The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Recipe

By Pat Hadley Davis © 1990

Issue: June, 1990

The settlers in the valleys tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina were mostly of Scotch Irish descent. They had learned the skill of making liquor from the generations before them. It was a way of life. There were knowledgeable in the trade and took pride in their product.

From the time the Scotch Irish settled in the mountains of the Southern Appalachians until the days of prohibition the production of whiskey was just another product produced by the inhabitants of these areas. They made liquor for their own use and sold it when their income was not sufficient to provide for their families.

A source of information gave the following account of the early days of the bootlegging trade and some of his participation in it:

"I remember two men who came to our house most every weekend and brought with them clear glass gallon jugs to get filled. They came there to get their corn liquor because they knew my Daddy took pride in it and made the best that could be bought.

A man that had helped my Daddy make liquor said that Daddy was the most particular man he had ever seen. He said he wanted his still to be as clean as his coffee pot.

He always liked to make the pure stuff, pure corn. He made plenty of sugar head and he called it sugar head. Many bootleggers would sell sweet mash corn for pure corn. My Daddy would not misrepresent his product. He was proud of the quality of his whiskey. Corn liquor is made out of corn with no sugar used.

When he made brandy, he put no sugar in it. He made pure apple brandy.

The best made is sweet mash corn. They make sweet mash corn by using corn meal and sweeten it with sugar. You get a lot better turn out. You get whiskey from the corn and the sugar.

The best we ever had was first round sweet mash that corn malt was used on. When you mash back, you just add more sugar to the mash that has been used before. We used new stuff. Many of the ones who made sugar whiskey just used the same stuff over and put sugar over it again.

The first round sweet mash was the best whiskey ever, it needed no chaser. A few snorts of that best stuff and a man could go out and work and fight the elements of cold and hot weather and spit in a bobcat's eye.

From the time I was 17 until I was 20 years old I hauled whiskey and made from three to seven trips a week out of Wilkes County. When hauling I would arrive in the town of my destination in the early morning hours and drive in while the traffic was heavy with the work hands driving to work. I was never caught.

My father began hauling whiskey to Winston Salem in a T Model Ford. Then he acquired his own still. He stored whiskey in the house and there was so much of it that we had to erect extra support pillars under the house to keep the floor from collapsing.

My Daddy was known for the good whiskey he made. He used some of the worms made by "Whistling Ed" Williams. I still own the old still but it has now deteriorated, it has pin holes in it. Apparently the last one who used it did not clean it properly as my Daddy would have and it was ruined.

There were people in the mountains known as "Dry Bones." They would follow streams in the woods in the hopes of coming up on a still. They would then go to the Revenue Officer and report the still's location, and were paid for reporting it. In some instances they would chop up the still themselves and take the tools and whatever else they could use for themselves.

The still was located in rough mountain terrain where no one would be around and stumble upon it. The roads into the woods were almost impassable. We would take the sugar into the woods by sled in the early mornings. We would bring the whiskey out the next morning before we went to school. We worked at the still in the early mornings and then walked two miles to school.

Five gallon metal cans with thin veneer type wood wrapped around them and held by three wires were used at the still to pour the whiskey in to transport it. It was then taken to a location where it was filtered and proofed and poured into one-half gallon fruit jars. We always proofed it because we wanted to be sure that we had a good product.

There was a fruit jar known as the "Bootleggers Special." It looked like a regular half gallon fruit jar. It was the same height as a regular half gallon fruit jar but it was slim, not as big around as one. It really only held three fourths as much as a regular half gallon jar would. The whiskey was usually in cases of twelve half gallons for what amounted to only five gallons of whiskey.

I think my Daddy hauled the first beer that ever came to Wilkes County in the 1930's. I still have some of the old wooden crates the beer came in. The names of some of the beer were Ole Net Brown Ale, Royal Pilson, Old Glory, and Dunkelbocker. The breweries of 1930 were Boras Abner Drury Brewery of Washington, D.C., Piel Brothers ENY Brewery of New York City, and New Weiler's of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

I owned an interest in a beer joint in the late 1940's just after World War II. You could not get the name brand beers such as Schlitz, Budweiser, or Blue Ribbon. We were able to get an off-brand beer called "Liberty Beer." We bought it by the truck load. The first truck load sold well. We bought a second truck load but by that time the brand name beers were becoming available and we had to reduce the price in order to sell the off-brand beer. The price reduction didn't help sell and we were stuck with it. I stored about two hundred cases for several years but it wasn't wine, so we didn't have vintage beer. We just had bottles with rusted caps and labels chewed off by silverfish."

The bootleg trade dwindled over the years as the economy of Wilkes County improved. It was no longer necessary for the "Moonshiners" to supplement their income by manufacturing liquor.

The descendants of the settlers who introduced whiskey making to this section have become the most productive citizens of the county. They are responsible for the success of the poultry industry. They owned the land and had the strong work ethic that was the backbone of the poultry industry. They are now the business and civic leaders of the county.