The past few years, moonshine has been making its way back on the shelf, thanks in no small part to the discovery channel’s popular reality show, "Moonshiners."
While "White Lightning" may have its roots in Appalachia, there's at least one illegal operation brewing in the deep shade of New Hampshire's forest. As part of Foodstuffs, NHPR's new series celebrating food, Todd Bookman reports.
These woods are better known for running sap than a still. But in an unnamed forest, $200 worth of copper, shaped and soldered, is quietly being assembled.
“Filling this up and we’ll get the heat on, start going. It will take a little while to warm up. Cause you want to do it slow, so you don’t burn it.”
This is of course illegal in New Hampshire, and everywhere else, so anonymity is required.
“You can call me Hoss. Hoss works.”
Dressed in the official outfit of overalls minus an undershirt, Hoss and some friends look the part of accomplished amateurs.
For them, this is more pastime than business.
“I like just hanging out, something we all have in common that we can just do and hang out. Especially when it is nice out like this. Hang out down in the woods, make a fire, drink some beers. It’s fun. Make a little money, you know, nothing wrong with that, right?”
Along with the modest income, passion for moonshining fills a small gap in Hoss’s life.
“You know. Here and there. It is what it is. I like the ladies. I don’t have a particular girlfriend right now, but...”
Hoss is a bit of a hardened character, with a lip full of tobacco and a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.
He does have his recipe down, though. The mash--the raw ingredient of moonshine--has been fermenting for about two weeks. It is amber-colored, with diced apples and pears added for flavor. Hoss pours it into the 60-gallon still, a flame roaring underneath the copper.
“That’s heating that up inside of the tank, filling up this cap with the vapors.”
Once it reaches 170-degrees, the vapors will push through a pipe into the thumper, a smaller container that filters and purifies and thumps.
The steam next travels down a coiled length of copper: the worm.
“The worm is filled with cold water. And once those cold vapors travel through that worm, they come out this, as moonshine. And that is pretty much it.”
This whole process-- the heating, thumping, condensing-- takes an afternoon, during which burgers get cooked, beers drunk.
There’s no sense of urgency or heightened secrecy to the affair.
“It’s low-key up here. I don’t think anybody knows what’s going on with it, how to look for it, or even what to look for. I mean, I wouldn’t have before, you know. So, I don’t know. Just got to worry about nosey people, I guess. That’s about it.”
Scott Dunn with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission agrees.
“I can tell you that we don’t patrol the forest,” he says.
There are no current investigations into moonshining in the state, and according to Dunn, none in recent memory.
“I would say that any case of moonshining could be a potential health hazard and therefore does become an issue.”
Health hazards from its high alcohol content. Hoss also recognizes the moral hazards of consumption.
“No, I don’t support people drinking and driving,” says Hoss. “I don’t support people getting trashed and doing stupid things that hurt other people, or anything like that. I don’t. I want people to enjoy it and people to respect it and be responsible.”
An unlabeled jar slowly fills with150-proof clear liquid. Small sips are advised.
“Eww. Rugged,” offers Hoss after taking a shot.
If these tasting notes don’t turn you off, Hoss and his friends may be willing to sell you a jug.
But that’s only if you can find them…they’re not planning any marketing campaigns.
“I don’t necessarily want to be known for moonshine. I just want people to like it. Like I’ve heard a couple stories, like, ‘oh man, we got some moonshine, blah blah, it was so good.’ And they had no idea that they were talking to the person that made it. And it made me feel good, you know what I mean. It made me feel good, cause I know where they got it.”