"...yeah, I've made all kinds of likker in my time...I've made the fightin kind, the lovin kind, the cryin' kind...the likker I'm makin' today is called four damn fights to a pint..." (Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton, 1946-2009)
There's no doubt about it. Moonshine, white lightning, everclear, white dog, whatever you want to call it, it's back with a vengeance. Walk into any liquor store to see how they are capitalizing on this phenomenon. Peruse the bottom shelves of the whiskey section to see a variety of white likkers, (the legal kind), often packaged in quart or pint Mason jars for full effect. For a dose of authenticity some stores go as far as putting a pint jar of 'shine' and two cans of Mountain Dew into a gallon Ziploc bag to be sold as a package deal. No doubt the popularity of the legal kind is due to the explosion of Micro distilleries who are anxious to get product to market in order to stay afloat. The Micro Distillery is probably the only start up business in the world where once you manufacture your premium product it has to be buried in a warehouse for several years before you see a penny returned on your investment. We are still several years away from weeding out most of the chaff in the craft distiller market.
But beyond the legal variety of white spirits, is there a real resurgence in unlicensed spirits distilling? The answer is most assuredly yes. Tommorow night the Discovery Channel will air the first episode of its new reality series 'Moonshiners' which is a definite indication of the re-emerging popularity of this trade.
Research for this article turned up on Youtube a documentary titled 'The Last One' made by independent film maker Neal Hutcheson. The film chronicles the last run of mooshine made by Marvin 'Popcorn' Sutton, ("This is the last damn run of likker I'll ever make"), as he awaits sentencing on a Federal conviction for distilling spirits without a licence and possessing a firearm as a felon. It's a compelling story and Hutcheson does a masterful job of bringing the viewer right into the moonshine camp while he chronicles the process of whisky making from start (choosing the ideal location to set up the still) to finish (blending and cutting the whisky, and breaking down the camp.)
The documentary is well worth your time and is easily found on Youtube. It can be watched in eleven segments, but if that seems like too much effort you can get the DVD here. Hutcheson makes independent documentary films that showcase the somewhat disappearing mountain culture of the American South focusing on the customs, folklore, music, and language of its inhabitants.
Suffering from cancer and days from facing an eighteen month sentence in federal prison, Popcorn Sutton ended his own life in March, 2009. Later that year his body was relocated to his home in Parrotsville, Tennessee. Country singer Hank Williams Junior, who attended the Memorial for Popcorn, partnered with his heirs to make his moonshine a legal product. Using the same type of still and techniques, and using the old family recipe they finally brought to market Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey. The white dog is currently only available in limited distribution in Tennessee and is made in cooperation with the Corsair Distillery in Nashville.