A look at the popular show Moonshiners: What is fake, what is not
If you’ve ever watched Discovery Channel’s hit TV show “Moonshiners”, you may have pondered at some point: Is this real life? The short answer is: No, not really. But here’s the question you should be asking: Is any of it real? With hundreds if not thousands of reality shows coming and going in the intervening years, viewers are savvier. Expectations have changed. If the cast of the Discovery Network show “Moonshiners” has been thumbing their nose at the revenuers for all these seasons, wouldn’t somebody, somewhere have gotten busted?
The show “Moonshiners” is considered a docudrama. It has some basis in reality, but the show takes quite a few creative liberties. Most of the show is staged and has producers and actors. However, some of the characters from the show do have a brand of moonshine. Also, there may be a few historical accuracies that are portrayed in the show.
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Is any of the show Moonshiners real?
That is a complicated question that includes a discussion about the very nature of reality. And, of course, just how much folks want to accept a level of fakeness. We’ll start with the obvious. The very act of observing reality changes it. This is a TV show with cameras, producers, directors and editors. It’s produced by Magilla Entertainment, a production company that is also associated with other reality TV shows, which often 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. 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. Also, 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.
Mark and Digger partner with Sugarlands Distillery
A few characters of the show have partnered with major moonshine brands as well. Notably, Mark and Digger have partnered with Sugarlands Distilling Company, the official moonshine of NASCAR. The distillery itself 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”.
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.
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 portraying the truest versions of themselves or are they acting how they have been taught a moonshiner acts? For example, 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 the filming of “Moonshiners”. He was a world-famous moonshiner. His distinctive figure, dress and “colorful” way of expressing himself added to his reputation as a master craftsman in the art of moonshine. 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. 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 truly know.
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