Moonshine Makes a Comeback

By Dirk Hanson 03/30/11
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You can make beer, but not the hard stuff.
Photo via crookedfingers

Franklin County, Virginia, didn’t get the nickname “Moonshine Capital of the World” due to its distinctive brand of illegal hundred proof. Franklin County earned it the old-fashioned way: volume, volume, volume. It was the sheer amount of whiskey produced, and the sheer tenacity with which the locals fought the ‘revenooers,” that earned Virginia its reputation as a bootlegging center. And we’re not talking ancient history: One operation busted by authorities in the 1990s had produced almost a quarter of a million gallons of moonshine over a six-year period. For the past few weeks, agents for the State Alcoholic Beverage Control Unit have been fanning out across the Blue Ridge region of southwestern Virginia, breaking up distilleries, as UPI reported from Roanoke. “The general feeling is that the moonshine trade, if you want to call it that, is re-emerging,” said an agent in the Roanoke office. The agent cited the stagnant economy is a reason, but a more likely immediate problem can be traced to the 2009 shutdown of the state’s Illegal Whiskey Unit due to funding cuts. In an article in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, a writer sampled some of the criminal booze available at a Virginia “nip joint”and reported that it tasted like “some sort of experimental kerosene-powered mouthwash.” In its more lethal forms, “white lightning” can lead to fatalities from lead and alcohol poisoning.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]