The far side of the moonshine

Kentucky moonshine stillSeems that Gator McKlusky and the Hagg/Duke boys are alive and well in rural Virginia…

The officers, from the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, had been pursuing a prominent local businessman for years. At last, a tip had led them to a distillery. Silently, from across the road, they watched who came and went. They sneaked in a surveillance camera. The moonshiners had counter-surveillance cameras of their own.

The cat-and-mouse game that played out less than four hours from the nation’s capital culminated in a raid in which ABC officials, joined by sheriff’s deputies and federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, burst into a barn on the rural property and found four large silver-colored pots used to make moonshine — cheap, powerful, illegal whiskey. That led to the largest federal moonshine case in southwestern Virginia in years and a 31-count indictment filed in November in federal court in Roanoke.

People have always enjoyed their liquor in rural Franklin County, which calls itself the “moonshine capital of the world,” a slogan seen on billboards and T-shirts and even at a moonshine exhibit on the campus of a local Methodist college. A late-1990s federal-state crackdown, Operation Lightning Strike, slowed the liquor trade considerably.

Federal officials say it has yet to recover. But the ABC says moonshining is starting to make a comeback as moonshiners, who have been known to hide their stills behind fake headstones in cemeteries and camouflage them with green paint in the woods, adapt to the scrutiny.

“I could give you a list about as long as your arm of people who I know are in the business full time right now,” said Buddy Driskill, special agent in charge of the ABC’s Lynchburg office. Driskill says the District and Baltimore are prime destinations for the untaxed and unlicensed liquor, named after 18th-century bootleggers who smuggled brandy off the British coast by the light of the moon. These days, people consume moonshine in illicit establishments known as shot houses and “nip joints.”

From the Washington Post (pic from Kentucky Museum & Library)

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