Tennessee, as well as the rest of the United States, has a long and complicated history with alcohol. Like much of the rest of the world, alcohol is a large part of American culture. Americans over the age of twenty-one can find and purchase nearly any type of alcohol from their local liquor stores. However, this was not always the case. At one point in U.S. history, alcohol was outlawed. But, with this dramatic change came the rise of homemade alcohol makers, known as moonshiners, who produced and distributed the substance during this era. Yet, the United States’ history with moonshine dates back even further – with many more complications.  

What is Moonshine?

The term, “moonshine”, comes with a number of definitions. “Moonshine” originally referred to any type of alcohol that was produced illegally. However, the term eventually changed in the United States and came to represent what moonshine is. Moonshine is essentially a type of clear, unaged whiskey that is typically distilled from corn; however, it has also been distilled from barley or rye. In a way, moonshine is bourbon without a barrel or whiskey without wood.  

History of Moonshine

The history of Moonshine goes back farther than many people assume. Because of this, moonshine has played a fairly significant role in U.S. history and American culture in general. 

Origins of Moonshine in the United States 

Moonshine arrived in the United States early in the country’s development. It arrived alongside Irish and Scottish settlers, who had a tradition of making the substance from barley. In fact, many farmers in grain-producing states like Pennsylvania would distill their excess grain into alcohol – rather than waste it. The products these farmers distilled were then kept for their own consumption, sold, or even used as currency. This was a normal practice until 1791.     

The Whiskey Rebellion 

In 1791, the federal government imposed a tax on liquor made within the U.S., which was known as the “whiskey tax”. It was the first tax imposed on a domestic product. For the following three years, distillers held off tax-collectors by any means necessary, typically using violence and intimidation. 

Eventually, in order to collect taxes, the federal government sent a U.S. marshal to Pennsylvania to collect and serve writs for unpaid taxes. However, the arrival of the U.S. marshal sent distillers into a frenzy. In response, over 500 men attacked the home of tax inspector General John Neville. This act forced President George Washington to send peace commissioners to negotiate with the rebellious distillers and put together a militia to enforce the tax. After acquiring a militia of around 13,000 men, nearly all of the rebels fled before a conflict with Washington and the militia.    

The whiskey tax was eventually repealed in 1801 during Thomas Jefferson’s time as president – after years of both successful and failed attempts at taxing distillers in the United States.   

Prohibition Era in the U.S. 

On January 17th, 1920, the United States became a dry country. This meant that the United States was a country where the production and sale of alcohol was illegal. However, just like during the Whiskey Tax era, distillers of moonshine did not obey the law. 

During this time, moonshine would be distilled at night in order to avoid detection. Oftentimes, it was distilled in Appalachia, which includes states like Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina. The limited road network in Appalachia made it easier for moonshiners to avoid revenue officers. 

Bootleggers or runners would then transport moonshine all over. They carried this precious but illegal substance in cars that were modified to be fast and carry as much moonshine as possible. This car culture eventually led to the creation of NASCAR once bootleggers found themselves out of a job when prohibition ended in 1933.  

Present Day

Today, moonshine is produced and sold in Tennessee as well as the rest of the United States without any major issues or conflicts. You are likely to find it in your local liquor store, pharmacy, gas station, or grocery store – unless you live in a dry or partially dry county with stricter liquor laws.  

Dangers of Consuming Moonshine

Although it is legal for adults over the age of twenty-one to purchase and consume moonshine in the United States, it can still be dangerous for a number of reasons, including: 

Risks of Alcohol Intoxication 

Despite it being a substance that is legal to produce and sell, moonshine is still a dangerous substance. Moonshine often has a higher proof than other alcoholic spirits. Because of this, a person is likely to become intoxicated more quickly while consuming it. Intoxication due to alcohol consumption can lead to a variety of negative effects, including a lack of coordination, poor judgment, and violent behavior. These effects can negatively impact one’s health, relationships, finances, occupation, education, and more.    

Potential for Addiction

Most notably, consistent moonshine consumption can lead to the development of alcohol use disorder – also known as alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that develops in an individual when they possess an impaired ability to stop or control their alcohol consumption, especially when facing severe consequences to their health and well-being. This is largely due to the effect an addiction to alcohol has on the brain. Overtime, consistent alcohol use changes the brain, rewiring it for addictive behavior.     

Unintended Side Effects 

Aside from its addictive potential, moonshine can also be dangerous to consume if it is homemade. Although it is illegal for the average person to distill alcohol in their own home in the U.S., it still occurs. Moonshine production has a long history of being homemade, even when it was illegal to do so. 

Unfortunately, making moonshine at home can have serious consequences, especially when produced by inexperienced distillers. If improperly distilled, moonshine can contain methanol instead of ethanol. Methanol is extremely toxic for human consumption. A few milliliters can cause a person to go blind, while anywhere from 1 to 3 ounces can be fatal.    

In Need of Alcohol Rehab in Tennessee? 

Moonshine has had a sizable impact on many Appalachian states like Tennessee, as well as the rest of the United States. While it is legal to purchase and consume moonshine, it can be dangerous and can contribute to a person developing alcohol use disorder. If you or a loved one are living with alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction, help is available near you! At Knoxville Recovery Center, our team of addiction specialists offer several proven treatments and therapies for alcohol addiction. Contact us to learn more today!   

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