How The Cast Of Moonshiners Avoids Getting Arrested

The Discovery Channel's hit show "Moonshiners" successfully combines footage of rural America with folksy hijinks, and a side of allegedly illegal activity. The cast is portrayed as a group of ordinary American rebels, pursuing their passion for well-made firewater regardless of the law. But is the entire premise of the show simply bogus?

The art of moonshining can be traced back to the 1700s, when immigrants to the Appalachian Mountains began brewing whiskey at home using corn as a substitute for barley. Home-brewing became a significant part of the culture of the American South, even after it was made illegal. Moonshining was initially banned during the difficult years of the American Civil War because the government wanted to ensure that grains like corn could be kept in reserve for food. Later, the government tried to tax home breweries instead but found they could not enforce the law. Skilled at evading the police, home brewers thrived during Prohibition, supplying America with illicit liquor.

The rebellious history of these daring home-brewers has given intrepid moonshiners an air of romance, despite its illegality. However, today the rules around making moonshine have actually changed a great deal. The show "Moonshiners" is a throwback to a different time — and may not be based in reality at all.

Dodging the police

With audiences everywhere raising their eyebrows at the supposedly illegal activities of the "Moonshiners," the cast has been forced to answer questions about their run-ins with the law. In an interview with Fox News, Tim Smith and Steven Tickle told their interviewers they were simply outsmarting the police. Tickle explained, "They've got to actually catch you doing something wrong. " To which Smith added, "And that's physically catch you." The pair maintained that by the time the program airs, they have simply moved on, avoiding the police.

The show frequently makes reference to one legit moonshiner who did get caught — the legendary bootlegger Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton. According to The New York Times, many people believe Sutton himself was one of the last real moonshiners, and he was eventually punished for it and wound up in jail multiple times. Since his death, however, microdistilleries like the one Sutton ran have been legalized in Tennessee, and you can even buy Sutton's historic recipe in the shops today.

Is it actually illegal?

The truth is, making moonshine isn't always illegal. In the state of Virginia, distilling alcohol is permitted if you have acquired the correct distiller's license. In fact, according to NPR, the state has had something of a legal moonshine revival in recent years with more and more people interested in purchasing craft brews. In 2017, Life & Style magazine reported that cast leads Tim Smith and Steven Tickle both have the relevant licenses to make their own. Supposedly Smith started out brewing illegally but has since gone straight, selling his liquor under Tim Smith Spirits.

Irritated by the bogus premise of the show, in 2011, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control released a statement confirming that no laws were actually being broken on the show. After taking part in some of the filming it said (via Fox News): "If illegal activity was actually taking place, the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement would have taken action. ... Virginia ABC agreed to participate in an informative piece that documents the history of moonshine and moonshine investigations in Virginia. Virginia ABC did not participate nor was aware of the false depiction of moonshine manufacturing, distribution and/or transportation in the filming, and would not have participated in the 'documentary' had it known of this portrayal."