Friday, March 20, 2009

How to make moonshine ...

Once upon a time, I had a part-time job at a Nashville-based trucking company. I was 20-years-young then, and my job allowed me to experiece a whole lot of things that I probably would not've been able to do otherwise. Like this ...

The company for which I worked leased trucks to a trucking outfit whose primary "route" was East Tennessee, North Carolina, Virgina, and West Virginia. One Saturday I was approached by a driver from said "outfit" who'd just come back from Virginia. He beckoned me out to his truck, and he showed me the half-dozen gallon jugs of moonshine he had in his side-box.

"Go getcha a cup," Mr. Truck Driver said. And I did. And he filled it with about two ounes of moonshine that was crystal (and I mean crystal) clear.

I gulped that moonshine in one shot. It tasted like vodka that'd been cut with rubbing alcohol, and it rested in my belly like a hot coal. Literally.

'Bout 5 minutes later, however, my lips and toes were tingling, and I could feel my ears getting read, and I felt warm all over. "No wonder people drink this ****!" I remember saying to myself.

That said, Tennessee's finest moonshiner has passed on. Slashfood tells us 'bout it:

The nation's best-known moonshiner has died just days before he was to report to federal prison.

Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, 62, died Monday in Parrottsville, Tenn., of an apparent suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning. His fourth wife, Pamela, told the Associated Press that he was supposed to report Friday to federal prison to serve an 18-month sentence.

Legal or not, Popcorn -- who got his name by destroying a bar's 10-cent popcorn machine with a pool cue -- practiced an artisan's craft producing thousands of gallons of white dog in handmade stills hidden in the hillsides of North Carolina and Tennessee.

"He was one of a kind," documentary filmmaker Neal Hutcheson tells Slashfood. His latest film, "The Last One," featured Popcorn in action.

Popcorn embodied the moonshiner aesthetic with his ragged beard, overalls and feathered fedora in a part of the country where moonshiners are considered more hero than criminal.

"People take a lot of pride in having been related to somebody who made moonshine," Hutcheson says. "It seems like everybody over a certain age has a story about an uncle, or they heard tell their grandparent made moonshine. It was very, very common of course, back in the day."

He wrote a book, "Me and My Likker" and found fans in the likes of "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville, who called Popcorn "a sharp, defiant, and funny old man and now he's gone. And it's an understatement to say he won't be forgotten."

When feds arrested Popcorn last May, they found three stills capable of making 1,000 gallons of moonshine, more than 850 gallons of hooch, hundreds of gallons of mash and other materials used to make white dog as well as firearms and ammo. He pleaded guilty to what was his fifth conviction.

Hutcheson told Slashfood he last spoke to Sutton on March 13.

"I knew something was different," he says. "I really felt like he expected to die when he went to prison, but now it's very easy to see that this was his plan all along when he ran out of legal options, legal challenges. He just had set all this up very carefully."

Hutcheson says people shouldn't judge Popcorn on how he chose to end his life.

"It's very difficult to take this news, but it would have been more difficult I think to watch him sort of wither away and die in prison," he says. "The way he ended his life was totally in character with who he was and it was, I don't think, completely out of hopelessness -- he was just determined to do what he wanted to do, and he didn't want to go to prison."

Remember him instead as the artisan of the still.

"Some people have questioned whether he was a showman or a craftsman or a professional hillbilly," Hutcheson says. "More than anything, he really took pride in the quality of his liquor, and as he would always tell people, that's the only thing that he had to brag about."

1 comment:

Mister Jimmy said...

" . . . a showman or a craftsman or a professional hillbilly,. . ."
I don't see anything wrong with being any of those three. The haters are gonna say we're all the latter anyway, and if one can be all three, well, I'd consider that something to brag about. And I'd rather be a professional hillbilly than professional a-hole (they know who they are!).
BTW, I've had good 'shine, in a remote joint in east Tennesee (where I also had some pretty good roast rabbit), along with the best homebrew I've ever tasted - said homebrew rated around 15%/30 proof by its producer. Believe me, "two'll do ya!"