The Washington Times-Herald

December 7, 2012

Today a new day

By T. Daniel Lancaster
Washington Times Herald


You might call it country couture or backwater bourgeoisie, but it boils down to one thing, moonshine is becoming hip.

Due in part to the Discovery channels runaway hit “Moonshiners,” corn liquor is becoming the new caramel macchiato, and it is being sipped by people with some of the most discriminating palates known to roam the deep wilderness of Central Park and Manhattan’s upper west side. It is being distilled in squeaky clean factories, taxed to the hilt and marketed by people who wouldn’t know a hollow log from a croaking frog — but they do know how to sell us what we don’t need and they do a very good job of it.

And just like anything else “cool” moonshine is now being packaged, processed and delivered to the masses in such a way it too will eventually become over-saturated, and eventually discarded (just before it retracts back into the woods.) If you don’t believe me about trends, just ask Bartles and James how the wine cooler business is going.

Network executives know when something is hot, and between the hillbilly-inspired Duck Dynasty, Redneck Island, Swamp People and Honey Boo Boo, it shows the lower the IQ, the higher the ratings. But is that really any different than another period in television history?

The participants of these shows aren’t really helping their cause much either. Tim Smith, still wizard and  star of Moonshiners, is now spending most of his time posing with celebrities at NASCAR races and other red carpet events. He has a website for venture capitalist to pledge support for his quest for a legal distillery. I guess when one has just over three million weekly viewers, it’s hard to find time to head off into the woods.

Legendary moonshine raconteur Popcorn Sutton might be dead, but it didn’t take long for his widow to sell his recipe and name to a group fronted by Hank Williams Jr. for legal distribution.

NASCAR legend and true Carolina bootlegger Junior Johnson now has his own brand of legal shine as well. To have Johnson selling the legal product is about the same as having him remind us the speed limits are for our protection. I would assume Miley Cyrus premium tequila is not far behind.

Moonshine has been brewed for hundreds of years in the mountains and hills of the American south. It was a way for those who chose to live life on their own terms, to provide libation to their friends and neighbors, without allowing the rules of a society which they have already rejected, to dictate the terms of how to have a good time.

For some it was a way to make a living in places where it was hard to survive any other way. For others it is a way for a rebel to have a cause. Moonshiners —the series, gives us a little insight into the art of making white lightning. It highlights several storylines on both sides of the law. It is a little silly, but ultimately it is compelling television, as long as one doesn’t ask too many questions, like “If you don’t want people to know you are a moonshiner, why do you have a website that sells t-shirts saying you are a moonshiner, let alone have a TV show that shows you making it?”

The government will tell you it is for safety reasons that agents are sent into the hills spending millions of dollars to stop the flow of liquor brewed in stills made mostly with junked car parts — it is not. It is about $4 out of every 750 ml bottle sold going into government coffers.

So what is it that keeps people tuning in to watch characters that are “straight outta Bugtussel.” I think that in some ways we are a little jealous. With each and every new litter of yuppie puppies that are born thinking the great outdoors means having to use your tailgate to protect you from the sun at a youth soccer match, a little bit of America dies. There is something about the thought that if given the right set of circumstances, you too might have the right stuff to got up in the hills and carve out a living with just a little yeast, corn and copper tubing.

I think we are a nation that desperately misses John Wayne, and maybe a few minutes in the woods with a copper pot and camouflage reminds us that taking chances and pushing the edge of the envelope is what built this country. As Tickle, Tim’s main still hand says, “If you love America, you have got to love moonshine.”

So there you have it, moonshine is in the public eye, but before long it will be back deep in the same closet with ‘members only’ jackets, food dehydrators, pet rocks and whatever else Madison Ave. decided to shove down our throat in the last few decades. However, I guess if they are going to force something on us, there are a lot worse things than moonshine — and after all is there anything more American than capitalizing on a product than when it’s hot?


Todd used to want to run away with the circus. Now he is just looking for a good spot for an underground still that has a decent satellite signal. You can follow him on Twitter @blasterdog