Is Moonshiners real? Does the TV show make real moonshine?

The Moonshiners TV show on Discovery Channel

Moonshiners is Discovery Channel's hit docudrama series (media photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)

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Whether you happened upon this phenomenon randomly while channel surfing or you’ve been a long-time fan of Discovery Channel’s hit TV show “Moonshiners” you may have pondered at some point: Is this real life?

The short answer is: No, it’s television. This is not reality. 

But here’s the question you should be asking: Is any of it real? 

When shows like “The Real World” “Survivor” “Fear Factor” and “American Idol” debuted generations ago, the concept of Reality TV was groundbreaking. 

Now, with hundreds if not thousands of reality shows coming and going in the intervening years, viewers are savvier and our expectations have changed. 

Do we still think that everyone who brings an exotic item into Rick’s pawn shop just walked in off the street? Have we ever found it odd that every time the “American Pickers” arrive at someone’s house, even on “surprise” visits, the homeowner is all mic’d up?

Do we think if the cast of the Discovery Network show “Moonshiners” had really been thumbing their nose at the revenuers for eight seasons, somebody, somewhere wouldn’t have gotten busted? 

So is Moonshiners real?

That, my friend, is a complicated question that includes a discussion about the very nature of reality, the intertwining of myth and legend with expectation. And, of course, just how much folks want to accept a level of fakeness and believe their own bull.

We’ll start with the obvious. The very act of observing reality changes it.

This is a TV show with cameras and producers, directors and editors. In fact, it is produced by Magilla Entertainment, a production company that is also associated with other reality TV shows. In addition, many of the cast members are referred to as actors.  

These are people, doing a portrayal that is some version of themselves. Probably fairly close versions of themselves.

Tickle, for instance, is probably not going to the opera or spending a lot of time in the library when not running shine. 

Is moonshining legal? What the law says about making moonshine

It’s also important to note that historically, what makes moonshine distillers illegal isn’t the illicit nature of the whiskey cooking. It’s untaxed sales.

That is why so many moonshine distilleries openly make and sell moonshine. And it is why moonshiners historically battle the IRS and not say, ATF. 

So if the moonshiners on the show obtain the proper permits and pay the appropriate taxes, they can walk around in the woods making as much corn mash alcohol as they want without ever breaking a law. 

The show is centered around the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky and in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

And so in March of 2012, the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement confirmed this. They indicated that if illegal liquor activities were going on, they’d have made some arrests. They also stated in the Associated Press that they were not taking part in the false depiction of moonshine manufacturing.

In trying to defend themselves as true outlaws, many of the “Moonshiners” cast members have indicated that television footage isn’t evidence. They could just have water in those stills, after all.

Cast members, whose apparent legal expertise is quite impressive, also empirically state that they have to be caught in the act. 

But there’s an easier explanation that doesn’t require a law degree.

In the mountains, local law enforcement and the police don’t really care that much about moonshine investigations. As long as someone’s not being egregious and selling it to kids, law enforcement has better things to do than run the hollers chasing bootleggers.

Every once in a while, around election time, you’ll see a good gambling or moonshine bust. However, the rest of the time, the moonshiner really has to be doing something else. In fact, the only reason Tickle was arrested was for possession of a sawed-off shotgun. 

The truth about moonshine culture in Appalachia

Finally, there’s one last layer to reality that we have to address. It’s the history of moonshine aka white lightning and the influence of the culture upon itself.

They say a lot of mobsters adjusted the way they talked, acted and conducted themselves in the wake of the Godfather movies.

Are these moonshiners really portraying the truest versions of themselves or are they acting how they have been taught a moonshiner acts? 

In the first season, “Moonshiners” relied heavily on footage from the documentary “Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make” with (Marvin) Popcorn Sutton. Sutton was not around for filming of “Moonshiners” though.

Sutton was a shrewd man who was a natural-born marketer.

He was of the mountains, of course, but I think he found behaving a certain way increased his notoriety and his marketability.

How much of what Sutton showed the world was authentic Marvin and how much was a created character? By the end, I’m not sure Sutton himself even knew. 

Read Also: Legend or lawbreaker: The real story of Popcorn Sutton

Sutton’s legacy looms large over the Moonshine community.

Popcorn Sutton poses with one of his moonshine stills (photo courtesy of https://suckerpunchpictures.com/)
Popcorn Sutton poses with one of his moonshine stills (photo courtesy of Sucker Punch Pictures)

How much are others influenced by the way he talked, the way he carried himself or the way he operated? How many are trying to be authentic by imitating, even subconsciously the Godfather of the moonshine community?

Read Also: 6 surprising facts about Popcorn Sutton and his moonshine

Ultimately, that’s a secret that producers don’t want us to know. I suspect most moonshiners would tell you they present their authentic selves to the world. But ego and id are strange, capricious things. 

Is this real life? 

Maybe none of us really know.  

Have you seen the show Moonshiners on Discovery Channel? Are you a fan? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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20 thoughts on “Is Moonshiners real? Does the TV show make real moonshine?”

  1. I love the moonshiners show. Real or not. The people are awesome. I can see that could be done for real. But if it is illegal these guys would be arrested. Keep running the show. It is really interesting.

  2. My father was in the making of spirits and I like the show but some things are not possible that these guys proclaim in their operation

  3. It’s a cool show, needs some women in it ya hurd me ? Maybe some car chases

  4. It’s like wrestling, I know it’s all fake but the characters are hilarious…love it!

  5. In one show Mark and Digger had Daniel make a Ram Pump. Pumped water uphill, must have been a heck of a pump. Showed 2 pictures of the pump, outlet valve was closed both times.

  6. I know this show is as fake as it get’s. It’s about being entertained. I love the show & watch it every week.

  7. With the correct permits Discovery company can make as much liquor as they want as long as they pay revenue taxes. The cast are just employees making the spirits no matter if it’s in the woods or out back in the barn. So yes it’s real in as far as they are a legal distillery but the cast are not making it illegal. Tim Smith (Climax Distillery) and Sugarland Distillery are business partners with DISCOVERY. Love the show.

  8. I feel as though I’m right there. Even better when they show old pictures…. I will definitely keep watching. Thank you all. 🏆

  9. I love the show as well. Master Distillers, too, although this one is in total support of their commercial arm, which is taking over &, I believe, compromising the show’s integrity. Pipe it down, boys. Remember the truth of Lance’s father puking at first taste of a shine they made? Brutal honesty. Now, every single concoction anyone comes up with is “the absolute BEST thing they’ve ever made.” Then it appears in the store. Give us a break! Of all the people to go corporate! Tim Smith is my least favorite because of his arrogance. Digger seems tired. Take care, good man. Mark Ramsey looks like another of my favorites, James Spader [in “Blacklist”]. All good wishes to Jerry– give your rehab its due time & course. Commit to it. Won’t have to be forever if you do it right at this time. Mike became likeable because of his love for you. Surprised even himself, & impressed me. I’m surrounding you in white lights, Jerry.

    Other than that…….. THIS IS MY FAVORITE SHOW, hands down & bottoms up!

  10. Who cares whether it’s real life or just fantasy it’s great entertainment and there is a wealth of knowledge if you watch a lot of people and watch the show and learn a lot where I’m from Dart very many of the old Moonshiners left the newer generation has begun to leave it smart but nothing like the older folks and it’s not about sales it’s about friendships bonfires and Backwoods fun so keep the episodes are coming you ever want to meet some decent Moonshiners there’s a whole lot of Us in holler heaven West Virginia

  11. Fantastic show, I look forward to watching it every week. These people are carrying on a Family Tradition that hopefully will never be lost.

  12. Been watching the show from day one when Tickle fell off the roof and busted ribs. Tim found out the extreme cost of going legal. People are right though as long as taxes are being paid they’ll pretty much be left alone. Only thing I wonder is in the woods the health dept can’t be down their throat to keep the product clean and safe but then again they use new jars and it’s being boiled to make sterile. I live in Ky and one day I’m going to get south or east to meet some these guys and find out what’s real and what’s not. I’m sure a lot is staged but regardless these guys are mountain guys. Don’t care a lot for time he tries to talk and be more professional than he is. Master Distiller I think their running out of ideas these days.

  13. Really enjoy the shows. I like the guys brewing, the scenery and the antics. Please keep it going, It’s great to watch!

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