The Discovery Channel reality TV series, ‘Moonshiners’, is a documentary-style drama that follows the lives of several people who produce illegal moonshine in the Appalachian Mountains of the USA. The show’s points of interest document the production of the illegal alcoholic beverage, the lives of the moonshiners, and their continuous struggle of evading law enforcement.
The Appalachian Mountains, where most of the filming for ‘Moonshiners’ is shot, is spread across the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, as well as Virginia, which happen to be the hot spots of moonshine popularity in the States.
Despite being a documentary series about illegal dealings, the show has mostly avoided any frictions with the local police, which convinced many of its viewers that ‘Moonshiners’ could be fake.
The show is produced by Magilla Entertainment, whoich unfortunately has a reputation for creating unreal so-called reality programs. Nonetheless, Discovery Channel has held fast that ‘Moonshiners’ is an honest account of the moonshining business, and even refused to place a disclaimer among its credits. Moonshine has played an important role in American history, and since the show follows one of the most interesting subjects in American culture, it is bound to have many intriguing trivia.
As a documentary series filled with video content of illegal proceedings, ‘Moonshiners’ swept a lot of secrets under the carpet, and despite being reality stars, the show’s cast cannot avoid the law. For entertainment purposes, among the secrets uncovered here, a few trivial facts about moonshine in general will be thrown in.
Coining the Term
Moonshine might be most popular in the US, but the name originates from a British slang term used in earlier times. The term originally referred to any illegal activities done at night, and since the earliest production of the beverage, shortly following the end of the American Civil War in 1865, ‘Moonshine’ became a befitting name for the beverage.
At the time, alcohol taxes placed a hefty strain on the sale of liquor, encouraging American residents to brew homemade alcohol, which was deemed illegal due to tax evasion. Today it goes by many names, including ‘Mountain Dew’, ‘Mule Kick’, ‘White Lightning’, and ‘Popskull’ to name a few.
However, the beverage later gained an illegal status due to dangerous concoctions people made, which could hold serious health implications. Methanol, a by-product produced during the distilling of alcohol, can cause severe poisoning and even blindness.
Unfortunately, without any regulations, some moonshiners wouldn’t remove any methanol from their product, so giving it a stronger kick.
Some moonshiners even used car radiators in the distilling process. This meant that traces of anti-freeze often found its way into the beverage, and as a highly toxic substance, it could kill anyone who consumed the moonshine.
NASCAR’s Relation With Moonshine
It might be hard to believe that America’s most popular motor racing sport and event, NASCAR, finds its origins from the old moonshining trade, but it’s true. If it wasn’t for moonshine, NASCAR could have been a foreign concept.
Back in the day, the best way to produce and distribute moonshine was to brew at night and deliver as quickly as possible. This most often meant that moonshiners would build-up cars that could easily outrun police vehicles.
Eventually, moonshiners in Georgia began to race each other, pitting juiced-up muscle cars on dirt tracks against one another, simply for the sake of pride.
It grew in popularity, and soon NASCAR became a national sport in the US. The spare time racing even attracted Canadian moonshiners over time, and inspired a common theme explored in the ‘Dukes of Hazard’ films.
Therefore, it is hardly any coincidence that the ‘50s and ‘60s NASCAR legend, Junior Johnson, was also a renowned moonshiner. In 2005, when Piedmont Distillers in North Carolina became the first legal moonshine distillery, they used recipes collected from Junior Johnson’s living relatives, to create their now-famous brews.
The name originates from England, but many might wonder who the first person was to create Moonshine? Moonshine gets made from the same process followed to create whiskey, with only a few differences between the two alcoholic beverages that sets it apart.
The primary produce of whiskey, called White Whiskey, looks the same as pure Moonshine, and changes its colour only due to the ageing process that follows. A second trait that sets whiskey apart is the strict process every whiskey distiller has to follow. Since no regulations force moonshiners to produce by a specific method, they make Moonshine from just about anything, limited only by their creativity and preferred tastes.
While no record exists of who created it first, nor of Moonshine’s country of origin, it is safe to say that the US is not the only place you will find Moonshine. In Libya, locals create a similar beverage traditionally called ‘Bokha’, and in Russia they call it ‘Samogen’. The Scottish produce it as ‘Peatreek’, South Africans enjoy their own variant called ‘mampoer’, and in Norway, it goes by the name ‘Hjemmebrent’.
In most countries, the production of Moonshine remains an illegal trade for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of tax laws.
That Navy rum will get those sailors moving!
Stick around for #Moonshiners: Master Distiller, right after Moonshiners. The party begins tonight at 9p. pic.twitter.com/nWRKPXcjuD
— Moonshiners (@MoonshinersTV) January 13, 2021
Tickle For President
One of the show’s leading cast members, Stephen Tickle, who appears frequently and who became a fan favourite, once hoped to get into politics. Tickle admitted to a local newspaper that he intended to run for a state office in Southern Virginia, which would have made him the second reality television personality involved in politics.
Of course, this was back in 2013, long before Donald Trump became President of the United States. However, legal implications prevented Tickle from entering into state office, and he realised that the show provided him with a bigger audience. As honourable as his intentions may have been, which Tickle stated as a desire to spread positive change, his past run-in with the law complicated his political endeavours.
Tickle was arrested no less than three times in the past, but surprisingly on unrelated charges not concerned with his illegal moonshining. His first was for public intoxication, but some time later, police found a sawn-off handgun in his car.
Posted by Moonshiners on Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Following this, in 2016, Trickle violated his probation conditions, and admitted to abusing drugs, which resulted in a twelfth-month lengthening of his probation and forcing him to be on ‘good behaviour’ for the next five years.
Sutton, The Legend and The Tragedy
One of the moonshiners featured predominantly in the first season, an elderly gentleman by the name of Marvin ‘Popcorn’ Sutton, who inspired the creation of ‘Moonshiners’, used to be a renowned figure in the industry. His popularity with illegal moonshining made him one of the most famous moonshiners of the Appalachian Mountain regions, and he became the star figure of a documentary film by Neal Hutcheson back in 2002.
The documentary won an Emmy Award, and all the appearances Sutton made in ‘Moonshiners’ are footage from Hutcheson’s film ‘This Is The Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make’. Sutton’s story and life fascinated many people, because for decades Popcorn eluded the law, operating one of the most successful distilleries in moonshining history.
Sadly, Marvin passed away before ‘Moonshiners’ made it onto television screens. ATF agents arrested Sutton in 2007 on charges of illegal distilling after he confessed to an undercover officer that he was in possession of more than nine gallons of moonshine.
Sutton pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and received an eighteen-month prison sentence, but shortly afterwards, Marvin committed suicide. According to Marvin’s daughter, he would rather die than serve time in jail, but many suspects he committed suicide because of his cancer diagnosis.
The Family Business
Tim Smith, a regular on the show and fan favourite, has been in the business far longer than any of the other moonshiners featured on the show. Tim’s initial introduction to moonshining started early in life, as his father also bootlegged when Tim was still a child.
Thus, Smith is no stranger to the consequences of getting caught, nor to the dangers that law enforcement pose, but through the years Tim has kept his record clean.
At the age of five, Tim experienced his first raid, when police investigated his father and raided his property. During the raid, Tim’s dad instructed him to hide the illegal liquor, and though Tim explained the scenario during an interview, he never said if he was successful. Nonetheless, his dad taught him everything he knows, and the hard trials of his childhood easily explain how Smith succeeded in all the years he ‘shined’.
Even when police came to his house to confront him about the show, presenting footage of ‘Moonshiners’ as evidence of his illegal activities, Tim kept a cool head and invited the officers in for dinner. However, all the years of illegal brewing might have delayed the issue of his moonshining license, but he now produces the substance legally.
‘Moonshiners’ and members of its cast are no strangers to misfortune, as the show ran into several problems. One of the first difficulties that popped up was Tim’s day job – when people discovered that Tim actually had a respectable job, working as fire chief for Climax Volunteer Fire Department in Virginia, it caused an uproar of disapproval from fans.
Most people consider firefighters as outstanding citizens, and so didn’t support Tim’s choice to bootleg on the side. However, as the show’s popularity grew, people seemed to forget about Tim’s day job, so long as he continued to promote ‘Moonshiners’.
Misfortune also befell Josh Owens, who often appears on the show with his pooch, Cutie Pie, and while fans like his dog more than they do him, losing everything is no joke. Josh used to be a professional motocross racer, and while away to compete in a race back in 2017, his trailer caught fire.
Josh saved his truck, but lost all of his belongings and his trailer to the fire. No one knows what caused the fire, but thankfully, Josh recovered from the loss and continued to appear on the show.
Another incident very nearly caused trouble for the show, when Chico drove his truck into a crowd. Thankfully no one was hurt, and the show pleaded to no involvement with the incident, but Chico had to appear in court on charges of driving under the influence.
The Original Concept
The ‘Moonshiners’ fans adore so much may have been completely different from what it became since the original concept – to document the legal moonshining industry. However, the producers determined that this concept would be far too boring to attract and bind a big-enough audience to make a success of the show.
The original idea would also have involved focusing on the cultural impact and history of moonshine in the US.
Settle up, it's time for an all new #Moonshiners STARTING NOW!
Posted by Moonshiners on Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Filming illegal activities, on the other hand, might get the show and its producers into serious trouble with authorities.
Tim suggested to the producers that the show should film illegal moonshining in the woods, and evidently became responsible for the success of the show. Regardless, because of a lack of police interest, the true nature of ‘Moonshiners’ remains disputed among fans, who think that the producers fake everything for the sake of entertainment, but don’t care anyway.
Fans are not the only ones who dispute the reality of ‘Moonshiners’, despite what Discovery Channel want viewers to believe.
The Virginia Condemtion
During the first season of ‘Moonshiners’, special agent Jesse Tate of the Virginia ABC Bureau, responsible for investigating illegal tobacco and alcohol bootlegging, makes several appearances.
However, after the first season made it onto screens, Jesse did not make his return onto the show. Viewers may have noticed that Jesse never interacts with the stars of the show like Tim and Tickle. The reason for this was because the producers intentionally misled the Virginia ABC Bureau, along with special agent Tate, to believe that the show focused on documenting the history of illegal moonshining.
After the first season went on air, the Virginia ABC Bureau condemned Discovery Channel, with accusations of airing a false and misleading show. Despite their attempts to force the show to publish a disclaimer, the channel simply refuses to comply, and states that the show is an honest look into moonshining. Whether this is true, remains disputed.
Magilla Entertainment’s Tarnished Reputation
To further cast a shadow of doubt about the realism of ‘Moonshiners’ authentic illegal activities, the production company’s reputation raises even more red flags.
Magilla Entertainment has also created several other popular reality shows, including ‘Lake Front Bargain Hunt’ and ‘Southie Rules’.
Investigations into these shows revealed secrets that the producers would rather have kept quiet, and ultimately tarnished their reputation as reality creators. For instance, investigations discovered that participants in the real estate reality show ‘Lake Front Bargain Hunt’ bought their properties long before the producers started filming, and ‘Southie Rules’, a show that follows the life of a Boston family, depends heavily on scripting.
It seems that Magilla Entertainments misleading nature keeps going with ‘Moonshiners’, and with an already bad reputation, it becomes difficult to believe that the show is actual reality.
Despite all the disputes about the realism of the show, ‘Moonshiners’ will continue to entertain fans, especially now that its tenth season is on air. With all these facts, hopefully, it would make for more interesting viewing, and would not dissuade viewers from watching.