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Virginia's Growth Industry: Moonshine


It's completely illegal, and I'm not recommending it to anyone as either a business venture or libation, but Southwest Virginia is seeing a resurgence in a home-grown industry -- moonshine. Agents of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) reported a new peak in investigations of illegal stills in the state for 2010, at 22. "The general feeling is that the moonshine trade -- if you want to call it that -- is re-emerging," observed Chris Goodman, the ABC's regional resident agent, to The Roanoke Times. He pins the surge in evening entrepreneurship on the poor economy.

Franklin County, Virginia, is in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and considers itself the moonshine capital of the world, although I'm not sure Guinness has been able to document that. Locals make the stuff from apples and peaches, I believe. It's popular locally, and informally exported to cities on the East Coast. My dad retired to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on a few occasions I was served what was claimed to be moonshine. A representation of a small quantity of purported white lightning appears in the photo above.

More from The Roanoke Times:

More than a decade after a federal crackdown that largely erased moonshine in Southwest Virginia, illegal liquor appears to be trickling out of the Blue Ridge again. Just this month, agents based in Roanoke have seized five stills, including the two in Penhook on March 12. More investigations are under way, said Chris Goodman, resident agent in charge of the region's ABC office.

Budget cuts forced the disbanding of Virginia's Illegal Whiskey Unit, but with the help of the internet law enforcement has been able to track down moonshiners (selling illegal stills on eBay).

Actually, whiskey production has a long history in Virginia, even back to the days of George Washington, who at his Mount Vernon farm made 11,000 gallons of the stuff per year from peaches, apples and persimmons. The distillery burned down in 1814, but was rebuilt to working order in 2007 with help from the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. They show how it's made but I don't know whether they offer samples.

If someone is interested in starting a political splinter group to compete with the Tea Party, they might consider the inspiration of the Whiskey Rebellion, brought against George Washington's government in the 1790s. Same idea: taxation without representation, although in this case the plaintiffs were westerners -- which at the time were in western reaches of Pennsylvania, disputing the policies of the eastern-based government. Think twice, however, because unlike the successful Tea Party action, Wikipedia contends that

The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws.
Bottoms up!
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