While our days of manufacturing whiskey and moonshine are much quieter than those of our bootlegging ancestors, we give some mad respect to those who have gone before us, paving the way over muddy roads, backwater stills, and under cover of darkness to escape the long arm of the law. These pioneers got the job done; they experimented with dangerous concoctions, broke the law repeatedly, and committed themselves to the process of satisfying not only their thirst, but that of thousands of people who relied on the liquid gold to make life a little easier.
What was it like?
What must it have been like to pave the way for modern distilling practices today? What was life like, working to make a living and support families while working under cover of darkness? What losses and victories did they experience as they brought homemade moonshine, whiskey, and other spirits to the masses? Read on to see what these unsavory characters lived like, and how we must give them credit for the opportunity to prosper as we sip and savor our favorite beverages.
What were the motives?
Whether they enjoyed the taste of moonshine or they had family and friends to support, bootlegging motivations drove people to experiment, wheel, deal, and run whiskey across the deep South. These characters were crafty, conniving, and innovative. They knew exactly what they desired, and they were prepared to do almost anything to get it. Their passion for crafting alcohol and the need to carve out a living had them doing some pretty extreme things to do so.
Working the stills
Those who understood the science behind distillation went to work crafting booze, and they passed on their knowledge to others. Crude distillation devices were made from metal, copper, even car engines, as necessity bred new ways of honing their craft. Once it was determined that a batch of liquor was “relatively safe,” it then became time to transport and attempt to sell the spirits.
The hurdle of transportation
Transporting was a vital part of the business of bootlegging, and those who did so must be swift, crafty, and careful. Foot travel might have been an option for a while, but if one really wanted to get a serious side hustle going, a fast car was needed. Six-cylinder cars were souped up, and hidden panels were installed throughout the interior of the car to transport spirits. These cars were downright dangerous due to the high-speed drivers attempted while carrying extremely flammable alcohol with them. Many a driver was lost trying to outrun police across state lines.
Believe it or not, these early “races” were the building blocks for what would become NASCAR racing, a Southern-American tradition that has spawned other race traditions throughout the world. Those who successfully made it without getting nabbed by law enforcement were able to deliver to customers and speakeasies throughout the U.S.
Word…..and liquor…..travel fast
Thanks to the efforts of those running hooch across the United States, speakeasies and private lounges were popping up all over the country. As far north as Minneapolis, people reported being able to pop into a riverside cave and be greeted with a dumbwaiter offering a frosty beverage. The roaring twenties in Chicago were particularly rife with social opportunities; at one point, there were nearly 13,000 little watering holes interspersed throughout the city. Patrons and owners alike gave local law enforcement a run for their money.
Wheeling and dealing
Those who were able to evade the law and successfully distill were able to carve out a decent living for themselves. Many were caught, many lost their lives due to tainted batches and running races that spiraled out of control, but we are grateful for their place in history and how it has shaped our own lives today. We give honor and respect to these pioneers, for it took tremendous courage to defy social norms and provide a valuable service to Americans.
Palmetto Distillery: Our roots run deep
Palmetto Distillery has its inception and roots firmly embedded in the efforts of these early pioneers; our award-winning whiskey and scrumptious flavors of moonshine are the result of hundreds of years of history, crafting, and a bit of “criminal activity.” Thanks, bootleggers, for your groundbreaking work; what you’ve done makes our business a smashing success. For more information and a ton of delicious offerings, visit www.palmettodistillery.com.