Moonshine Day: Tennessee’s history with the once forbidden spirit

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Charlie Reecer and Dewey Smith sampling a batch of moonshine, Clay County, Tennessee, ca. 1920-1925.
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Moonshine, just in the last decade, has become a legal alcoholic drink to manufacture, but unlike beer and wine, it’s still illegal to make without a proper license.

Manure, paint thinner, anti-freeze, and embalming fluid are just a few hazardous ingredients that were used to make illegal moonshine during the prohibition era, according to the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA
  • Moonshine, TSLA

And though, prohibition lasted in Tennessee from 1920 to 1937, its history with the distilled spirit dates back hundreds of years.

Scott-Irish settlers brought their whiskey-making skills to the Appalachian mountains in the late 1700s. Traditionally, the European liquor is made with malted barley. But, Smokies settlers used corn.

When a Whiskey Tax was enacted in 1802, it drove many makers to produce their product in secret. The corn-based liquor was crafted under the cover of night. Hence, the name “moonshine.”

Moonshine is also synonymous with untaxed liquor. It’s still illegal to manufacture liquor in Tennessee without a proper license.

Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinburg became the first licensed moonshine distillery in Tennessee. It opened in 2010.

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