National Bootleggers Day is January 17
Recognizing an era long past when moonshiners and rum runners were popular.
Alcoholism is a serious disease and there is nothing funny about it and making your own spirits is illegal in this nation. Having said that this article takes a lighthearted look at the art of moonshining and is in no way promoting the sale of illegal liquor so please enjoy it for what it is.
National Bootleggers Day
January 17 is National Bootleggers Day and also the birthday of famous bootlegger Al Capone. Day 17 of the first month is also the birth date of Templeton Rye Whiskey. The term bootleg might mean different things to different people. It derived from the Midwest in 1880s when Americans would place bottles of alcohol inside of the top of their boots and take the firewater to the Native Americans. Today, when you hear someone say bootlegging, this terminology is not limited to the sale of illegal spirits. It now refers to pirating movies, CDs, and DVDs that are sold without proper permission.
This term is also used for the sale of knock offs of designer clothing. For this article "bootleg" is used in its original context and is in reference to the sale of alcoholic beverages without a license. National Bootleggers day was founded in 2015 by Infinium Spirits to celebrate the birth of Templeton Rye. Once Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages a number of residents of a small Ohio town decided to become outlaws. They began producing what was called "the good stuff" which was a high caliber whiskey that became high in demand. This drink was officially named Templeton Rye.
My own experiences
I grew up in a county where there was a home where men went after work at the local rock quarry. I can recall walking to the store and seeing cars with 3 or 4 males wearing their hard hats who waved to me in passing. They always turned down the short road that led to this particular house. My grandma said the family sold bootleg alcohol and I can remember visiting my friends who lived in this home. I personally never observed the sale of the liquor myself. Over the decades I have had houses pointed out to me in the city where I now live and was told they used to be nip joints where the owners sold liquor without a license.
What I have just shared was the result of people purchasing alcohol legally from a liquor store and reselling it for a profit. National Bootleggers Day refers to something completely different, which is actually creating the spirits on your own in your own still. Franklin County Virginia is about 30 minutes from my home and is called the moonshine capital of the state. In my early years, I heard various people talking about the great tasting corn liquor they purchased in Franklin County. There also have been a few stories in the news about people in that area being arrested for making their own mash/moonshine.
Snuffy Smith, the Baldwin sisters, and Andy Griffith
I grew up reading the Snuffy Smith comic strip in the newspaper where the self-proclaimed hillbilly was always trying to hide his moonshine still from the revenuers. Most all Americans of a certain age have seen and continue to enjoy episodes of The Andy Griffith Show where Andy and Barney bust-up moonshine stills. Otis Campbell the town drunk often got "smashed" from the drink he purchased from moonshiners. Other times he had a legal bottle of whiskey in his pocket. On the television series The Waltons, Miss Emily and Miss Mamie Baldwin had a still and made what they called their papa's "recipe" which was nothing but moonshine.
Snuffy Smith, in the cartoon, used to often say" Damn Revenuers" after government officials came after his still. In reality, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol. This is when the term bootlegging really began to catch on in the nation. Americans continued to demand liquor and although some distilleries switched their product to something that was legal, others decided to turn to bootlegging which filled a void. The bootleggers helped to fill the demand for liquor by smuggling various brews from Mexico and Canada. Later on, they began distilling their own spirits in the backwoods and secluded areas. They sold their finished product to individuals, speakeasies, and other establishments. During this time, other terms such as rum-runner and moonshiners, became popular.
A 2006 article from ABC News indicates that while moonshine was decreasing in many areas of the nation it was still being produced and thriving in Virginia At that time there had been a joint state and federal crackdown on illegal liquor in the Commonwealth that was dubbed Operation Lightning Strike. This highlighted the latest chapter at that time in the centuries-old battle between the government and the moonshiners. In 2021 I have no doubt that somebody somewhere out there continues the tradition that was passed down through the generations of making their own spirits. In case inquiring minds want to know, I have no such knowledge of this practice and this is just my opinion.
How to observe National Bootleggers Day
According to the "National Day Callendar, Templeton Rye whiskey is based on the original Prohibition-era Kerkhoff recipe". The liquor is aged in new oak barrels that have been charred in order to obtain "a smooth finish…and a clean getaway" . Its been suggested that if you are going to celebrate this special occasion you should share a bottle of Templeton Rye with friends and post it on Social Media. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, sharing with friends is probably not a good idea. Enjoy your drink at home in moderation and please do not drive.