Moonshine has long been a part of North Carolina history and culture and is back in the spotlight, thanks to a reality TV show that follows moonshiners and bootleggers who make and sell the stuff, some from right here in North Carolina.
Whether deep in the woods of Eastern Carolina or in plain view, law enforcement officials say people make moonshine just about anywhere.
The Discovery Channel's "Moonshiners" program focuses in on the fascination of the home brew, which it says isn't just about tradition and heritage, but is also a multi-million dollar industry and one where the shiners work to stay one step ahead of the law.
Here in the east part of ALE agent Rusty King's job is to find the clandestine operations. King works nine Eastern Carolina counties and says, "Folks are pretty tight-lipped about liquor stills."
King says much of what they do is based on tips from people. King says, "A lot of folks, especially with some of the TV shows, think that's all we do is run around looking for liquor stills."
The moonshine they do find these days isn't in plastic milk jugs anymore. It's too strong for that and would eat away the plastic. Today it's in glass bottles, or even liquor bottles from the ABC store to disguise what's inside.
King says the danger and health concerns are two reasons why moonshine is illegal. King says, "A liquor still has the potential of exploding, plus the materials they're using could contaminate what they're producing. You run into someone who gets hold of some bad moonshine and gets killed, that's why I do what I do. I do it to protect the public safety."
The state isn't entirely opposed to moonshine, or other potent alcohol for that matter. ABC stores sell commercially permitted moonshine, some 100 proof. They also sell Everclear, which is 151 proof. And it has some asking, why not come up with a safe and sanitary way for people to make moonshine at home for personal use. After all, you can make your own beer and wine?
We took that question to Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas, the newest member of the three person statewide Alcohol Beverage Control commission. Thomas says, "I don't know. I think that's something we'll have to take a look at. You know with distilled liquor, it's much more potent, and the chemicals involved can be dangerous, so I think it's always gonna have to be monitored very closely on whatever scale it's able to be produced here in North Carolina."
For now, the inescapable "reality" is, moonshine remains an illegal part of the heritage of North Carolina and something that will get you in trouble with the law if you get caught making, selling or transporting it.