Now making whiskey has really become a popular adventure these days, hell they have even made television show about it. One of the most famous moonshiners was Popcorn Sutton, who at the age of 62, took his own life in order to avoid a prison sentence for doing something he had done all his life. In the south, making shine is way of life for most people, and we are damn good at it. Moonshine even started on of the most popular and profitable sports in America. Yes, I am talking about NASCAR. During prohibition the shiners would soup up their cars and run liquor to the speak-easy’s. Moonshine got its name from these drivers simply because they would drive by the light of the moon in order to avoid detection by law enforcement.
Where I spent my teen years, you did one of three things. You kept your head in the sand, you were part of the marijuana scene, or you made shine, and I always loved drinking. We had a place called Happy Hollow and if you weren’t welcomed there well, it was a great idea to stay out. Even law enforcement dared not travel down that four and a half mile stretch of a perfectly wonderful part of that mountain in Northwest Georgia.
I made friends with many of those great people never knowing I would write about them so many years later. My first job in the shine business was as a fireman. You should know that I didn’t fight fire but I kept them going. You see you have to maintain a certain temperature under the pot to make the mash evaporate into the alcohol and ensure you don’t scorch it. Scorching it would ruin a batch and that was serious money loss. I was taught by an excellent shiner and learned much, much more. I learned to make mash, I learned how to cook and how to make a shine that would lay you out after a drink or two.
Now for many of us that have watched the program about moonshining we have learned that the proof of a shine can be determined by the rise of the bubbles. However, the best way to tell if a shine is good is to light a little on fire. The clearer the flame, the higher the alcohol content. I was taught to make shine that would burn clear and you never felt the burn of the shine when you drank it. Believe you when I tell you that good shine should never burn going down. You should only feel the heat when it hits the stomach.
I bet many of ya’ll thought I was going to give you the recipe or the method of making shine, but that would probably be illegal, so I guess I will end this article with these thoughts. In my younger years I was around many stills and I drank my fair share of corn liquor. These were great memories and I gained some knowledge that I will never lose. Most of these men are gone now and will never be able to pass that knowledge on again. But I will hold these memories and may even pass them on to my son. Shining is an art form from the south and should always be appreciated.
Mike Cannon - Contributing author
A southern boy, born and bred. He was born in Atlanta Georgia, and has lived in some part of the state all his life. He currently resides in Ringgold Georgia which is a bedroom community to Chattanooga Tennessee. Growing up in the south has given him a unique prospective of the culture and tremendous knowledge of the food that the southeastern United States is so proud of. He enjoys watching the Braves in the summer, the Bulldogs in the fall, and NASCAR in the late winter. He is an avid hunter and fisher. He loves a good party and once you get to know him you have a friend for life. Mike will be a regular columnist on our site, sharing stories about his life in the south, it will be up to you to determine which of these are true and which are simply tales.