For more than 40 years, travelers have experienced moonshining culture firsthand at the annual Moonshine Festival in Ohio's Hocking Hills. However, nary a drop of shine was available for sampling, as festival organizers were forced to dump every bit of the moonshine that was produced for show on the town's antique stills -- thanks to strict liquor laws. But this year, the region’s 100-plus-years of bootlegging tradition is reborn with the simultaneous opening of the Straitsville Special Distillery this Memorial Day weekend, May 22-26, in New Straitsville, Ohio. Details on the region are found at www.ExploreHockingHills.com.
The Moonshine Festival takes place along the town’s vintage Main Street. For the first time, festival goers will be able to taste moonshine from a working still. By definition, moonshine is illegal liquor, but Straitsville Special will be producing the region's trademark high-quality corn whiskey, legally, for sample and sale. Early on, New Straitsville shine was considered the "gold standard" for hooch. In Chicago, during prohibition, folks who ordered a drink in a speakeasy were often asked if they wanted the "local stuff" or the "Straitsville Special." It was so popular (and lucrative), in fact, that famous mobster Al Capone became involved in running New Straitsville moonshine out of the area.
New Straitsville became one of the country's largest producers of moonshine after a legendary underground mine fire was started in 1884 as part of a labor dispute. The fire, which continues to burn today, produced thick, black coal smoke, making it nearly impossible for revenuers to detect bootleggers by the customary method of tracking the telltale smoke rising from stills hidden in the woods. Without work, more miners turned to bootlegging to put food on the table. In addition, NASCAR racing's earliest days are traced to moonshining, when bootleggers would soup up the cars used to haul booze so they could make a fast getaway, but often raced each other more then the law. Today, the town's rich bootlegging history is also chronicled in the popular song "Old New Straitsville Moonshine Run," from the Grammy-nominated bluegrass album "Scratch Gravel Road" by Special Consensus.
Also at this year's festival, Wayne Nix of the popular Discovery Channel show, “Moonshiners” will appear on Saturday, May 25. A host of other events and attractions include a history museum; flea market; carnival rides and games; souvenirs; talent show; cruise-in; tractor pull; and two parades, with finale Grand Parade held on Memorial Day. Festival food vendors also give a nod to the area’s bootlegging past, dishing up everything from moonshine burgers and moonshine doggies to moonshine pie. Free, live musical entertainment takes place throughout the four-day event.The festival begins at 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday and noon Sunday and Monday.
Bootlegging, or moonshining, is the practice of producing distilled spirits, which are highly regulated and taxed, without government knowledge, review or taxation. Moonshining originated in the United States as part of the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion. Under President George Washington, federal taxes were imposed on whiskey, sparking a backlash among farmers and a rise in illegal distilling. Bootlegging grew further during the prohibition era, from 1920-1933. The practice grew in Appalachian areas like Ohio’s Hocking Hills, because its lush forests offered exceptional hiding places for illegal still operations.
Located 40 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio, Hocking Hills region offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make every day feel like Saturday, with plenty of free activities. The region boasts a wide variety of affordable lodging, from camping, cabins and cottages to hotels and inns. In addition to hiking trails, parks and forests, the Hocking Hills is the zipline capital of the Midwest, with 50 ziplines being offered via three distinct guide services. Unique gift and antique shops, canoeing, horseback riding, golf, spas and more add to the allure of the Hocking Hills as the perfect place to unplug. Complete traveler information is available www.ExploreHockingHills.com or 1-800-Hocking (800-462-5464).