Where Did It All Start?
In the 1700’s, the United States struggled from financing the American Revolution so the government placed a federal tax on liquor and spirits.
Not taking too kindly to this tax, Americans continued to make their own whiskey without paying the tax. The war that just ended was supposed to free them of the British taxes. Why would they be happy about a new one?
For those making their own whiskey, it was their livelihood, not a hobby or a way to cushion meager incomes. This was their income. If farmers had a bad year for crops, they used the corn to make whiskey. The sales from their moonshine made it possible to survive and feed their family. If they paid the required tax, they couldn’t eat.
They even fought off the federal agents who came knocking, going so far as to tar and feather some of them.
The American People established a Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 and stormed Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. George Washington’s army dispersed the mob and captured the leaders, putting an end to the rebellion.
They were not deterred. The production of moonshine continued across the United States, especially in Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas.
Nor was the government deterred from upholding the taxes on alcohol which led to legendary gun fights.
The government needed more money to fund the Civil War when it broke out. Their battles with the delinquent taxpayers increased. Moonshiners and Ku Klux Klansmen joined forces and stepped up their methods of intimidation. They attacked IRS officials and their families and anyone who might reveal the location of the hidden whiskey stills.
The early 1900’s saw the beginning of the laws that banned alcohol sales and consumption. Once 1920 hit, Prohibition swept the nation. You couldn’t get your hands on any legal alcohol.
The demand for moonshine went through the roof. Production went into high gear. To keep up with demand, distillers did whatever they could to increase profits. They added sugar and watered down their moonshine.
Speakeasies and organized crime touched every city, every state in back rooms and basements. Some were built on a pier for easy access of shipments through the floor. They crafted secret rooms, rotating shelves, trap doors, fake walls, secret passages, camouflaged doors, and emergency disposal shafts.
Club 21 in New York, fashioned collapsing walls and revolving bars so the doorman could alert them of an oncoming raid. All of the liquor would be hidden from sight. Their secret passages led to the basement of No. 19. Authorities never found alcohol on their premises! Club 21 is still in operation at 21 West 52nd Street, New York.
Why was it called a Speakeasy? From the phrase, Speak Easy, Man which means lower your voice. Or it could have been from the ‘speakeasy’ in the door, to announce yourself.
In 1933, Prohibition was repealed and the demand for moonshine dwindled. The production of moonshine continued but on a much smaller scale even into the 60’s and 70’s. Today, you don’t hear too many stories of it.
If you ever come across a lil brown jug with 3 X’s on it, it was likely used for moonshine. One X for each time the liquid was distilled.
American Prohibition Not The First?
Long before the American Prohibition, England had its own run-in with government bans on alcohol in the 16th Century. The term Moonshine is said to have come about from the late night excursions to avoid the law. The product: Moonshine. The Movers (bootleggers): Moonrakers.
Speaking of terms, it’s also called hooch, mountain dew, white lightning. Other unusual names are corn in a jar, blue john, bush whiskey, donkey punch and popskull.
Where Did The Term Bootlegger Start?
During prohibition, people could walk across the border from Maine into Canada with a couple of bottles hidden inside their boot.
Where Is Prohibition Still In Effect?
According to wikipedia, there are a number of countries enforcing prohibition. Afghanistan, Bangledesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, some states in India, Libya, Kuwait, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somolia, to name a few.
United States 1920-1933
Canada 1918-1920. But not Quebec. Apparently, Canadians liked their liquor too much, it only lasted 2 years!
Faroe Islands 1907-1992
Russian Empire and the Soviet Union 1914-1923
And the award for the shortest prohibition period goes to……..
Hungarian Soviet Republic March 21 to August 1, 1919
Visit any local spirit distillery and chances are they will have an unoaked whiskey/whisky aka moonshine sitting on their shelf.
Where To Get It, Legally!
North of 7, in Ottawa, produces White Dog and packs a good punch. You want to be careful with that stuff! Yet, strangely, kind of tasty. At least now it’s off my bucket list.
Dillon’s, in the Niagara region, produces a white rye among other flavoured liquors.
Distilleries are not hard to find near your city or town, they are everywhere nowadays.
Just make sure you get your Hooch from a reputable source. Impurities, such as methanol alcohol, gather at the top of the batch so the first cup should be tossed by the distillers. You may want to stay away from the backwoods distilleries just in case they don’t perform this task.
Happy Moonshine Day!
Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 1, 2017