Wednesday, February 4, 2015

There Is Nothing New Under the Sun, or Moon

The word 'moonshine,' as both noun and verb, refers to a distilled spirit of any type that is made illegally. Today, many producers sell what they call 'legal moonshine.' The segment is ill-defined. In some cases the product is neutral spirit, i.e., vodka. In others it is unaged corn whiskey. In still others it is a spirit made from table sugar, often mixed with either vodka or corn whiskey. Some are flavored. It all depends on the product.

But consumers think 'moonshine' is a thing and moonshine products seem to sell well, especially in a venue like Ole Smoky in Gatlinburg.

Many wonder if the whole 'moonshine thing' can last. It has been tried before, whatever that tells you.

What follows is the text of an article from The New York Times, published on Feb 12. 1956, written by James J. Nagle. The headline was "Legal 'Moonshine' Offered to Hill Folk." One astonishing fact: in 1956 it was estimated that more than 25 percent of the distilled spirits consumed in the United States were illicit.

"The Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation is fighting firewater with firewater.

"To meet the competition of moonshine, a subsidiary of the big bourbon distillery concern, the Lynndale Distilling Company, has placed on sale in North Carolina a corn whisky known as White Lightning. The product is colorless, as is moonshine. It is made of 80 per cent corn and 20 per cent malt and is 100 proof - or 50 per cent alcohol.

"In other words, it is a potent competitor of moonshine which also is 'white' and runs anywhere from 70 to 110 proof - but which often contains such harmful ingredients as lye or lime to give it an added kick. White Lightning (the legal kind) is priced slightly higher ~$2.25 a pint and $4.40 a quart, compared with $1.50 to $2 a pint or $3.50 to $4 a quart for moonshine.

"Many mountain people are partial to white corn whisky. Until the entrance into the North Carolina market for White Lightning, no such whisky was legally available. Now it can be purchased in nearly 75 per cent of the state's retail package stores. North Carolina does not permit the sale of 'alcoholic beverages by the drink.'

"The market for the legitimate product is concentrated in the western part of the state around Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Asheville, said to be the most active moonshining area. An initial shipment sold within two weeks, according to a spokesman for Brown-Forman.

"During the last two decades there have been many changes in North Carolina. But in isolated areas on the coast and in the mountains the old order has not changed much. Traditional foods and drinks, prepared from recipes handed down from generation to generation, are still in use.

"Many residents still relish Cherokee Indian bread, sourwood honey, home-cured deer and bear meat washed down with hickory nut milk, persimmon and locust beer, scuppernong and dandelion wine and, of course, white corn liquor.

"Much of the last-named product has been made illicitly not only because it is cheaper but because there has been none quite like it available legitimately. The nearest thing to it was a yellow corn whisky aged in used barrels and having more of a scotch taste. But to the natives even this was a 'red whisky.'

"Last year a group of North Carolina beverage control commissioners, headed by Guy Ward, chairman of the Winston-Salem control board, conferred with officials of Brown-Forman on the feasibility of marketing a white corn liquor. White Lightning resulted.

"Will it end or curb moonshining in the state? Agents say it is worth a try. North Carolina for two years has been second only to Alabama in the number of still seizures.

"Distillers and the Internal Revenue Bureau have expressed considerable alarm over the fact that more than one-quarter of all liquor consumed in the United States last year was moonshine. Maybe the answer is to put a tax stamp on it."


Anonymous said...


Please clarify a couple things:

1. Where did you get these figures? I have not seen anything legally produced selling anywhere close to this low. Are you refering to the "tax rate" per volume? "White Lightning (the legal kind) is priced slightly higher ~$2.25 a pint and $4.40 a quart, compared with $1.50 to $2 a pint or $3.50 to $4 a quart for moonshine."

2. What do you mean when you state; "North Carolina. does not permit the sale of 'alcoholic beverages by the drink."

Thank you!

Pittsburgh, PA

Chuck Cowdery said...

The answer to all of your questions, Bob, is clearly stated in the fourth paragraph. This article was written in 1956.

Anonymous said...

Richnimrod said;
My dear departed Daddy's first job as a 6-year-old boy back in the early 'thirties was to carry two 1-gallon jugs of his uncle's 'shine out of the 'holler' up to a dirt road to a man in a waiting auto who would pay him two nickels for the delivery. Apparently, the contract for the bulk of the 'shine was negotiated between the uncle and the driver at some other time. Anyway, Dad was among the very few boys of that age in that area who could claim to have q job that paid him cash money.
I believe he still had ALL those nickels the day he passed last April! He was, shall we say; careful with his coins.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chuck. I saw the fourth paragraph, however, I had no idea all the data cited was from 1956. I thought it was "new" informaiton about what was currently going on in NC and that you simply noted some info from the past as well. Thanks! Bob