The Smoky Mountains have long been known as a moonshiner’s paradise, and that history runs deep. Remote caves and hard to reach spots high up in the mountains are littered with abandoned remnants of stills from a century ago. When laws changed and moonshine was brought out into the daylight, legal distilleries popped up all throughout the mountains, creating authentic “white lightning.” Read on for a history of Smoky Mountain moonshine and celebrate the legends that kept the whiskey culture alive.

Old World Traditions

In Gaelic, whiskey is called “Uisce Beatha,” which translates to “Water of Life.” When the Scottish crossed the Atlantic and arrived in the Smokies they didn’t just bring their musical influence, they also brought along the distillery traditions of their home country. Even to this day some believe that the medicine of the mountains only works with the help of moonshine.

In Scotland and Ireland, making and drinking whiskey were time-honored traditions. So, once they set up their new home in Appalachia, they simply used the local crop of corn to continue the practice and share it with their community. This practice continued for decades throughout the Smokies without any trouble…until the federal government decided to tax it. A new $2 per gallon excise tax was placed on whiskey, and that price proved too much for most mountain folks. So, they just stopped paying. But that didn’t mean they stopped drinking.

By the Light of the Moon

A lot of people think that moonshine is a knockoff version of whiskey, but the only difference between the two is legality. Moonshine is simply alcohol that is made illegally. And that’s what happened when the people in the mountains could no longer afford the tax on their whiskey.

Under the secret cover of darkness – or, more accurately, by the light of the moon – moonshine was born, as was a crucial revenue stream for a lot of Smoky Mountain farmers. They took any surplus of corn crops and turned it into moonshine, which was easy to transport, trade and sell at night. This influx of cash helped to pay the bills and provide for their families.

A Moonshine Legend

There are plenty of well-known names that are still spoken in hushed tones throughout the Smokies. Lewis Redmond, a native of North Carolina, was elevated to mythical status in 1876 when he shot and killed a deputy who was trying to arrest him. For the next five years, he took on a Robin Hood-like persona as he evaded lawmen and shared his profits with local residents. The law eventually caught up with him in 1881, and he was arrested. But he later ended up being pardoned and found work in a government run distillery in South Carolina.

Prohibition only served to grow the popularity of moonshining with the illegal alcohol trade spreading across the country. While it was never officially documented, a buzz of rumors swirled around that the notorious gangster Al Capone hid his moonshine in the Smoky Mountains before secretly slipping it into Chicago.

But the most famous contemporary moonshiner – around Maggie Valley and beyond – is Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton. He gained popularity when he appeared in Neal Hutcheson’s Emmy winning documentary The Last One,where he claimed to produce the last run of liquor he would ever make. Not only was he a great moonshiner, but he was an excellent marketer. Using the fame of that documentary, he drove his Model A Ford truck around town. And when that truck pulled up, everyone would rush up desperate to buy a jug from his last run of moonshine. Popcorn always seemed to have a jar or two laying around.

Moonshine in Maggie Valley Today

Moonshiners in the past cared more about making money over the quality of alcohol they produced, but if you talk to local moonshiners today, it’s all about the product. For example, Dave Angel of Elevated Mountain Distillery in Maggie Valley – a third generation whisky maker – made his first moonshine when he was 14 years old. Now, it’s his goal to pass on the history and tradition to anyone who appreciates it.

With a nod to Haywood County’s median elevation of 3,600 feet (the highest of any county in the eastern US), Dave and his wife Sue founded Elevated to share their love of distilling. For centuries, moonshiners have taken advantage of the high-altitude pristine mountain springs to produce some of the purest moonshine in the Smoky Mountains. And now you can tour the corn-to-whiskey process at Elevated to learn how it’s made. Their custom pot and towering 23-foot column still take the process to the next level. In addition to buy brand dapoxetine tours and tastings of whiskey and moonshine, take the stage for karaoke on Thursday evenings or enjoy live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

Buy a bottle of your favorite flavor to take home with you, or bring it back to your room at the Meadowlark Motel! We have cabins or classic roadside motel rooms decked out in classic Appalachian chic décor. And our BackPorch Pavilion is the perfect spot to taste your whiskey while the soothing Jonathan Creek ripples by!

Meadowlark owner, Joseph Franklyn McElroy, hosts Gateway to the Smokies Podcast – in this episode, listen in to the full conversation with Dave Angel of Elevated Mountain Distillery and find out more about the traditions of moonshine in the Smoky Mountains!