©2013 Chris Terrell
It is thought that moonshine gets it name from the moon-lit nights that provided just enough light to make the stuff and to see the tax man cometh, yet enough darkness to hide from same. Moonshine is referenced as early as 1785 in Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue as “white brandy smuggled on the coasts of Kent and Sussex, and gin in the north of Yorkshire.” So apparently, it is not an American invention after all, though us Americans (especially Southerners) have taken it and run with it. Speaking of running, we probably owe NASCAR to bootleggers making ‘shine in the South. To get this stuff to “market,” one needed a good driver and a fast car to evade the law on the winding backroads of the American South. The best of these bootleggers became the forerunners of today’s NASCAR drivers.
Moonshine has always had a backwoods, bad-boy reputation, especially because of its potency (though the proof of homemade moonshine varies widely). This reputation is reflected in some of the slang used for moonshine, such as: fire water, popskull, stagger soup, busthead, and my favorite, panther piss. The stereotype of the folks who have traditionally made moonshine has not helped its reputation either: Snuffy Smith types camped out in the hills and hollers of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s as if the mere mention of the word moonshine or Mason jar triggers in one's head that dueling banjo song from the movie Deliverance.
Moonshine, however, is gaining respectability. Here in Alabama, Jamie Ray is making legitimate moonshine in Bullock County at High Ridge Spirits, Alabama’s only licensed distillery. http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/08/alabama_shine_veteran_beer_mak.html He calls his spirit Still Crossroads Alabama ‘Shine. And Chris Hastings, the chef and owner of the restaurant Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama, recently beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America with a course that incorporated some homemade ‘shine.
So the next time, you are down in our neck of the woods, grab some ‘shine—legit or not (I won’t tell). You could be pleasantly surprised as I was, when I sat back on a cool October evenin’ with a nice glass of squirrel whiskey. I'll let you know how I feel in the morning!