Whisky Magazine Issue 107
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As the latest film Lawlessbrings brings to life the bootlegging era, Jim Leggett goes in search of the real moonshiners
Freedom and whisky gang thegither." Nowhere was Burns salute to whisky and freedom more robustly celebrated than among South Carolina's splendidly rugged foothills.
Early Scots-Irish settlers turned abundant cheap corn into profitable 'likker' with great enthusiasm. Even today a trek through rolling backwoods turns up rusted wreckage of illicit stills hiding among great stands of river birches, ash leaf and scarlet maples.
Bloody insurrection, moonshiners vs. lawmen, began when US Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton suggested taxing whiskey to pay off America's massive $21million dollar Independence War debt.
Moon-shining was further encouraged as unethical politicians, bribed to promote big Eastern distillers, taxed, jailed and tried to kill off any traces of rural production in the Southern States.
Hapless tax men, "Revenooers" locals call them, were tarred and feathered; their homes looted. The Whiskey Wars (1791-1794) spawned spirited defiance, even as hidden stills bubbled, whiskey flowed and contraband jugs changed hands.
Farmers and homesteaders fought back; soon untaxed white lightning gurgled abroad so merrily George Washington, himself a distiller, offered a $200 reward for the capture of excise opponents; Judas' were few in whiskey-dependent South Carolina.
Prohibition came next, a farcical insanity, so the events of history evidenced. Booze laws were ignored and flaunted everywhere, making many a poor man rich, spawning mayhem everywhere.