Now that the statute of limitations has surely passed, I can confess that some years back, while an employee of the U.S. government, I was briefly in the moonshine business.
It was in Malawi, in the early days of the Peace Corps. One of my students said he was unable to pay his school fees, but if I would lend him the equivalent of $15, his older sister, apparently a distiller of considerable local renown, could acquire a new still and churn out enough kachasu, the local white lightning, to reward her, repay me and cover his tuition.
Soon — apparently aging the product was considered superfluous — he showed up at our door with the money and a Coke bottle plugged with a corncob, a sample of his sister’s skills. I, of course, sampled it. The sensation was akin, I imagine, to a cross between electrocution and having nails driven into one’s skull. And that was the end of my bootlegging days.
As so often seems to happen, I was just too far ahead of the curve. What I had funded was, in today’s parlance, a “microdistillery” and the product was not “popskull” but “boutique moonshine.” Producing limited quantities of artisanal booze is now legal in many states. The Raleigh News & Observer reports that the nation is now home to more than 400 microdistilleries, up from about 150 three years ago.
I’m not sure when this trend became respectable, but a good bet might be 2007. That was when the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association opened a reconstruction of George Washington’s distillery with a license from the state of Virginia to produce 5,000 gallons of the Founding Father’s whiskey annually.