While brewing your own beer at home is legal in all 50 states, it is strictly illegal for individuals to distill liquor. While there are health concerns involved with distilling liquor without federal regulation it is believed by many that outlawing the personal distillation of liquor is more of an economic concern for the government.
As you may remember from last week, liquor is heavily taxed in the United States and has been since the Revolutionary War. The amount of federal money that is gained through the strict production and sale of liquor is enormous. The truth is that Americans love their liquor and the government, aware of this, has instituted a high tax on these goods. Pretty smart really.
But of course, legal or not, people always have and always will make their own liquor. During Prohibition, the law was wise to many of the methods moonshiners used to distribute their product. Being nothing, if not creative, moonshiners developed clever ways to smuggle liquor around the country.
The term “bootlegging” came about because of moonshiners concealing liquor in- well- their boots. Often they would transport the moonshine down rivers during the night; usually referred to as “rum runners.” Moonshine was transported in cars as well but typically placed in secret compartments within the vehicle. It was also reported that in some cases, the alcohol was transported inside coffins.
Cars were the easiest way to transport the liquor, but with the police constantly searching vehicles and pulling over suspected bootleggers, this method of transportation was a problem. To combat this issue they simply had to do one thing- make their cars faster. The process of increasing the cars speed and maneuverability was always changing and they were constantly making their vehicles more efficient.
Even after Prohibition was repealed these gear heads continued to make their vehicles faster and faster. What began as a challenge to outrun the cops became a challenge to outrun each other and would eventually evolve into what we now know as NASCAR. In fact, one famous moonshiner, Junior Johnson made his way into NASCAR in 1955 and ended up winning 50 races before he retired.
As we’re all aware, Prohibition was eventually repealed on December 5, 1933 and the need for bootleg liquor disappeared. But there were and still are many that prefer moonshine over other liquors and there are also those who just love to make it. So it continued on. Though you won’t find as many active stills in the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains today; it’s still not uncommon for hikers to run across old ones lying about.
Moonshine has played a very large part in American history. A drinker or not, most can probably appreciate the art in making it, the ingenuity in producing it, and the effect it has had on culture and history at large.