I just pulled a draft off my post list written by Al K hol about a trip we did about nine months ago. This trip was to a moonshiner that we are friends with who called a meeting at his still sight. Al likes shine, especially Jersey Lightning, which is made from apples and was also the name of his post. I took the draft down because not only did one of those that distill in the post just got arrested, but so did another friend of ours that makes shine in Virginia. The two distillers were not connected but I wanted to be courteous to those that are. The moonshiners in the post do not sell their wares, but do so for a hobby and called that meeting that we were at to discuss how they could get the law changed for that purpose. Our friend in Virginia however does sell his lightning. He was trying to get a liquor company to distribute his product, but in the meantime he sold himself. I have known home brewers that make more than the four of these guys put together and they (the home brewers) do not sell, they just stockpile as if the second prohibition is coming. I knew wine makers who made more wine than commercial start ups that used the wine as currency but did not “sell”.
This is a slippery slope. With distilling you are not allowed to make any. In New Jersey if you are going to make wine or beer you are allowed to make 200 gallons a year. The problem is who is checking that? If you are not selling your product, no one is checking to see what you are making. The friend of ours that just got pinched made the smallest batches we know. He would make a liter at time with a converted fire extinguisher. To taste what he made was a revelation, and a fleeting one as he only made a liter and no two were alike. (I tasted two different grappas he made from the must of a wine making friend of his made on the same day from the same grapes, and they were like two different liquors made in two separate towns by two different people) Someone with an axe to grind had to call him in as he has been doing this before we ever met him. (The fire extinguisher in question and now in an evidence locker or worse a cop’s home is older than Al and I put together and was in this man’s Grandfather’s business in NYC, and then converted in prohibition).
In Max Watman’s book CHASING THE WHITE DOG, he has a chapter on why those in the south continued to make shine after the civil war as a way to challenge what the south saw as northern oppression. It is a telling chapter on the attitude of a good part of our nation, and it makes perfect sense when a southerner explains it. The people I know here in NJ do it for a hobby and to get Apple Jack the way they want, the way Laird’s used to do it. There has to be some way to change this law to protect the hobbiest and not prosecute them as if they were a bootlegger. (for the record a moonshiner is the one who makes the product and the product does not have to be whiskey, the bootlegger is the one who sells the product and yes they can be one and the same, but the penalty is up there with running a meth lab) It comes down to taxes. Liquor is taxed when it is made as well as when it is sold, once you distill up a batch of white lightning you owe taxes. Somehow this has to change for the hobbiest. I understand that if the law is changed then the bootleggers will find a way around it, but they are already breaking the law, are you telling me that if they only move a liter at time it will make their life easier? The ones moving 6400 gallons of sugar jack only move one liter?
Stay tuned, as a resident of South Jersey and friends with a lot of do it yourself type people I have enjoyed more than my share of Jersey Lightning, I will have more posts about the art of moonshining.