The term moonshine refers to the production of distilled spirits that was usually done "in the moon shine". Bootleg is a term that came about from moonshiners attempting to hide liquor in their boots in order to pass the alcohol to Native Americans. Moonshine was a way for farmers to transport their produce to market. It was cheaper to send it in spirits than it was to send it as tonnage. As a means to pay for the costs associated with war, the government began taxing the homemade liquors. The Whiskey Rebellion was the result of the tax. The farmers moved to the mountains, where they could get an adequate supply of fresh water, there were plenty of hiding places and they could make their brew.
The original tax which led to many packing up their possessions, including their stills and move the the secluded areas of the North Carolina mountains was repealed in 1802. However, a similar tax would be put in place in 1813. That tax was repealed in 1817. However, a new tax was permanently put in place with the Civil War. After the Civil War, the south was economically devastated by the ravages of the war. Many were in danger of losing their land, their homes and ways to support their families were few and far between. One particular moonshiner, Lewis Redmond, helped others in the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia get their product to market. Considered a hero to those he helped, those in other areas considered him an outlaw. Using a network he created, he supported his family and helped others to support theirs as well.
During Prohibition, the brewers attempted to make larger quantities and didn't often concern themselves with the quality of ingredients used. "Mean Whiskey" contained pollutants, contaminants and sometimes even poisons. "Jake Leg Syndrome" is a partial paralysis of the feet or legs after drinking a brew known as Jake. Many of the moonshiners in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia produced enough to satisfy the demand. Some towns in North Carolina turned to spirit making after other industries dried up. Buffalo City is one such community. During the 1920s, Buffalo City was considered the "Moonshine Capital" with nearly every family in the community involved in the production or transport of the brew. The recipe for their hooch was 400 gallons of water, 100 pounds rye, 300 pounds sugar and 5 pounds of yeast. The Hattie Creef, a tugboat, arrived daily with sugar and other items needed for their production. When the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, Buffalo City again fell on hard times.
After the demand for moonshine decreased in 1933, operating their stills in the dark of night is a way of life for many, and the craft has been passed down from generation to generation. Many families used their hooch as the basis for other elixirs and home remedies.
Moonshine is still a way of life for many. One of Nascar's own learned to drive as a rumrunner. Junior Johnson learned to drive while hauling liquor from his father's still in Wilkes County. He has since given up moonshining and produces a legal product. Today, an individual can purchase a still (legally), but must have a federal permit to brew with the still. The federal permit will allow an individual to brew up to 10,000 gallons a year of ethanol. But to distill liquor for home use is illegal. It is legal for the home crafter to make beer or wine, but not whiskey. It's all about the tax....