Founding Fathers, Bootlegging, and NASCAR: The History of Moonshine

Grab your favorite mason jar full of ‘shine and pull up a chair to learn about the history of moonshine and bootlegging. “White Lightning” aficionados joined Amber Antsy, Monica Date, and Scott Poole at the Sheraton Macon on Friday to talk illegal booze.

Moonshine is unaged whiskey and is usually made from corn, but could be made from anything. It isn’t proofed down and is meant to be strong AF. You know you have the good stuff when the moonshine sticks to your tongue. Those who grew up in West Virginia, like Poole, may have been warned not to venture into the woods. Not so much for fear of the woods themselves, but of the inhabitants that might shoot you for venturing too close to a still.

The illegality of the spirit mostly came about shortly after the American Revolution when there was an attempt to levy taxes on whiskey to build up the federal reserve. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go over too well and caused the Whiskey Rebellion. Many just stopped reporting that they were even making it and began making it at night. It wasn’t until the Whiskey Rebellion that “moonshiner” became synonymous with booze. The term is actually a British verb for people who work nights.

Making moonshine has been around since colonial times, and booze was a huge part of colonial culture. Somewhere there’s a bar tab for our founding fathers for one of their planning meetings at which they drank seven or eight bottles of rum in an evening.

The Whiskey Rebellion was a blip in moonshine history, and there wasn’t much movement until prohibition. The 18th Amendment banning alcohol didn’t go into effect for a year, and the rich stockpiled booze in basements to resell later for profit.

Even after Prohibition was repealed, moonshine continued to be prevalent. Moonshiners who were lucky enough to not blow themselves up with homemade stills or die from drinking their own bad booze, and who managed to load up trunks without being discovered, still had to get it somewhere. Cue bootlegging. In Detroit, where Date and Poole live, runners would wait for the river to freeze and then drive their Studebakers (the preferred bootlegger mobile) over it with their lights off; sometimes unsuccessfully. In other parts of the country, drivers had much further distances to cover, and this became to the precursor to modern day NASCAR.

To be a successful bootlegger, drivers needed to outrun the cops. It wasn’t just about making the cars faster, they had to be able to navigate curving and winding mountain roads. Bootleggers began modifying their vehicles for speed and handling, which was the start of the after-market automotive parts industry and stock cars.

No booze panel would be complete without boozy recommendations. Poole’s favorite cocktail is an Alaska, made with gin, yellow chartreuse, and bitters. Date’s recommendation is a Caipirinha. Finally, if you haven’t heard of, much less tried, Fernet, you must go out and try some, according to the expert bartenders.

Author of the article

Not everyone can say they watch television for homework, read novels for inspiration, and are paid to follow what’s trending. For Alicia Pack, it is all part of life as a writer and media enthusiast.  When she isn't lost in the world she is trying to create, you can find her with her nose in a book or catching up on her favorite supernatural shows.  She has a Master’s degree in Mass Communications and a Bachelor’s degree in Radio, Television, and Film.  Her nine years of diverse media experience include news writing, copywriting, website content management, social media, promotions, television production, and teaching.