Beyond the Wine Aisle

Moonshine: Not Just Hillbillies

Source: USA TODAY - By Craig Wilson

Moonshine: It's not just for hillbillies anymore.

That mysterious Southern brew, once available only to those who knew someone who knew someone, has been going legit of late. Just walk in a store and buy it. Yes, it kind of takes the thrill out of the hunt.

But sales of the clear corn whiskey, traditionally made by bootleggers in the hollows of Appalachia but now bottled by big distillers, are soaring.

It's showing up on more than just liquor-store shelves, too. HBO's Boardwalk Empire, set in the Prohibition era when "shine" reigned, returns Sept. 16, and Discovery Channel's aptly named Moonshiners returns in late October or early November. Lawless, a bootlegging tale, opens Wednesday in theaters nationwide.

"The mystique of moonshine is just that - a mystique," says Phil Prichard, master distiller at Prichard's Distillery in Kelso, Tenn., whose Lincoln County Lightning topped Southern Living's five best legal moonshines this year. "There's good moonshine and there's bad moonshine, but people buy it all."

North Carolina's Piedmont Distillers reports soaring sales of its moonshine, according to Shanken News Daily, which covers the spirits world. In the first half of 2012, Piedmont sold more than 100,000 six-pack cases. Now going nationwide, sales are expected to increase 200% over last year.

Ole Smoky Moonshine is taking to cable, launching its first national TV ads on Discovery, including on the upcoming season premiere of Moonshiners.

"We loved the world, the characters, and we knew it was a great show," says Nancy Daniels, Discovery's vice president of production and development. "We're thrilled our viewers (an average of 4.3 million each week in the first season) thought so, too."

And at least one actor is using moonshine to get into character. Shia LaBeouf drank moonshine for his role as a bootlegger in Lawless. "It's a different drunk," he tells USA TODAY. "You start hearing bells. Your hearing changes. And it's a lot like opium, it becomes hallucinatory."

Lawless star Tom Hardy thinks he knows why everything moonshine is hot. "Back then, there was real frustration with the government," he says. "The economy was under pressure. There's a recognition these stories are relevant in today's climate."

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