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.
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).
THE HISTORY BEHIND MOONSHINE
The tension came to a head in the summer of 1794, when several hundred protestors took over the city of Pittsburgh, P. A. in what is now known as the Whiskey Rebellion. President George Washington called up 13,000 militia men to assist in putting the rebellion to rest and capturing the leaders of the movement. The Whiskey Rebellion was the first test of our newly formed federal government.
During the early 1900’s the temperance movement was beginning to take hold on America. As states began passing laws that banned alcohol sales and consumption the federal government followed suit and Prohibition was born (the dark times). These actions created a massive black market for distilled spirits. Soon, bootleggers that barely made any money off of their whiskey became rich overnight. The ever increasing demand for distilled spirits during this time led to cheaper ways of making moonshine. Due to the Federal Governments actions, moonshining became less about heritage and more about profit….leading to rampant violence and gang warfare. Prohibition was repealed in 1933 (hooray) and the market for bootleg grew thin. Moonshine continued to be a problem for authorities well into the 20th century but few cases were ever heard in the court.
Moonshine has contributed greatly to our society and its effects can still be seen. If you like soft drinks, you may be interested to know that moonshine led to that beverage as we know it today. During the 17th century, European Governments began demanding higher taxes for any drinks that contained more than three percent alcohol. This led to beverage manufactures distilling the alcohol out of beers made from ginger and sarsaparilla. They would then sell the left over alcohol byproduct as a tax free beverage…these were the World’s first soft drinks.
Now, for the contribution that everyone loves…..NASCAR! 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.
Enough history….lets drink some Palmetto Moonshine!