Howling Moon Distillery in Asheville, North Carolina, is more than just a business — it’s a family legacy.
Brothers Cody and Austin Bradford are modern-day moonshiners, but there’s something that sets them and their product apart. Cody explained that a lot of the products labeled “moonshine” today are really just vodka that hasn’t been filtered.
But the Bradford family makes a traditional moonshine, which is a high-proof liquor typically made from corn. Unlike whiskey, moonshine isn’t aged.
“We’ve been making it for about eight years,” Cody said. But it’s been in his family for much, much longer. “It’s been passed down in the family. [From] what I’m told, we’ve done it since we landed here in America.”
Hundreds of years ago, farmers who lived in the mountains started making moonshine because they couldn’t get their product to market before it spoiled, Cody explained.
“The only way they could do it was to distill their products,” he said. “They could barter with that, they used it for medicine, they drank it themselves and they could sell it. That was about the only way most of them could actually get physical money.”
Making white lightning was more of a survival technique than a hobby for early moonshiners in Appalachia.
In 1862 Congress passed a law that taxed all liquor produced in the U.S., making it illegal to possess any untaxed or unregulated liquor, according to a research paper published by the University of Minnesota. After the government crackdown on liquor, federal agents known as revenuers were dispatched to shut down illegal stills.
But those laws didn’t deter many of the moonshiners in the rural South.
Like several of Bradford’s relatives, many moonshiners were involved in shootouts with revenuers.
“It was an all out war.”
“Many moonshiners were committed to keeping their industry free of government regulation and the government equated evasion of alcohol taxes with theft of government money,” according to a research paper published by the University of Minnesota.
Moonshine by definition is an unregulated, untaxed, distilled liquor. There’s some debate over whether moonshine is truly moonshine if it’s produced legally. Cody, however, says their product is still made the way it’s been made for hundreds of years.
“All the modern stills take out a lot of the flavor,” he said. “A true moonshine, you’ll taste whatever it’s made out of.”
For Cody and his family, moonshine is engraved in their history.
“Moonshine is one of those cultural things that’s about gone, but there are some people still keeping it alive.”
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