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Hillbilly Moonshiner

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"Get you a copper kettle, get you a copper coil
Cover with new-made corn mash, and never more you'll toil
You just lay there by the juniper, while the moon is bright
Watch those jugs a-fillin', in the pale moonlight."
Albert Frank Beddoe, Copper Kettle

Someone who illegally distills whiskey from corn or other farm products in a rural area where alcohol is prohibited or heavily taxed. The moonshiners are typically farmers in poor, rural areas of Appalachian states like North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The illegal activity is often carried out at night, which is how "moonshine" got its name. Other names include "mountain tay", "mountain dew" (not to be confused with the soft drink, which was named after the liquor), "poteen," (in Ireland), "samogon" (in Russia), "pontikka" (in Finland) and "white mule." Typically, the distilling process involves a copper still (the most basic version of which is a pipe run through a hollow log) set up in a remote clearing, preferably near a stream of soft water. The result is often a Gargle Blaster that can strip paint off a car. The lowest-grade, most amateur moonshine earned the epithet "rotgut" from the presence of poisonous elements from careless distillation or from adding methanol intentionally to boost the apparent potency.

"Revenuers"—tax and excise officers—and police often feature as The Antagonists in these stories, hunting down the moonshiners, who often are willing to resort to violence to defend their livelihood. Shipping out the finished product while evading them is a job best left to a Badass Driver who knows the back roads and shortcuts. In the United States, the extensive speed and performance modifications made to otherwise ordinary-looking cars made by these drivers during Prohibition eventually led to the establishment of NASCAR racing. In addition to boosting speed, smugglers carved out more storage space inside the vehicles and upgraded the shocks to enable carrying heavy loads. Speedboats used for booze smuggling in the Caribbean influenced the design of WWII torpedo boats.

Moonshine liquor was sold by The Syndicate in underground speakeasy bars, some of which had their entrances hidden behind shelves in an innocuous-looking front business. High rollers might go to a posh "Totally Not a Criminal Front" club for illicit liquor. It was a profitable enterprise for the Mob during the Roaring Twenties.

For the enlisted counterpart, see Military Moonshiner; obviously, when the hillbilly enlists he will often turn into one. For the 21st century's rough equivalent, illegal meth labs, see Clandestine Chemist.


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  • The soda brand Mountain Dew was originally developed by Barney and Allen Hartman to be mixed with whiskey. (And "mountain dew" used to be Southern US slang for moonshine, before the soda's popularity completely eclipsed the original meaning.) The original packaging (as well as the deliberately retro "Throwback" packaging) features a cartoon hillbilly.
  • The British mixed-fruit juice Moon Shine was advertised with a cartoon showing two US hillbilly stoats mixing it up in the backwoods, while pursued by a toad sheriff.

    Comic Books 
  • The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers moved to the rural mountains, and Fat Freddy, getting lost in the woods, stumbled onto a moonshiner's property, who, eventually figuring him to be okay, offered him a drink. Freddy: "Well, ordinarily we hippies don't drink liquor, but I happen to be an exception!" The stuff turned out to be made from mushrooms and had a strong psychedelic effect.
  • The Goon had a story where the Goon got caught up in a feud with a family of moonshiners.
  • Moonshine by Brian Azzarello is set in 1920s West Virginia, and features several prominent characters who are Moonshiners. There are also werewolves.
  • Moonshine McJugs by Frank Thorne, which originally ran in Playboy. The strip deals with the erotic misadventures of Moonshine, a buxom female member of a clan of hillbilly moonshiners in Pork Holler, Tennessee.

    Film — Animated 
  • Luke from The Rescuers is implied to be one. His "swamp juice" is strong enough to give a Nitro Boost to a swampmobile!

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Coal Miner's Daughter: The hillbilly moonshiner from Loretta Lynn's home town says that making moonshine is only one of three things to do in coal country, the second being working as a coal miner, and the third being getting out.
  • Lt. Aldo Raine from Inglourious Basterds is said to have been a moonshiner before joining the US Army.
  • In The Kettles in the Ozarks, bootleggers rent Sedge Kettle's barn as a base for their moonshine operation and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Lawless is based on the true story of the Bondurant brothers, highly-successful moonshiners from Franklin County, VA. The movie plays up the class and cultural tension between them and the crooked big-city U.S. Marshal trying to take over their business.
  • The 1975 film Moonrunners, later spiritually adapted as the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard (see below), centers on a family of these.
  • The Soviet short film Moonshiners (Samogonschiki) by Leonid Gaidai. The titular moonshiners are played by the popular Soviet comedy trio Nikulin, Vitsin & Morgunov.
  • In The People vs. Larry Flynt, the boyhood days of Larry Flynt had the enterprising youngster make and sell moonshine in the Kentucky hills.
  • One of these is killed by the eponymous vengeance demon in Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud.
  • The Return of Swamp Thing opens with a bunch of armed office workers searching for a hillbilly moonshine distillery in a swamp, and ending up attacked by a leech mutant. Later, the moonshiners themselves appear to attempt to rape the Love Interest before the eponymous hero intervenes, beating and chasing them away.
  • In Timber Falls, Brody and his redneck cousins are moonshiners and intimidate Mike into paying $50 for a jar when they come across him and Sheryl on the mountain.
  • Tremors 6: A Cold Day in Hell: Bush pilot Mac lives in a rural part of Canada and smuggles whiskey into dry territory.

  • In Alas, Babylon, Randy Bragg enlists the help of the town's resident Mr. Fixit and Gadgeteer Genius to build a still to render down the proceeds of a particularly bountiful corn harvest. Malachi, despite being a teetotaler, even comes up with a method of charcoal filtration. The resultant hooch is of Gargle Blaster potency, and turns out to be extremely valuable as fuel, surgical disinfectant, and trade commodity. It also makes a very good post-nuclear Screwdriver when mixed with local orange juice, which a pair of military officers comment upon in the novel's last chapter.
  • Discworld's Nanny Ogg only escapes the appellation of being a moonshiner by King Verence refusing to enforce the laws about liquor distillation in Lancre on a witch so long as she's discreet about it (i.e. hiding the still so that he doesn't officially know that she has one. Despite this, most of Lancre knows roughly where it is, though they pretend not to know if they need to find her while she's brewing a new batch for the show of it). This does mean she has cornered the local market with her product, known affectionately as "Old Suicider." It's made from apples—well, mainly apples.
  • In First Blood, the fugitive Rambo comes across a father and son duo in the woods, and guesses correctly that they have a still hidden in the area. He convinces them give him clothes and a rifle so that he'll move on and lead his pursuers away from them.
  • In Frank Merriwell Down South, one of the book's stories has Frank and a friend mistaken for revenue agents by Appalachian moonshiners. They're saved because the mysterious masked rider the moonshiners all respect is a girl they helped out and befriended earlier in the story.
  • In The Goblin Reservation, one of the characters, a Neanderthal named Alley Oop (intelligent, but still not quite adapted to modern society) makes moonshine at his hut. There is no indication it's illegal (it's the 26th century or so), but the quality is ghastly.
  • In The Little Golden Calf, Ostap Bender reveals his experience as a moonshiner when he teaches visiting American bootleggers some Soviet moonshine recipes. However, it is heavily hinted that he makes it up as he goes to scam some money out of gullible foreigners.
  • The McAuslan story "The Gordon Women" focuses on the characters, on leave, dealing with moonshining in the Scottish highlands — from both sides of the law.
  • Elmore Leonard's The Moonshine War, later adapted as a film of the same name, centers on a conflict between one of these and a corrupt IRS agent.
  • Nick Velvet: The target of Nick's theft in "The Theft of the Bald Man's Comb" is assumed to be this: a recluse living in an abandoned mill with his two brothers deep in the hill country of the Deep South. During the theft, Nick realises that he is deliberately cultivating this impression to cover up his actual criminal activities: manufacturing counterfeit heart medication.

    Live Action TV 
  • Granny Moses in The Beverly Hillbillies is not a moonshiner; she just happens to use a giant copper still to make "rheumatism medicine" that's mildly explosive and can jumpstart a car.
  • In B.J. and the Bear/The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, Lobo is a Dirty Cop who runs moonshine on the side.
  • CSI: Miami: A pair of moonshiners become suspects when the body of a hunter turns up dead near their illegal still in the Everglades in "Slow Burn".
  • Doc Martin: It's a British show, but Bert eventually becomes one of these in Series Six after having bounced around from numerous jobs through the show. However, Ruth, who's land Bert is camping on for his operation, tests a jar out and determines that it's actually quite high in quality. She helps him get a distiller's license so he can sell it legally.
  • In the Backstory of The Dukes of Hazzard Uncle Jesse & Boss Hogg were both moonshiners. The Duke boys are permanently "on probation" for running Jesse's moonshine.
  • An episode of Fantasy Island dealt with two rival moonshining families who both wanted "White Lightning", the best moonshine ever made.
  • PBS historical Reality Show Frontier House cast three families into the wilderness of Montana to recreate the experience of 1800s pioneers. Partway into the project, the father of the Clune family acquired a still from his coworkers back in the modern world and began selling moonshine on the side to supplement his family's livings. The production team decided this was period-appropriate and permitted it.
  • An episode of The Glades dealt with two Feuding Families of moonshiners who went legit and now sold legally produced moonshine. However, Jim discovers that old habits die hard and someone is still producing and selling moonshine off-the-books.
  • The History Channel Reality Show, Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning, revolves around the Real Life Feuding Families of the Hatfields and McCoys trying to come together to run a legitimate moonshine business.
  • In one episode of Hawaii Five-0 we learn that one of Chin Ho's uncles is one of these, and makes moonshine from the roots of the ti plant. According to Chin the stuff is very tasty but not for the faint of heart. Uncle Choi, played by George Takei, takes pride in his product and does not associate with "the lowlifes that sell bad hooch."
  • Justified: The infamous Bennett family used to be moonshiners during the days of Prohibition. Family matriarch Mags still brews up the occasional batch, but they've long since diversified into marijuana, possessing fifty drying sheds scattered across Harlan County, Kentucky.
  • Midsomer Murders: The British equivalent (yokel moonshiner?) appears in "Night of the Stag", brewing a particularly potent hooch known as 'the Beast'.
  • Moonshiners, a Reality Show on the Discovery Channel, follows a group of hillbilly moonshiners. Despite the cameras and publicity, moonshine is still just as illegal as you'd think it to be, except in one case where the show follows a licensed distillery that brews with moonshiner recipes and techniques. (We should note that, like many reality shows, the series is staged: police and sheriff's departments in the areas where the series is filmed have said that if anything illegal was actually going on, they would have shut it down.)
  • NCIS: New Orleans: Brody and LaSalle find themselves held at gunpoint by an unusually erudite hillbilly moonshiner while investigating a body dump in "It Happened Last Night".
  • The New Avengers: In "Emily", Gambit and Purdey fight a hillbilly moonshiner to acquire several gallons of his hooch in order to fuel a car (It Makes Sense in Context).
  • Parks and Recreation has the Swanson family's homemade mash liquor, which can melt the shell off of a snail, burn warts off mules, and its only legal use is to strip paint off speedboats. It's so strong, it causes Leslie to get stupidly plastered after a couple of glasses and April can't even handle a single sip, but the Made of Iron Swansons (and Ron's first wife Tammy One, who grew up in the same lifestyle) can down it like it's just water.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In some versions of pilot "Children of the Gods" Skaara shares moonshine his town made with Jack's team. After asking Daniel (who stayed behind on Abydos after the movie) what he's "been teaching these kids", Jack tries it and it makes him hoarse.
    • When Jack gets trapped offworld in "A Hundred Days" for three months thanks to a meteorite strike burying the gate, Jack is introduced to the local moonshine at the harvest festival. His verdict:
      "Absolute rotgut. More, please?"
  • The Baldwin sisters in The Waltons would be horrified if you accused them, as respectable elderly spinsters, of being moonshiners. They just take care to brew the medicine that their father devised in the traditional the giant copper still, and keep it hidden from revenue men.

  • Ridiculously common in traditional folk music from Scotland, Ireland and the Appalachians. There are innumerable songs about this; some of the old standards are "The Rare Ould Mountain Dew", "The Moonshiner" ("I'm a Rambler, I'm a Gambler"), and "The Hills of Connemara".
  • The Big Bopper's "White Lightning" (later covered by George Jones) is all about moonshining done by the singer's father, who produces the eponymous brew.
  • The Dillards: "Dooley" tells about a particularly talented moonshiner, who produced a lot of the drink in the area and always managed to elude the officers sent to deal with him. When he died, it upset the men and he ended up with a jug and a barrel marking the place he was buried.
  • The song "Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle is a Deconstruction, being about three generations of moonshiners with a grudge against the government. The latest generation is still bitter about the fact that both his dad and his granddaddy died while making moonshine (it's implied that his granddaddy was shot by the "revenue man" and his mooks, while his father died after crashing his souped-up Dodge with a trunkful of illegal booze) while he himself has expanded the operation to growing marijuana in the hollow where his granddaddy used to have his still, and is an angry Vietnam veteran who "learned a thing or two from Charlie".
  • Brian McNeill's song "The Best o' the Barley" is about his great-uncle James McNeill making moonshine on the side during Prohibition.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied in The Far Side: "Suddenly the cops stepped into the clearing, and the Spamshiners knew they were busted." The scofflaws are caught in the act of forcing a pig down a funnel of their apparatus.
  • The irascible Snuffy Smith has to guard his moonshine still from "infernal revenuers" and some of his hooch-mooching neighbors.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Asylum". The degenerate backwoods Cthulhu Mythos cultists who serve Freygan brew moonshine, which is taken away and sold by gangsters.
  • In the Kingmaker adventure path in Pathfinder, the players encounter Munguk the Hill Giant. Munguk is wandering the countryside looking for berries to make into moonshine.

  • Annie Get Your Gun references this trope in the song "Moonshine Lullaby":
    Behind the hill
    There's a busy little still
    Where your Pappy's working' in the moonlight
    Your lovin' Pa
    Isn't quite within the law
    So he's hidin' there behind the hill...

    Video Games 
  • One of the areas to be explored in Evil Dead: Hail to the King is a household of an entire family of possessed moonshiners, called Hellbillies.
  • You can encounter some in Fallout 2, via random encounters near Modoc and Redding. You can also talk to someone at the bar in Klamath who's got an operation outside of town. Unfortunately for him, a gecko took a chunk out of his leg and he's recuperating, leaving his still unattended. He'll pay you to go out and stick firewood in it to insure that the current batch doesn't go bad.
  • The "Wild Appalachia" update for Fallout 76 introduces a variation: fraternity students at Vault Tec University, eager to get invited to the parties of their more respected peers, start brewing a drink called Nukashine. It requires an already-incredibly-radioactive drink, more nuclear material, and several other ingredients to brew it, and when drunk, it causes temporary hallucinations before the player blacks out and wakes up in an entirely different part of the map.
  • Phil Cassidy, a recurring character in the Grand Theft Auto series, was this trope when he lived in Vice City during The '80s. After the volatile moonshine blows off his arm, he quits and becomes an Arms Dealer in Liberty City.
  • Humphrey the Snoring Hickopotomus from Moshi Monsters, species also referred to as "Hicko's", mix Lazy Daisy Moonshine...that is if they do not sleep through their opportunity to do so.
  • A non-American version exists in My Summer Car, the player character (who's a young blue-collar worker living in the Finnish countryside) has the option of brewing illegal sugar-wine called "kilju".
  • Red Dead Online features the Moonshiner Role, allowing the player to work with and indeed fill the shoes of a moonshiner themselves, with all the outlaw activity that entails; from sabotaging the operations of business rivals to evading or destroying the roadblocks set up by Revenue men. Curiously though, the man in your operation doing the actual brewing is French, but no less enthusiastic for it.
  • Shiners- humanity's descendants- from SteamWorld Dig draw their name from the practice, taking The Deep South to a somewhat literal conclusion by degenerating into a purely subterranean race of barely-sentient humanoids. When not attacking the player, they spend most of their time asleep in a stupor due to all the "Moon Juice" they consume. In Steamworld Dig 2 you meet a small group of Shiners more coherent (or at least nonviolent) than their fellows, led by the downright conversational Rosie. True to form however, Rosie turns out to be no saner than the others, merely smarter, and has constructed a "Fusion Distillery" to supply enough Moon Juice to keep her kin under her thumb for the foreseeable- which won't be long, since the Distillery threatens to tear the planet apart with earthquakes.

  • The first group of antagonists in Lackadaisy were a bunch of pig farmers. As Rocky's burning down their farm he finds a still, causing him to wonder why they were bothering to steal watered-down swill from Lackadaisy's supplier.

    Web Original 
  • Shine was taught to distill whiskey by his grandfather, a brilliant but Book Dumb moonshiner, when his was only nine. Five years later, people started noticing that his whiskey isn't the sort of rotgut one usually expects, and that he's developed a system to force-age any distilled liquor until it tastes like it has been cellared for a decade or more. It turns out that he is a Mutant, with both the Avatar power (he literally inherited his dead grandfather's soul as his spirit guide) and the Devisor powerset. He is essentially rescued from a raging mob by a curious distillery executive, and soon is very wealthy from selling expensive distilling devises only he can build. He decides to go to Whateley Academy to see if he can improve his talents even further.

    Western Animation 
  • One of the American Dad! Christmas specials has Roger learning how to make moonshine from a hillbilly named Bob Todd after his alcoholism gets so bad that the stuff at the liquor store can't satisfy him. The liquor store clerk told him the guy was a blind four-armed satyr, which he isn't but the hallucinations from his booze make him look like that.
  • Kamp Koral: Hillbillies Narlene and Nobby are shown to produce a G-Rated Drug known as Sugar Squeeze, a stand-in for moonshine.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Cletus Spuckler is occasionally seen moonshining. One episode has Homer becoming a moonshine connoisseur.
    • The episode "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment" has Homer becoming a moonshiner after alcohol is banned in Springfield.
  • Appears in Squidbillies as would be expected. One episode has a slight subversion as the Sheriff notices what appears to be a still and points out that moonshine is illegal only for Lil to casually state she's not making moonshine.... it's her meth lab.
  • On Wacky Races, at least two episodes imply that Lazy Luke is a moonshiner. He displays a jug at the start of "The Great Cold Rush Race", and another episode has him mistaking Dick Dastardly's siren for that of the revenuers.