Tar Heel Lightnin'
How Secret Stills and Fast Cars Made North Carolina the Moonshine Capital of the World
by Daniel S. Pierce
Pub Date 21 Oct 2019
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From the late nineteenth century well into the 1960s, North Carolina boasted some of the nation's most restrictive laws on alcohol production and sale. For much of this era, it was also the nation’s leading producer of bootleg liquor. Over the years, written accounts, popular songs, and Hollywood movies have turned the state's moonshiners, fast cars, and frustrated Feds into legends. But in Tar Heel Lightnin', Daniel S. Pierce tells the real history of moonshine in North Carolina as never before. This well-illustrated, entertaining book introduces a surprisingly varied cast of characters who operated secret stills and ran liquor from the swamps of the Tidewater to Piedmont forests and mountain coves. From the state's earliest days through Prohibition to the present, Pierce shows that moonshine crossed race and economic lines, linking men and women, the rebellious and the respectable, the oppressed and the merely opportunistic. As Pierce recounts, even churchgoing types might run shipments of "that good ol' mountain dew" when hard times came and there was no social safety net to break the fall.
Folklore, popular culture, and changing laws have helped fuel a renaissance in making and drinking commercial moonshine, and Pierce shows how today's producers understand their ties to the past. Above all, this book reveals that moonshine's long, colorful history features surprises that can change how we understand a state and a region.
Daniel S. Pierce is professor of history at the University of North Carolina Asheville. His previous books include Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France.
"Tar Heel Lightnin' is by turns illuminating and hilarious. Daniel Pierce is the rare academic who distills history to its most essential elements, ensuring that his readers will come away enlightened and entertained. For North Carolinians, the region we call home may influence our preferences in cuisine and sports teams, but there is no doubt that moonshine is as essential to our culture as pork and basketball. As usual, Pierce holds a mirror up to the South, allowing us to see ourselves, our culture, and our history through the clarity of his prose."--Wiley Cash, author of The Last Ballad
"Pierce's surprisingly extensive and colorful history of illegal distilling in North Carolina makes for enjoyable reading. It is among the few serious books to consider the history of alcohol distilling in America, and it fills a great need in recognizing the importance of alcohol production to the American economy, its society, and its politics."--Clay Risen, author of Single Malt: A Guide to the Whiskies of Scotland