Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Kentucky Moonshine

with the assistance of Quinn Pearl
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 156
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Kentucky Moonshine
    Book Description:

    " When the first American tax on distilled spirits was established in 1791, violence broke out in Pennsylvania. The resulting Whiskey Rebellion sent hundreds of families down the Ohio River by flatboat, stills on board, to settle anew in the fertile bottomlands of Kentucky. Here they used cold limestone spring water to make bourbon and found that corn produced even better yields of whiskey than rye. Thus, the licit and illicit branches of the distilling industry grew up side by side in the state. This is the story of the illicit side -- the moonshiners' craft and craftsmanship, as practiced in Kentucky. A glossary of moonshiner argot sheds light on such colorful terms as "puker," "slop," and "weed-monkey." David Maurer's tone is tongue-in-cheek, but he provides a realistic look at the Kentucky moonshiner and the moonshining industry.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4353-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    The moonshiner is the black sheep among distillers. He is probably America’s oldest continuously operating professional criminal, if we except colonial smugglers and a variety of deported British lawbreakers.

    In fact, moonshining was also America’s first chemical industry, unless it was perhaps preceded by the manufacture of gun powder. Since rum provided a readily disposable cash commodity, the importance of moonshining in the colonial economy was tremendous. Then rye whiskey came into fashion, largely under the guidance of one George Washington, and rapidly took the place of rum. Rye prospered in Pennsylvania, corn in the river bottoms of Kentucky, and...

    (pp. 1-11)

    It’s easy to make moonshine. Anyone can do it. In spite of all the secrecy which has, for thousands of years, been woven about the craft of distilling, and despite the complexity that often characterizes the modern chemical processes in progressive distilleries, the basic procedures are very simple. Not only that, but the materials are so common that they are probably right at hand in your own cupboard. And the equipment is in your own kitchen. So why not make a batch? A small batch, that is. Say a fifth or two—which is quite enough under the law to...

    (pp. 12-28)

    So useful a gadget as the still must, like the potter’s wheel, go back to the very roots of human civilization. The fermentation of fruits and grains has been regarded in all cultures as the act of a bountiful god; distillation, likewise, was seen as a divine discovery by which ingenious man intensified drinks that were already delicious but lacking in alcoholic proof. For untold millennia the Mediterranean peoples made their wine; the ancient Northern Saxons and Germans fermented their mead from honey. The use of the still to concentrate the joys of drinking is so old that it is...

    (pp. 29-46)

    The end purpose of the illicit still is of course to produce illicit whiskey, and there are innumerable approaches to the problem, many of them based on the results of infinite trial and error, compounded with some scientific knowledge and a considerable body of folklore and superstition. Each moonshiner has his own favorite recipe which he regards as superior, and most legitimate distilleries guard their production methods jealously in the belief that their particular way of producing whiskey is superior to that of others. Since we cannot examine all of these methods, we will concentrate on one as an illustration....

    (pp. 47-59)

    The fact that Kentucky has long been the center of the illegal distilling business might lead some to the conclusion that moonshining activity is limited to this state alone. Actually, there is considerable moonshine production in most of the fifty states. One phase of the moonshine industry that is often and easily overlooked is an extension into the northern states from the southeastern section of the country that encompasses Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia. Even in Oklahoma and Texas there are scattered pockets of well-entrenched moonshine activity, due to the continued migration of the...

    (pp. 60-71)

    Every business must be financed, and moonshining is no exception. In fact, even a small pot still may involve cash expenditures of $1,500 to $2,000 for equipment and initial operating expenses. A large steam still may mean an investment of $40,000 to $50,000. These amounts are necessary to purchase the still and auxiliary equipment and to start producing whiskey; afterwards, the daily running expenses must be met in cash, including the purchase of materials, the repair and maintenance of equipment, the use of cars and trucks, the payment of protection money (where this is the case), and the payment of...

    (pp. 72-81)

    With the advent of Prohibition in 1919, moonshining took on some of the trappings of big business. Since the owner, part owner, or backer was now heavily preoccupied with sales, distribution, protection, and other such details, he needed a small hierarchy of people working under him to handle production. His contacts were primarily with large customers, sources of protection, and other moonshiners, all of which took him away from the still frequently. For these reasons moonshining became loosely organized as a business.

    Capitalization: As in all businesses, financing is basic, and while the old-time one-man still required little investment, modern...

    (pp. 82-104)

    Since the whiskey Rebellion in 1791–1792, the chief thorn in the side of the moonshiner has been the federal agent who collects the liquor tax. Originally these agents rode horseback over wide areas, visited anyone manufacturing whiskey, rum, or brandy, measured the capacity of the still, copied production figures from the stiller’s journals, or even accepted the stiller’s estimate of annual production. The revenue agent then was primarily concerned with collecting the tax and turning it over to the federal government, usually in the form of gold or silver coin. Only incidentally was the agent concerned with the suppression...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 105-112)

    All subcultures tend to develop some specialized linguistic characteristics that set their members apart from the general cultural matrix to which they belong. When this subculture operates outside the law, this linguistic phenomenon is calledargot. Some of the social and psychological forces that stimulate differential linguistic development can be very simply stated. First, there is a dichotomy with the dominant culture, with the subculture being quite aware—sometimes over a period of centuries—of its minority status. Second, the subculture differs from the dominant culture in some (though never all) behavioral indices. For instance, often there is within the...

  14. Glossary
    (pp. 113-128)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 129-132)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 133-135)
  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 136-139)