Summer Cocktail Series, Pt. 4: Moonshine
by Jason Gubbels | July 17, 2014
So far, our Summer Cocktail Series has focused on what you might call the nobler spirits: woodsy tequila, sugarcane-flecked rum, steely gin. But it's time to take a step back from these carefully crafted distilled creations in order to consider their proud yet rough-hewn cousin, moonshine.
Call it hooch, white lightning or (lower case) mountain dew, illicit spirits and the moonshiners who make them are common to nearly every imbibing culture on earth, from Brazilian jailhouse aguardiente to Danish hjemmebrændt and Kenyan maize-based kumi kumi ("kill me quick"). But few countries can touch the United States when it comes to moonshine as a cultural signifier, thanks in large part to our disastrous 13-year Prohibition experiment, which helped lay the foundations for both dynamic illegal cartels (Al Capone) and untold thousands of smaller rural operators (Appalachian bootleggers).
The high demand for moonshine has contributed many things to American culture (stock car racing, for example, originated with bootleggers modifying their vehicles to ensure their ability to outrun authorities), and chief among those side benefits are the many dozens of classic tunes chronicling, celebrating and lamenting the moonshiner life. Since hooch production remains an Appalachian/Southern phenomenon, this playlist of moonshine anthems is pretty heavy on country and folk songs: George Jones and Dolly Parton memorializing their pappy's still (the iconic "White Lightning" and the soulful "Daddy's Moonshine Still"), and bluegrass odes to backwoods bootleggers from The Dillards and Osborne Brothers ("Dooley" and "Rocky Top").
But you'll also hear Mississippi bluesman Tommy Johnson chugging Sterno ("Canned Heat Blues"), Bobby Womack peering into a mash-stained "Copper Kettle," and The Drive-By Truckers picking over the ruins of "Where the Devil Don't Stay." So pull out your jam jar or top off your glass with a little bit of Everclear (no, wait, don't), and settle in with our tribute to outlaw ethanol.