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. 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 twelve seasons, somebody, somewhere wouldn’t have gotten busted?
Area Deals and Discounts
Subscribe to our newsletter and we will instantly deliver the best area discounts to your inbox.
Is the show Moonshiners for 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.
Some of their other shows include “Long Island Medium”, “Jailhouse Redemption” and “Diesel Brothers”. The most humorous of which might be “King of Thrones”, where they say they are number one when it comes to number two. It’s essentially an HDTV special on toilets.
These shows have something in common. They have people doing a portrayal that is some version of themselves. Maybe it’s a fairly close version of themselves.
Tickle on “Moonshiners”, for instance, is probably not going to the opera or spending a lot of time in the library when not running shine.
“Moonshiners” is more of a docudrama, meaning it may have some basis in reality but includes quite a few creative liberties.
How do moonshiners get away with it on TV?
Historically, what makes moonshine distillers illegal isn’t the illicit nature of the whiskey cooking. It’s untaxed sales and making it without a permit.
This is why so many moonshine distilleries openly make and sell moonshine. Moonshiners historically battle the IRS and not say, the 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, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.
And so in March 2012, the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement confirmed this. They indicated that if illegal activity was 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.
How are Mark and Digger associated with Sugarlands Distillery?
According to the company’s website, the duo partnered with Sugarlands Distilling Company to craft a world-class spirit, Mark and Digger’s Rye Apple. It’s an 80-proof apple-infused moonshine.
Sugarlands, which is also the official moonshine of NASCAR, is located in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Sugarlands will occasionally offer meet and greets with the cast of “Moonshiners”.
Does Tim Smith own Climax Moonshine?
Mark and Digger aren’t the only ones dabbling in legal distilleries. Climax is part of Tim Smith Spirits, a distillery in Culpeper, Virginia.
According to the about page, he is a third-generation moonshiner.
How much does Discovery Channel pay the cast of Moonshiners?
Reportedly, the cast is paid about $30,000 per episode per multiple sources across the internet. I didn’t find a direct source on this, though. So is that accurate? I’m not sure.
The amount that a TV star makes per episode, I’ve heard, can range from roughly $10,000 to $100,000 or more.
But I’d be willing to guess that the number is likely a sliding scale that depends on their screen time.
But rest assured, they are likely being paid well.
Moonshine culture in Appalachia
I want to note that there’s one last layer to the 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.
Who is the most famous moonshiner ever?
Popcorn Sutton is a world-famous moonshiner. He 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.
Sutton’s legacy looms large over the moonshine community.
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?
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? Let us know in the comments below.