I wrote an article about Tennessee moonshine for Bourbon+, and just for fun I wrote a sidebar about my own first encounter with moonshine. I offered it to them for free and their response was to pretend they never saw it. Here’s the text:
Let me tell you my moonshine story: I was at an afternoon party in a garage in very rural, far south-central Kentucky. There were maybe 50 people celebrating the graduation of the host’s son from Army basic training. I was there because I knew someone who knew someone.
As soon as I stepped into the garage the beaming, friendly host – a fat guy with a shaggy, pre-hipster beard – welcomed me as if I were a long-lost relative. He handed me a red solo cup, which he filled out of a gallon plastic milk-jug. The liquid that poured into the cup was the rich golden color of the juice that runs out of a fresh-baked apple pie.
“Apple shine,” the host told me. “Pure Tennessee.”
I’d expected a keg of beer, but okay. Illegal moonshine it would be.
Being a snob, I tasted it reluctantly. It was fantastic, like drinking the best apple pie in the world, complete with a crispy, golden crust. It had a viscous mouthfeel, a cinnamon nose, and exactly the right level of sweetness. He’d poured about four fingers into the cup and it went fast. I chased him to ask for more.
“Gonna want to go easy on that,” he said, looking at me as if I had suddenly become a danger to his whole way of life. “It’ll knock you down.”
I remember thinking that I’d just participated in an afternoon tasting of 72 Napa Valley Chardonnays, and if I could handle that a couple of shots of back-country hootch wasn’t going to do me any harm. Thankfully, I kept that thought to myself.
The host poured me a few fingers more. I drank it and next thing I know I woke up on the front lawn, wet with fallen dew. It had become night, somehow, and the party – I assumed it was the same party, though I could have been sleeping on the lawn for weeks – was still going strong, even if I was not.
That was my first encounter with moonshine, but it was not my last. Since then, I have confronted local, illegal hootch a half-dozen times. It has always been in circumstances that were friendly and the ‘shine was always dressed-up as some kind of harmless fruit punch. But I’m not falling for that anymore. When moonshine comes into my field of view now, I approach it with a good deal more respect than I did that first time. Because, as the man said, it’ll knock you down.