Another book in the currently popular slew of writings on moonshining. This one is subtitled as ‘An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine’. That peaked my interest. I want to know about moonshining since I’d love to do it myself. Of course I’m too chickenshit to do it. Ooh methanol. Ooh explosions. Ooh a million other things, let alone the cost of getting stuff up and running.
Anyway, I still like to read about it, and this one seemed to fit nicely in the ‘stories’ about booze books that I’ve been devouring over the last couple of months. And in this case the stories were personal, and about doing something illegal, and about something I’m interested in. Check, check, check. All good, right?
It turns out the books is also a short history on moonshining and the way it’s been looked upon by the communities where it happens a lot. A bit like ‘The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining‘. Luckily, every time I was thinking ‘this book should get back to current times and Watman’s own experiences’, it did. Well timed chapters, that is!
I don’t think I’ve remembered much about the history chapters. Mostly because it all kind of blends in with general American history on whisky (The Whisky Rebellion and such) and I really suck at remembering names.
Proof in point: contrary to many many fellow Usquebaugh Society members who vividly remember all the distillery managers and workers they’ve spoken to, I don’t. Not one of them. I remember Jim McEwan, and Iain Macallister, but that’s about it. Oh, and Ronnie Routledge and I had to look up the name.
The personal chapters in which Watman elaborates his story of building his still, getting supplies and trying some moonshine from a nipjoint somewhere in the Virginian backlands are cool. It is almost inspiring, especially since it turns out you don’t need to spend thousands of bucks on equipment to get a basic setup running. His mistakes, and corrections of those are nice to read. I recognize the way he sometimes misses the obvious things and makes it too complicated. Again, well written.
Then there’s the end of the book. The last couple of chapters are about a moonshining trial he witnessed over a couple of days in which a case was tried with only circumstantial evidence and this was surprisingly interesting. At first I was a bit apprehensive about this bit since I don’t care much for courtroom reports, but this one was fun to read. It was also personal and not just about cases being made, but about people on the stand, and their reactions to what was happening.
Whether or not this case is being made bigger than it actually is by writing so much about it remains to be discussed, since the sentences were rather whimsical (a couple of years of penance for thousands and thousands of gallons of rotgut…).
I think the common thread of the book is that in the regions where moonshining happens a lot, it’s more or less regarded as a victimless crime, or the only victim is the United States government. The struggle Watman has with this himself is interesting, and not as straightforward as you might expect.
The strength of this book lies in the fact that it combines all these aspects of the illegal whiskey trade and puts them together in one book. There’s the personal bits of the writer, the history and the current affairs happening in the world of Appalachian hooch.
I also think therein lies a minor weakness since it might not be all that you expect it to be.
But, in short, I enjoyed the book. It’s well written, and well ‘timed’. I’m still not going to be a moonshiner.
You can get it from Amazon for $12.50
Chasing the White Dog