An Ohio town that has been celebrating moonshine whiskey for more than 40 years will now — for the first time legally — be able to offer visitors at its annual “Moonshine Festival” a taste of white lightning.
The culture of moonshining is celebrated annually at the Moonshine Festival in Ohio’s Hocking Hills in the town of New Straitsville. However, thanks to previous strict liquor laws, nary a drop of shine was available for sampling, as festival organizers were forced to dump every bit of the moonshine that was produced for show on the town’s antique stills.
But this year, the region’s 100-plus-years of bootlegging tradition is reborn with the simultaneous opening of the Straitsville Special Distillery this Memorial Day weekend, May 22-26. Details on the region are found at www.ExploreHocking- Hills.com.
The Moonshine Festival takes place along the town’s Main Street. For the first time, festival-goers will be able to taste moonshine from a working still. By definition, moonshine is illegal liquor, but Straitsville Special will be producing the region’s trademark high-quality corn whiskey, legally, for sample and sale.
Early on, New Straitsville shine was considered the “gold standard” for hooch. In Chicago, during prohibition, folks who ordered a drink in a speakeasy were often asked if they wanted the “local stuff” or the “Straitsville Special.” It was so popular (and lucrative), in fact, that famous mobster Al Capone became involved in running New Straitsville moonshine out of the area.
New Straitsville became one of the country’s largest producers of moonshine after a legendary underground coal mine fire was started in 1884 as part of a labor dispute. The fire, which continues to burn today, produced thick, black coal smoke, making it nearly impossible for revenuers to detect bootleggers by the customary method of tracking the telltale smoke rising from stills hidden in the woods. Without work, more miners turned to bootlegging to put food on the table.
Also at this year’s festival, Wayne Nix of the popular Discovery Channel show, “Moonshiners” will appear on Saturday, May 25.
Moonshining is the practice of producing distilled spirits, which are highly regulated and taxed, without government knowledge, review or taxation.
Moonshining originated in the U.S. as part of the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion. Under President George Washington, federal taxes were imposed on whiskey, sparking a backlash among farmers and a rise in illegal distilling. Bootlegging grew further during the prohibition era, from 1920-1933. The practice grew in Appalachian areas like Ohio’s Hocking Hills, because its lush forests offered exceptional hiding places for illegal still operations.
For information by telephone, call 1-800-462- 5464.