and Berry Moonshine Infusions 110

Vegetable and Moonshine Infusions 136

Herb, Spice, and Wildflower Moonshine Infusions 152

Candy and Moonshine Infusions 172

Chapter 11 The Moonshiner's Happy Hour 181

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