Professor discusses moonshine stereotypes in the South

By Tina Scruggs – cscrugg1@unca.edu – Staff Writer

Photo by Tina Scruggs Photo by Tina Scruggs - Staff Writer Tracy Rizzo introduces Dan Pierce’s new book: “Corn from a Jar: Moonshining in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Photo by Tina Scruggs
Photo by Tina Scruggs – Staff Writer
Tracy Rizzo introduces Dan Pierce’s new book: “Corn from a Jar: Moonshining in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Dan Pierce debunked false stereotypes about moonshiners last Wednesday during his talk about his new book on moonshine in the South.

“I think it’s important to understand who the people are and why they were doing it. Some of the best, brightest and sharpest people were making moonshine. It’s not a job for someone who’s stupid,” said Pierce, a professor of history and the department chair.

According to Tracy Rizzo, associate professor in the history department, Pierce always draws a crowd. Pierce picks age-old topics that people are always interested in, Rizzo said.

“And now, he’s the envy of the history department with all these people here,” she said

Pierce appeared on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” and the History Channel, Rizzo said.

“Because Dan Pierce’s legacy is not just on television and on radio waves. He’s also in our town stimulating local entrepreneurs,” Rizzo said.

According to an article in the “Journal of Appalachian Studies,” written by Emelie K. Peine and Kai A. Shafft, the Appalachian love of whiskey can be traced back to the 17th century Scots-Irish. In the Appalachian region, it was economical to convert corn into alcohol.

“I had a great deal of fun with it over the last few years, but it’s not like I go around sampling all the moonshine in Western North Carolina,” Pierce said.

One of the biggest stereotypes about moonshine is that all mountain people were moonshiners, Pierce said. The connections between people who made moonshine and the people who bought it were close within the community.

“The local sheriffs thought it was a federal matter, and probably bought or were related to someone making moonshine. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that story, so some of it’s got to be true,” Pierce said.

Moonshine is heavily romanticized, according to Pierce. It was a theme in literature, television and movies. But it wasn’t necessarily romantic, Pierce said.

“There was so much illegal activity, and that’s not the way to go. And anyways, it didn’t taste very good. The important thing was proof, so you could get drunk in a hurry,” Pierce said.

Stewart Massey, a senior history student, said he tried moonshine in high school.

“It did the job, though it didn’t taste great. It was like drinking gasoline, which it pretty much was. My mouth burned like I’d stepped on the sun,” Massey said.

Massey, originally from Hendersonville, said he thought of moonshine as something really old men drank.

“You had to go to the ancient men to get it,” Massey said.

Pierce said one of his former students went on to produce moonshine the old-fashioned way.

“He is very conscious of his heritage. I’d like to take a little credit that he’s so aware and doing a good job,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s new book “Corn from a Jar: Moonshining in the Great Smoky Mountains,” was released earlier in 2013, he said. He said he hoped to dissolve some of the stereotypes associated with moonshine.

“When I saw the cover I almost cried it was so cool. My publishing company did a great job with the whole package. I almost thought it doesn’t deserve such an attractive package. Even the page numbers were in little mason jars,” Pierce said.

Pierce said we are in something of a renaissance of moonshine, and it now has its own shelves at ABC stores.

“For once, my timing has been good. People are fascinated and it’s flying off the shelves. It’s part of the heritage of this region to make liquor, and that part of the tradition is alive and well,” Pierce said.

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