Moonshine: More Than A Hobby

Jun 20, 2009

In March, Appalachian moonshiner Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, 62, received notice to report to prison to serve 18 months for illegally producing distilled spirits. Days before he was to start doing time, Sutton’s body was discovered in his car, dead from an apparent suicide.

Sutton, who favored a long, unkempt beard and overalls, typified the American moonshiner. Devoted to his hobby and fiercely opposed to the law that prohibits it, Sutton produced high-proof spirits at home. Until he got caught.

No state allows the distilling of spirits for recreational or commercial use without a license.

The process of making moonshine dates back to ancient times. Distillers start with a substance that contains alcohol. They put it into a vessel and heat it. Alcohol vapors form and rise into a column or coil, then condense and collect in a second vessel that’s cooled, usually from the outside, with running water. The distilled liquid is volumetrically small compared to the source material. It can contain from 40% to 90% alcohol. The taste depends on the source material. Fermented peach juice tastes like peach-flavored gasoline, for instance.

Waste from beer or wine is often distilled. That’s why most cultures with a history of winemaking also have a history of distilling, like the French, who make cognac, and the Italians, who make grappa.

Most moonshiners start out as home wine or beer makers. That’s also the source of their discontent with the law: In 1979, the federal government allowed states to permit home beer and wine making. But distilling remains illegal.

Read the full article at Forbes HERE.