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

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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.

Two men posing in front of a moonshine still, Claiborne County, Tennessee, 1903. Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Moonshine still, Clay County, Tennessee, 1918. Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
Daniel Duesst (pronounced “due east”) with his gun, his dog, and his jug of moonshine Sequatchie County, Tennessee, ca. 1900. Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
Sheriff Mike Boatright and others with confiscated stills, Elizabethton, Tennessee, ca. 1940s. Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
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
Sheriff and deputies surrounding broken stills beside the Presbyterian Church, Jonesborough, Tennessee, 1920.
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
Sheriff Mike Bootright and deputies with a confiscated moonshine still, Elizabethton, Tennessee, ca. 1940s.
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
Bob Holland, Sheriff J. L. “Fate” Smith, and deputies after a raid on a still, Humphreys County, Tennessee, ca. 1920s. Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives
A moonshine still being “busted,” Grundy County, Tennessee, ca. 1900. Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives

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


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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.


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

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