August 16 , 2007 issue
“Still” Making Moonshine After All These Years
Bootlegging and NASCAR Legend Junior Johnson Unveils His Own Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine, Signs Bottles Friday at Boone ABC Store
Story by Sam Calhoun
I remember hearing when I was a kid that moonshine comes in two flavors—legal and illegal.
Growing up near Franklin County, Va.—the (alleged) moonshine capital of the world—I only got a chance to taste the latter, but that’s all going to change this Friday.
The legendary moonshine runner, NASCAR racer and team owner Junior Johnson is coming to the Boone ABC Store from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. to autograph bottles of his own legal moonshine, Midnight Moon, and you’re invited.
The autograph is free; the moonshine is not—a 750-milliliter bottle will cost you $19.95.
High Country Press caught up with Junior Johnson while he was signing autographs in Charleston, SC, and talked to the NASCAR legend about his new product from Piedmont Distillers, his life nowadays and his time running shine down Highway 421.
Johnson is staying busy.
Long gone are the days when he evaded the law to transport illegal moonshine from his family’s farm in Wilkesboro to the High Country, as are the days where he received a pardon for his jail sentence from President Ronald Reagan and jumped into the NASCAR world as a driver and team owner.
These days, Johnson runs two businesses—a country ham business and a budding food business that will soon see frozen foods bearing his name hit supermarkets across the South—as well as tends to his 800 cattle that roam his farm outside of Wilkesboro.
The cattle, as you can imagine, demand a lot of his time.
“The cattle are an everyday job, but sometimes I get a chance to scoot away occasionally,” said Johnson, “but I have to be around a good bit.”
When he does get some time away these days, Johnson hits the road to promote his new liquor, Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine—an 80 proof, 100 percent grain neutral spirit that resembles smooth vodka. Signed bottles of the liquor that is sold in North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi and will soon be sold in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia and Virginia, are already being sold on eBay from $30 to $100.
“Smoother than vodka. Better than whiskey. Best shine ever.” –Junior Johnson
“It’s a great drink,” said Johnson. “We tried to come up with a drink that everyone would like. It’s triple distilled, very mild taste. It’s in the vodka line, but we think it’s better than vodka. It is similar in line with vodka, but it’s more of a professional drink. It’s one of the best.”
When Johnson takes a sip of his own (legal) batch—he hardly drinks at all these days, though, he said—he usually takes a shot, but he said he has been known to make a Bloody Mary with the liquor, or mix it with orange juice or cranberry juice—a far cry from Johnson’s moonshine days.
Johnson said that he misses his friends from his moonshine days more than he misses the racing. He still is very active in the NASCAR community, attending races as a special guest and hanging out in the pits with the drivers, and he is quick to uphold the theory that NASCAR grew out of moonshine bootlegging.
“I don’t race anymore, no, but I’m still going to NASCAR races,” said Johnson. “Moonshine [bootlegging] was all about fast cars. It was natural for moonshiners to see if they had the fastest car, so they’d race. I think NASCAR came more from bootlegging than they think and like to admit.”
Like many of the other early stock car racers, Johnson grew up tending to the family’s whiskey business. He helped his father work the stills during the day and developed his driving skills by running shine at night. Johnson was caught guarding his father’s still by the police and he served 11 months of a two-year sentence but later received a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan for his 1956 moonshining conviction. Johnson was never caught bootlegging on the highway.
“I got put in jail, but Ronald Reagan pardoned me,” said Johnson. “I got to go to the White House and Ronald Reagan came out of the Oval Office to personally hand me the pardon.”
Years later, Johnson and Reagan found themselves sitting near each another at Daytona for a NASCAR race. It was a hot day and Reagan’s forehead began to sunburn. Johnson gave the president a Holly Farms hat that he wore for the rest of the race. Someone in the stands snapped a picture of Reagan wearing the hat and it appeared on Good Morning America the next day.
“I had a good connection with Ronald Reagan,” said Johnson. “We definitely had a connection.”
Johnson left from Charleston, SC, on Wednesday and headed up to Myrtle Beach, SC, on his way to Boone.
“We’ve been all over South Carolina, North Carolina [signing bottles of Midnight Moon] and we’re going to Tennessee next week,” said Johnson. “Soon, we’ll be going to Kentucky, West Virginia and even into Florida.”
Midnight Moon joins Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine as the products of Piedmont Distillers, a small distillery located in Madison that produces handcrafted spirits in an authentic small-batch copper pot still. It is the only legal distillery in North Carolina and operates out of a former train station built in 1915. Johnson is now part owner of Piedmont Distillers.
“I am really proud to own part of this company,” said Johnson. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life, and my history in the moonshine business is no secret. Back in the old days, we learned to drive cars fast because we’d go to jail if we didn’t. Now, I own part of a legal moonshine company that makes the best shine ever. I’m no longer using pot stills down by the creek. We triple distill the family recipe in a copper column still. It’s smoother than vodka and better than whiskey. It’s the shine I always wanted to make.”
“Having Junior as a partner in Piedmont Distillers has been great,” Joe Michalek, president of Piedmont Distillers, said. “He’s the real deal. Not only is he an expert in making moonshine, but he really enjoys meeting his fans. It has been awesome to see hundreds of his fans come to our store signings over the last two months. People love Midnight Moon and keep coming back for more. Junior’s truly a legend, not only in NASCAR but also in the moonshine trade.”
For more information, click to www.juniorsmidnightmoon.com.
Want To Go?
Date: Friday, August 17
Time: 2:30 to 4:00 p.m.
Location: Boone ABC Store, Blowing Rock Road
Cost: Free autograph/$19.95 per bottle
Midnight Moon Recipes
1.5-count Midnight Moon chilled
1.5-count Midnight Moon
Lemon wedge with a sugar coating
1.5-count Midnight Moon
.5-count triple sec
Splash of lime
1.5-count Midnight Moon
1.5-count energy drink
1.5-count Midnight Moon
3-count coffee liqueur
3-count club soda
1.5-count Midnight Moon
2-count melon liqueur
2-count sour mix
Garnish with cherry
HOW JUNIOR DRINKS IT:
Junior Johnson takes his own liquor straight usually, but if not, he makes a Bloody Mary with it or mixes it with orange juice or cranberry juice.
Interesting Facts About the Life of Junior Johnson
Separate the man from the myth with these interesting facts.
--Arrested for moonshining—he was actually tending the family still.
--He is the founder of the Bootleg Turn, a radical U-turn maneuver that was his trademark move to evade roadblocks and outrun the law.
--He was never caught while running shine.
--Junior served 11 months of a two-year sentence in the federal penitentiary in Chillicothe, Ohio.
--Johnson is credited with developing the most important racing technique—drafting—in the history of NASCAR.
--Tied with Ned Jarrett for eight on the all-time win list with 50 career victories.
--Retired from driving at the age of 34.
--Ranked eighth on NASCAR Series' all-time list of pole positions won with 47 total.
--As a team owner, Johnson has won more races than anyone else. Junior’s teams won a combined 139 races and total of six NASCAR championships.
--His cars have been driven by some of NASCAR's greatest competitors: Fred Lorenzen, Curtis Turner, Lee Roy Yarbrough, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte and Geoff Bodine.
--Received presidential pardon for his moonshining conviction from President Ronald Reagan.
Moonshine Facts and Lore
Did you know?
In 1970, the ATF seized 5,228 moonshine stills and 86,416 gallons of moonshine. By 1994, the numbers were down to one seized still and 506 gallons.
Moonshining dates back 300 years to the Scots-Irish who settled here. Making moonshine originated in the Scottish Highlands with farmers who used excess grains such as corn to ferment into liquor. The reason many of them came to America was high taxation on property, such as whiskey, and religious persecution.
A basic moonshine recipe
A basic moonshine recipe calls for 5 gallons of sweet feed (grains such as corn mixed with molasses), one package of distillers' yeast, 5 pounds of sugar and water.
The ingredients are basically mixed together with warm water and allowed to ferment for several days. The fermented brew is then filtered and run through the distilling process or the still. Find more moonshine drink recipes at www.catdaddymoonshine.com
White lightning, kickapoo joy juice, popskull, ruckus juice, mountain dew, Happy Sally, hillbilly pop and panther's breath
The production and transportation of illegal or untaxed whiskey were done primarily at night under the shine of the moon.
Want to buy a still?
You can buy a still online for less than $800 by clicking to www.coppermoonshinestills.com.
Want a federal permit for ethanol?
Click to http://ttb.gov/industrial/distillation_of_ethanol.shtml or call 513-684-3334 for an application.