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How do Moonshiners not get caught and end up in trouble?

Moonshiners gather to remember old Moonshiners. Pic credit: Discovery/Roy Grooms

One of the biggest questions fans addicted to Discovery’s Moonshiners seem to wonder is how do the cast members — many of whom are involved in legit distilling businesses — not get into trouble when they are making off-the-grid moonshine in the woods?

The fastest answer is that almost all of the cast are licensed distillers by their respective states of residence to make alcohol.

So the air of the outlaw distiller is more a reality TV construct than a real legal issue. One thing to note is that several of these cast members originally made the shine illegally well before the licenses were given!

The act of making moonshine in the woods — outside of the legal bottling and taxation parameters — is pretty much illegal across the board.

For those not up on the series, Moonshiners is a docudrama reality television series on Discovery where a cast of characters who produce moonshine in the Appalachian Mountains (in Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) are given the spotlight.

The guys have given interviews to local FOX news affiliates and revealed that once the show is on the air, there is no retroactive arrests made for any wrongdoing. Allegedly you have to be “caught in the act.”

Moonshiner stars Tim Smith and Steven Ray Tickle went on FOX to explain how they sidestep any lawman.

In an excerpt from their interview, Tim and Tickle explain in detail their thoughts on the fine line between TV and jail time, and they say it is really all about money (taxes):

Tickle:  We’re not sitting where we [were] at the time. You know, they watch me on TV Tuesday nights at 9, I’m still not sitting in the same spot at 10 o’clock when that show goes off.  It’s non-taxed; that’s pretty much the only reason it’s illegal.

Tim: There’s not really a big fear here. It’s just that the government can’t get their money accounted for. That’s all it is. They don’t have a taste regulation today. I mean right now the legal brand of whiskey on the shelf, there’s no taste regulator on it.  You can go buy anything and say ‘I don’t like it. It doesn’t taste good.’ There’s no regulation on it.

Tickle: The federal government does not make you have to make a good product. They just care that you’re paying the taxes.

Tim: They just care about the alcohol level in it and how much you make. I want my money.

Tickle:  And that’s why moonshine’s illegal, because there’s no taxes being paid on it. It’s not that it’s unregulated or that the government thinks it could possibly be an inferior product, which if you know what you’re doing making moonshine, that’s absolutely what you don’t want to put out there. Your product, you can’t put a label on it if you’re making it out in the woods. Your product has to sell itself. If you’ve got a bad product, nobody will ever buy shine from you again.

According to Kentucky law, you can get in a heap of trouble if you make shine on the down low.

“Owning a still in Kentucky for the intended purposes of distilling moonshine is illegal, and being caught with a still for the purpose of distilling moonshine is a Class B misdemeanor, with additional convictions being Class A misdemeanors.”

And Tennessee is not much better either:

It is illegal to own a still for the purpose of distilling moonshine in the state of Tennessee. The law is specific about the use for manufacturing ethanol, but not about owning a still, or using a still for distilling water, essential oils, etc.

Because it is specific to only alcohol manufacturing it should be legal to own a still as long as it is not use to manufacture alcohol.

North Carolina outlaws the do-it-yourself distiller too:

It is illegal to distill moonshine in North Carolina without a distilling permit, even for home consumption or personal use. 27 CFR 1.21. But because this is a commercial license the state will expect that you will be making spirits commercially, and not for personal use. 27 CFR 1.24. A distillation operation may not be located in a residence, a yard, a shed, or other enclosure connected with a residence.

It is legal to own a still, and to use a still for non-ethanol production such as distilling water or making essential oils as long as ethanol is not a byproduct.

South Carolina is also a no go zone for do it yourself distillers too.

Catch up on the latest episode of Moonshiners which gives more insight as to how these guys “get away with it” and make their shine.

Moonshiners airs Tuesdays on Discovery Channel

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