Daddy Moonshine
March 19, 2009 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Do you know how to make a frog drunk? I bet you don't. But I do. I fired my pot up one morning and got it going real good. It had just started running high shots. That is what you call it when it first starts to come out. For so many jugs, then it turns to backins. Anyway here come hopping up to the still a damn big frog. I thought to myself ol' boy I'll make you drunk as hell.
Legendary Appalachian moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton was arrested by the ATF in March 2008 [PDF]. At his arrest, agents found guns, three 1000-gallon stills, hundreds of gallons of sour mash, and over 800 gallons of white lightning. This week at 61 years old, and faced with 18 months in prison, he committed suicide.
posted by Who_Am_I (84 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's a shame.

.
posted by schyler523 at 6:26 AM on March 19, 2009


Often featured in various documentaries on the History Channel, Sutton's autobiography, Me and my Likker, was featured on Willie Nelson's website.

Moonshiner status: Legendary.
Subterfuge status: Also legendary.
posted by DU at 6:31 AM on March 19, 2009


I caught him on the History channel's hillbilly special. He seemed like a real character.

Some video of Popcorn Sutton, 1, 2, and 3.

.
posted by Atreides at 6:43 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aw, hell.

RIP, Popcorn. The world was better (and drunker, but I repeat myself) with you in it.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:44 AM on March 19, 2009


Arrested for selling untaxed liquor and driven to suicide. I guess liquor is only okay if the gov't gets a share of the profits. If a few people have to die, so be it.

Isn't this how to mob works?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:49 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


.
posted by jquinby at 6:56 AM on March 19, 2009


So credit the federal government for my husband being dead, I really do," --Pam Sutton

While it's tragic that he killed himself, it's no one's fault but his. What's the point of being some kind of hillbilly caricature and encouraging people to engage in home distillation with all the associated risks when alcohol is legal?
posted by Burhanistan at 6:57 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't even know where to start, this is so f#%*ed up. Like these people are some sort of threat............
posted by tarantula at 6:59 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


They would look -- and try to book -- him, but my pappy kept 'a cooking his....
White Lightning


.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:07 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was wondering how this was going to play out. So sad.
posted by schwa at 7:08 AM on March 19, 2009


What's the point of being some kind of hillbilly caricature and encouraging people to engage in home distillation with all the associated risks when alcohol is legal?

I'd say it's a cultural thing. If he wants to distill his own damn liquor the right damn way, to hell with the Federal government. Not speaking for Sutton, but the sense of entitlement to distill liquor in the mountains goes back two hundred years. A sense of that righteousness no doubt still exists in some form, despite the fact that the necessity of turning corn into alcohol is no longer present. Undoubtedly, some would feel it's a right of heritage.

In the basement of my parents' house is a mason jar with something that once was moonshine. They, like their ancestors before them, grew up in Appalachia, and at the time my father went to college, he was often kidded by his roommates for being a "hillbilly" and asking where the moonshine was. After one break from school, he decided to shut them up and went to the people in the know and procured himself a jar of the white lightning and returned to school. None of his roommates would even take a sip of the stuff out of fear of blindness or the other possible risks. They also stopped kidding him. Mission accomplished.
posted by Atreides at 7:12 AM on March 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


Alcohol may be legal, but moonshine is (or can be) some great stuff.

Being a hillbilly was probably incidental.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:16 AM on March 19, 2009


What's the point of being some kind of hillbilly caricature and encouraging people to engage in home distillation with all the associated risks when alcohol is legal?

Why, to help make the world a better and drunker place! RIP!
posted by mannequito at 7:20 AM on March 19, 2009


What's the point of being some kind of hillbilly caricature and encouraging people to engage in home distillation with all the associated risks when alcohol is legal?

I agree with you to some extent, because there is a history of people being poisoned by badly made moonshine, but these days if people had access to commercially produced stills (which they don't, because it's illegal to buy them) it would be about as safe as home-brewing beer (which is legal).

But the basic answer to your question is that some people want to make moonshine instead of buying Everclear for the same reason that other people want to grow tomatoes in their garden instead of buying them at the grocery store or make their own meals instead of buying food a restaurant. It's not really a necessity, because government regulated commercial alternatives are available, but it's nice to be able to make your own.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:22 AM on March 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


What's the point of being some kind of hillbilly caricature

It probably seemed more attractive to him than snarking about cultures he doesn't know anything about on the internet.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:27 AM on March 19, 2009 [26 favorites]


Popcorn's death has been widely lamented here in East Tennessee. I've had the pleasure of drinking some 'shine that was reputed to be some of Popcorn's stuff.

I'm neutral on the idea of moonshine (yeah, it can be dangerous but the lengths the gubmint goes to eradicate it is about money, not safety). Moonshine is as much a part of Southern Appalachian culture as muscadine jelly and saying "you'uns" instead of "y'all"; it would be a terrible shame to lose that skill set. And Nascar isn't my thing, but Nascar's roots were germinated in moonshine.

. Popcorn
posted by workerant at 7:34 AM on March 19, 2009


Arrested for selling untaxed liquor and driven to suicide. I guess liquor is only okay if the gov't gets a share of the profits. If a few people have to die, so be it.

Oh come on now. I'm as ravenously anti-government as the next guy, but this wasn't exactly "The Man" sweeping out of no where and destroying this dude's life with one fell move. A) If any large-scale operation was trying to get unregulated consumable product onto the market with no outside oversight on production, you'd be shitting a brick. B) This guy wasn't a small backyard operation, brewing in the shed - they confiscated seventeen hundred gallons of product at the bust. C) He had been busted FIVE TIMES before, and usually got away with fines and probation. D) If he really really wanted to do this without having legal issues, he could have gotten proper legal setup and production oversight like any other likker company. Shit, if "Mr. Boston" and "Banker's Club" can legally put out their acerbic piss extract, I'm pretty sure Popcorn could have figured out how to still without a loss of quality.

Basically, this guy WANTED to be against the law, it was part of his schtick. The judge let him know that he can't keep getting busted and walking away, so he gave him an 18 month sentence. 18 months? That's barely a jail sentance. He'd probably get out way early on parole, and while he was on the inside he'd be the goddamn Pruno King of Cell Block D, ruling with an iron dixie cup. This suicide was tragic, but it wasn't a result of the Feds casually destroying a life, it was the result of a guy not being able to face the consequences of his actions.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:34 AM on March 19, 2009 [37 favorites]


I'd say it's a cultural thing. If he wants to distill his own damn liquor the right damn way, to hell with the Federal government. Not speaking for Sutton, but the sense of entitlement to distill liquor in the mountains goes back two hundred years.

I think a person should be able to distill booze for personal use or to give away, but he was running a business with the several thousand gallon capacity setup he had, or was extremely charitable. We have laws about running businesses in the US (recent economic news aside) and paying taxes on them.

Setting up a distillery should be as easy as opening a cafe.
posted by Science! at 7:34 AM on March 19, 2009


If the government had been after him for distilling purely for his own personal use, and maybe to share with friends and family, that would have struck me as unnecessary government intrusion.

However, that wasn't the case here. I don't have a problem with the government regulating and taxing liquor which is produced to be sold.

I guess liquor is only okay if the gov't gets a share of the profits.

As opposed to what, exactly? Are you suggesting that liquor is unlike other products for sale in this respect?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:40 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


God forbid the government shouldn't realize revenue from moonshine. After all, there are AIG executives in need of bonuses so they can feed their $1,000-a-bottle (taxed) scotch hobbies.

What a shame.

.
posted by VicNebulous at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2009


It probably seemed more attractive to him than snarking about cultures he doesn't know anything about on the internet.

I wasn't snarking about an entire culture, and nothing I said would indicate that I don't know something about people that live in the Appalachia region. But come on. As said by FatherDragon, Sutton clearly was playing up his identity of a crazy hillbilly as part of his own self-promotion.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someday, The Mountain might get 'em, but The Law never will.

That song was on the radio just before I read this.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2009


At his arrest, agents found guns, three 1000-gallon stills, hundreds of gallons of sour mash, and over 800 gallons of white lightning.

Right, just another home hobbyist brewer. This isnt some big illegal operation. No sirree, this is the man cracking down on yet another quiet citizen.

I love the double-standard on mefi. If a big corporation was releasing an unsafe product with no regulation and no taxes then all hell breaks loose. If its one guy with some celebrity then its perfectly okay, in fact, he deserves special treatment from the rest of us. Im not a hillbilly caricature and if I started this business I would be in jail tomorrow and no one would be defending me. But if I put on a straw hat and say "ya'll" then I know I'll have internet weirdos defending me. Shame that doesnt work in court, ya'll.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:07 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


...the sense of entitlement to distill liquor in the mountains goes back two hundred years.

The sense of entitlement doesn't just apply to the mountains or liquor. America is one big giant ball of entitlement. We're a conglomerate of demanding brats, screaming at the top of our lungs, "Gimme everything, gov'ment, but don't take anything from me! Let me do whatever I want, but don't let that other guy do anything! Whaaaahhhaaahh!" This guy was the epitome of that attitude.
posted by incessant at 8:15 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's because I never saw the guy on TV, but when someone has explosions on their property and is charged with assault with a deadly weapon, I'm not averse to an 18 month sentence or two.
posted by DU at 8:26 AM on March 19, 2009


Basically, this guy WANTED to be against the law,

Yeah, this pretty much nails it. I always got the impression that if it had been legal for him to do, it wouldn't have been fun anymore. Still, it's too bad that he chose the way out that he did. His outlaw credentials would have been even better once he had some time under his belt.

The world might not necessarily be a better place for people like him, but it certainly is more interesting, and that has value.
posted by quin at 8:26 AM on March 19, 2009


I love the double-standard on mefi.

It's not a double-standard, it's an 80000+-standard. It only seems hypocritical if you mistake the positions of a few users for the position of everyone (or even a majority of people here).

If its one guy with some celebrity then its perfectly okay,

I see maybe two people in this thread saying it's OK, and even that's stretching it. Although I am being careful not to confuse "regret for a man's death" with "defense of that man's actions." A distinctly larger number are saying the government isn't to blame for his suicide.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:30 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if I put on a straw hat and say "ya'll" then I know I'll have internet weirdos defending me.

As was stated earlier, he'd probably not have said "ya'll," but rather "you'uns."

This is a damn shame, but Popcorn Sutton's seemed like he was ready to die for a while.

There'll still be moonshine, though. Long as there's people out there what know how to make stills, there'll be moonshine.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:40 AM on March 19, 2009


 ______
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|      K\
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|      | \\
|______|  \l
\______/   .   
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posted by 7segment at 8:55 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


agents found guns

Scaaaaary! Scaaaaary guns!
posted by adamdschneider at 8:58 AM on March 19, 2009


Mrs. Hexxed (well soon to be) has family in Kentucky. Back hills Kentucky very very back hills Kentucky. After a visit there I managed to bring up 5 leiters of 'shine, you know just for fun. Good stuff, it was flavored with real fruit, but the hangover was awful, anybody who drinks that stuff will not be able to form a sentence for at least a day.

People there are well aware it is not legal, but the cash is good. Throw in the whole "dry county" thing and for a lot of people it is easier to get 'shine than to drive an hour to buy something at a store. So yes it is part of the culture in the hills but it is also a product of the local, county, and state laws. It really comes down to money though, it is how a lot of people down there make ends meet. (particularly since the state laws regarding growing tobacco have really hampered the ability of the locals to "live off the land") In my opinion moonshiners are filling a gap in the system for people who like to drink that don't have easy access to booze, while turning a good profit. If you want moonshiners to start to loose their market, remove the dry county laws seems to make sense, but everything is more complicated than that.
posted by hexxed at 9:10 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I recall drinking a whole heap of this stuff way back when me and Skeeter was on a huntin trip up to the hills, afore they finished the dam what plugged up the river. Had my pappy's old shotgun with me at the time. Me and Skeeter got all kinds of likkered up and then next thing I recall there was a fat old city boy lying with his face in the leaves and his pants around his ankles, quietly sobbing, and Skeeter hopping around with his pecker out, hollerin somethin about a hog. Course soon after Skeet took a arrow to the forehead and damn if I didn't skeedaddle on out o' there. Never did get Pappy's shotgun back.

Anyway, I don't reccermend drinkin that stuff cuz it ain't no good for yer teeths.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:14 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Goddamn that Boss Hog!
posted by orme at 9:20 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Gimme everything, gov'ment, but don't take anything from me! Let me do whatever I want, but don't let that other guy do anything! Whaaaahhhaaahh!" This guy was the epitome of that attitude.

what was he asking from the government, aside from being left alone? - i'm not really in favor of moonshining, but i think you're distorting the man's actual attitude
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've had some wicked good shine in my time, too. But for something like this, it's all a matter of scale of distribution. One one end you have people crafting delicious brews into a couple of bottles each month for their friends, operating under the radar and no one minds. On the other end you have, say... China's entire production force. There's a reason for regulation.

Aside - every time I see someone quote me as FatherDragon, I think I've slipped into an otherkin message board by mistake, and then a Crying Game shower is needed.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:27 AM on March 19, 2009


What's the point of being some kind of hillbilly caricature and encouraging people to engage in home distillation with all the associated risks when alcohol is legal?

You think we're having economic woes out here in the rest of America? That we have a lack of options in the job market? In the area where my family comes from, shine sure as hell put a lot more people through college than coal ever did. Filled a lot less coffins, too.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:28 AM on March 19, 2009 [11 favorites]


What's up with the guns? Why would you need a stockpile of guns if you're just a harmless moonshine maker? Sounds like there's more to this story than simpleminded outrage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:56 AM on March 19, 2009


Boo. The system is designed for big alcohol producers, and makes it very hard for microdistilling operations to operate legally.

Check out all the things you need to do to operate a distilled spirits plant:

DSP Beverage Packet

From the FAQ:

"You cannot produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties.] There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use. Some of these requirements are paying excise tax, filing an extensive application, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure spirits, providing suitable tanks and pipelines, providing a separate building (other than a dwelling) and maintaining detailed records, and filing reports. All of these requirements are listed in 27 CFR Part 19."
posted by ladd at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2009


The sense of entitlement doesn't just apply to the mountains or liquor. America is one big giant ball of entitlement. We're a conglomerate of demanding brats, screaming at the top of our lungs, "Gimme everything, gov'ment, but don't take anything from me! Let me do whatever I want, but don't let that other guy do anything! Whaaaahhhaaahh!" This guy was the epitome of that attitude.

Were it a topic other than moonshine, I'd happily agree with you. It's entirely possible you're right, but unlike a lot of "entitlements" we scream about today, moonshine has a history that few of those entitlements can lay claim to.

The mountains offered a place for many who had never owned land, or had land taken from them or their ancestors (yes, I know the irony) a place to call home. It was also a place hard to get around with few roads, to the extent that when moving big loads, Appalachians would result to drawing sleds, since wagons couldn't make the trip through mountains, hills, and hollows. Bluntly put, it was a major pain in the butt to move more than yourself when traveling about. This proved a problem for farmers, who could grow enough to sustain themselves, but getting everything else to market was a headache.

As a result, they looked to see how they could make getting their produce to market easier and it was quickly discovered that if you cold move it in liquid form, it'd be much easier! Not only was it easier, but the liquor also proved more profitable. Yay for the little guys! They're off in their mountains and finding some of that American dream of economic success. Incidentally, the United States had been to war and now had a debt it needed to pay. There were many arguments over how to help pay off this debt, when someone suggested taxing liquor. This tax would fall heavily on the mountain people who depended on the production far more than anyone else. It resulted in a rebellion.

For the longest time, while the production of the moonshine continued, it got a big boost during Prohibition as the national distilleries were closed and dismantled. Furthermore, it provided a means of income as the Great Depression set in across the country. The Government didn't stand by then, neither, but attempted to stop the production by sending in revenue men to stop it. There has always been an attitude of "leave me alone" in the mountains, for good and bad, and this simply didn't help it. All in all, Sutton could have grown up hearing stories from his father or grandfather and other relatives about the government intrusion over moonshine, as well as the notorious and famous moonshine runners (as previously noted above - developed into NASCAR) , off of which has origins going back centuries.

Yes, he felt an entitlement. Was it the same sense of self-aggrandizing bratty entitlement that our modern culture is symptom to, possibly; but it could have also been the product of a long legacy of producing moonshine despite the government's wishes and inference.
posted by Atreides at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2009 [12 favorites]


Well to be fair, it doesn't ever really describe the guns, aside from using the plural. Having a couple of hunting shotguns for when you got a hankering fer possum isn't really that scary. Hell, a raid on my place would probably turn up a 'stockpile' of 15 or so, if you count antiques.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's up with the guns? Why would you need a stockpile of guns if you're just a harmless moonshine maker? Sounds like there's more to this story than simpleminded outrage.

If he wasn't doing anything wrong, he wouldn't have had anything to fear,

citizen.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'll bet that the weaponry figured heavily in the decision to arrest him. I wouldn't be surprised if the moonshine operation is ancillary, but makes good copy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:04 AM on March 19, 2009


The guns were an issue because he was already convicted of a felony.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2009


I never met or learned much about Popcorn Sutton. But I did meet a bunch of moonshiners at Barney Barnwell's Plum Hollow Farm. They are different, but they are good people. If he is like those guys, then thanks to him for adding a little color to life.
posted by dios at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2009


Suicide over an 18-month sentence?

Pussy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:02 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, goes back to Shays. It's illegal, but there are many reasons it's illegal and there are socio-economic issues. Beyond all that, the law could be written to accommodate this or allow for smaller operations through the regs, or address the desire of people to drink in dry counties beyond the puritan b.s.
Seems a bit like a marijuana case to me. This guy wasn't a dangerous criminal. Oh, he was certainly dangerous, folks get really put out of kilter if you go around living in ways they don't approve of or understand. My God he had guns!? Who needs a gun when you can buy pre-bludgeoned overprocessed antibiotic and steriod saturated meat at the trendy boutique down the street?
Sounds like he only had one firearm since there's only one count of possession by a felon. So one old guy out in an rural area with a firearm and a still. Clearly, the bastard was dangerous scum.
I see the arguments for regulation. Assuming a legitimate desire on the part of the government - sure, that's fine. But in some places you don't need regulation. It's not like he was shipping this overseas or out to California. He hands a jug to someone, they know his first name, where he lives, all that. He's not a nameless corporation. Granted he could make a mistake, but then folks would go looking for him. It's a community.
But I don't allow for that legitimacy on the part of the government. I do think the judge cut him a lot of slack, but there are a lot of interlacing laws set against folks like this.
The disparity is akin to the over the counter pharmaceuticals vs. the 'gutter' drugs.
Plenty of folks growing marijuana. And it's a fairly stupid thing to outlaw, and many states have recognized that to the degree that it's decriminalized. And yet there's still this double standard.
That's what this guy died for. He wanted to live a certain way, do certain things that were pretty much harmless and apparently fun (making sour mash for the crowd at the museum, etc) and because the way the law is structured and the regulations are written he couldn't.
Moonshine leads to other crimes - sure, because it's illegal. Cancer patient sitting in bed smoking a joint is a criminal too. A whole slew of criminal acts had to be perpetrated just to get the weed there. On top of that, you're outside the law so you can't call the cops. So you have a gun in case some real criminals decide to bust you out. Now you're 'armed and dangerous.'
Certainly there should be oversight on the cleanliness and chemical purity of the guys still, you can't collect taxes and not try to protect people. But he's charged with selling booze without a tax, not evading health regs. Pretty obvious to me the law is written precisely so this leads to larger and more expansive crimes.
Like marijuana - instead of addressing the need and desire of folks to have it and use it, they throw up arbitrary barriers that, yeah, puts up scapegoats for the system to crush.
This guy was never going to be anything more than a one man operation. But that's pretty much why they can go after him, no big team of lawyers and payoffs to politicians (or don't big liquor companies do that).
posted by Smedleyman at 11:02 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Had no idea moonshining was this popular
posted by TMcGregor at 11:05 AM on March 19, 2009


Well the people who've tried it and like it are pretty quick to post and defend. And the people who tried it and didn't like it can't see the keyboard anymore.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:09 AM on March 19, 2009


I am reminded of this airbrushed van.
posted by exogenous at 11:10 AM on March 19, 2009


I'm not sure where to fit this in. I'm not happy he's dead, but his living a life outside of the law was done pretty purposefully, and not incidentally. Committing suicide over refusing to be incarcerated by a government he clearly mocked at every turn feels like a fulfillment of his psyche -- some odd kind of self-immolation done for popskull instead of peace.

On the other hand, stop killing yourself.

.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 11:20 AM on March 19, 2009


What a waste of law enforcement resources.
posted by rokusan at 11:26 AM on March 19, 2009


"You cannot produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties.] There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use. Some of these requirements are paying excise tax, filing an extensive application, filing a bond, providing adequate equipment to measure spirits, providing suitable tanks and pipelines, providing a separate building (other than a dwelling) and maintaining detailed records, and filing reports. All of these requirements are listed in 27 CFR Part 19."

All I'm reading here is that a person or corporation that wants to sell needs to obey the same laws as other folks. Pay your taxes, fill out applicable forms with the government, have proper equipment including an ability to measure the alcohol content, and don't run the business out of your house. Oh, and keep records.

Yeah, it'd be the same if you were brewing beer. Heck, it'd be the same if you were baking cookies! Honestly, once you get to the scale that he was operating at, you can't act all chagrined when the government comes by to check in. Considering the history of moonshine and how poorly it's been regulated, can you really be surprised that there are laws on the books requiring proper "tanks and pipelines"?
posted by explosion at 11:41 AM on March 19, 2009


Datapoint: the town of Stokesdale, North Carolina has a moonshine distillery on their town seal, which was adopted in 1994 (it has only been incorporated since 1989, but they've been known as Green Lake for quite a while, getting a post office shortly after The War Between The States). As noted in the summary of the design of the seal, "the creeks of the northwest corner of the Town provided the water to make moonshine as a way to supplement farm income."
posted by filthy light thief at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2009


The guns were an issue because he was already convicted of a felony.

If the NRA wants us to enforce existing gun laws, that's about a clear an example as it gets of a very serious violation of federal law. Felons aren't allowed to have guns, right? He broke the law and should have paid the penalty, end of story. The moonshine operation doesn't even enter into it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:11 PM on March 19, 2009


explosion, you can brew beer for personal consumption with no need to pay taxes, submit applications or the need to be inspected. It was not so until recently, and being able to home brew is the main reason there are now so many good American beers.

You CAN NOT DISTILL ALCOHOL IN ANY QUANTITY WHATSOEVER, even if it is for personal consumption. People have gotten in trouble for owning solar still for the purpose of desalinizing water.

I am all for the legalization of home distilling, just to see what the liquor equivalents of today micro breweries will come up with. If you are worried about explosions or poisoning, you could do like they do in some European countries, where you can take your sour mash to a municipal still, where you can distill it any way you want, or get a specialist to do it for you. Before you can take your liquor home, it is tested, and you pay a small fee.
posted by dirty lies at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well to be fair, it doesn't ever really describe the guns, aside from using the plural. Having a couple of hunting shotguns for when you got a hankering fer possum isn't really that scary. Hell, a raid on my place would probably turn up a 'stockpile' of 15 or so, if you count antiques.

Yep. In all fairness, consider where he is living. If someone with a studio apartment in San Francisco had a similar pile of guns, I would be scared. But this guy, no. That seems pretty normal for the region. Freaking out about the guns seems a little odd.
posted by Avelwood at 1:04 PM on March 19, 2009


ATF Agent #1: "Hey guys, we found alcohol!"
ATF Agent #2: "And guns!"

Wow, if only he were growing tobacco illegally. Then the ATF could have pulled a hat trick...
posted by Avelwood at 1:08 PM on March 19, 2009


I am all for the legalization of home distilling, just to see what the liquor equivalents of today micro breweries will come up with. If you are worried about explosions or poisoning, you could do like they do in some European countries, where you can take your sour mash to a municipal still, where you can distill it any way you want, or get a specialist to do it for you. Before you can take your liquor home, it is tested, and you pay a small fee.

Fair enough, and that sounds absolutely awesome. Point was, though, this wasn't a guy getting busted for making enough for himself and the neighbors. He had a full-blown business going on, with enough stock on-hand to keep a busy bar running for a couple of weeks.

Reminds me though, I really need to get some supplies and make some more beer.
posted by explosion at 1:39 PM on March 19, 2009


He did have a business. Why didn't he fill out the forms, do all the paperwork, etc? Maybe it was just ego and stubbornness. On the other hand, you have a spread of land out in the middle of nowhere, no one's complaining, all that, why can't the government leave you alone if you're doing no harm? Same deal I think for some - ego, stubbornness.
The argument on one side here seems to be 'the law is the law and he should have known better,' but if it's an arbitrary law, seems kind of silly, not to mention a waste of time and effort, to keep arresting the guy. Who was complaining?
I'd feel the same way about some hippies growing dope on their commune out in rural nowheresville. Who cares?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:54 PM on March 19, 2009


Why is it silly? What if his distillery blew up. Now we have injuries, maybe deaths, and the state expends efforts via firefighter, police, etc. Instead, we're proactive about this and now that's suddenly a liability. Did he hire anyone? If so, these people didnt even get the basic employment protections. Im sure Popcorn and his supportors would love to turn this into a big "free man vs girly civilization" but at the end of the day a lot of these laws are there for good reasons.

Also, arguing that nothing bad has happened yet isnt helpful. In fact thats just plain ignorant. There was a fire on 2007 on his property related to his operation. Thats how his operation was discovered! A fire!

Another lie in this thread is that he just had a hunting rifle. The officers found a .38 handgun. How about some of you guys actually read the affidavit?

Why should he have a right to a handgun as a felon but a felon in my neighborhood would go straight to jail with no one defending him.
Why should he be allowed to make a living and not pay taxes? Because of the romanticised idea of a being a hillbilly? Please.

This is the real problem with the libertarian view of the world. Everything is fine and dandy as long as you make money and dont pay taxes, but when the shit hits the fan its civilizationss fire department that saves your ass. Paid for by my tax dollars. Im subsidizing a armed moonshine producing freeloader! Putting these firefighters in harms way because you wont legitimize your business is akin to arson in my book. The greed and laziness in the libertarian ethos is so despicable its incredible any rational person subscribes to it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:17 PM on March 19, 2009


"The greed and laziness in the libertarian ethos is so despicable its incredible any rational person subscribes to it."

Eh, not sure how you got that from a news story about a distiller. The ethos of backwoods distillers in the Appalachians goes back a lot further than the idea of libertarianism.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2009


Thats fair, but Im really responding to several commends in this thread about "the government leaving you alone." People dont live in a vacuum. You cant divorce yourself from society, especially if youre selling it moonshine and calling its firefighters.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2009


There was a time when the government in my hometown, to combat vice and immorality, made it extremely hard to get and keep a permit to operate a bar legally. It was too expensive, the process could take up to two years, you could have your license suspended for suspicion of breaking the law, the appeal would take another year, with huge legal fees. Only rich restaurateurs could afford to open new bars legally.

What happened? The city filled up with illegal bars, contaminated alcohol was served everywhere, violent crimes in and around illegal bars would go unreported. And the alcohol inspectors became so rich that some of the old money families in the city made their fortunes there.

A few decades later, the government realized the error of their ways and simplified and made more transparent the process for getting a bar permit. People continued to open and run illegal bars, they already know the routes they had to navigate, and the illegal process was faster and ran more smoothly than bureaucracy could. Everyone involved had become used to corruption, on both sides of the law. It had become a tradition.

Finally, in the 1990s, the government did something really good. For all kinds of license and permit applications, the government has a fixed number of days to either reject the application or accept it. If you don't get your response within the allotted time, it becomes an automatic YES, you can then go and pick up your permit in another office.

There have been no cases of contaminated alcohol poisoning in bars ever since and a lot of cool places opened.

What I am trying to say is that when laws are stupid and the enforcers of the laws are corrupt, it may make more sense, and be a completely rational decision, to break the laws. And once you are already breaking the big laws, why worry about the small ones? Like preventing fires and explosions?

I am not defending this guy, I am just saying that instead of him being an example of what is wrong with moonshiners, he is an example of what is wrong with the ATF and alcohol laws in the USA.
posted by dirty lies at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2009


. Popcorn
posted by mrbill at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2009


What's up with the guns? Why would you need a stockpile of guns if you're just a harmless moonshine maker?

Could just be a cultural thing to keep a gun around. Could also be that if someone comes to steal moonshine, he's kinda screwed on calling the cops on them.

Moonshine is more of a niche thing, now that roads are good enough for bootleggers to get in and out easy - the real money's in marijuana.
posted by dilettante at 3:27 PM on March 19, 2009


Why should he have a right to a handgun as a felon but a felon in my neighborhood would go straight to jail with no one defending him.

Double standards.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:30 PM on March 19, 2009


"What if his distillery blew up."
What if a marijuana growers lamps caught fire? Seems a pretty good argument for legalization to me. And yet...
Reading the affidavit he looks more like an actual criminal. So, ok, no gun for him. Plus jail time.
But I think the argument against the legal barriers to legitimately distilling alcohol on a small basis are pretty solid. Instead of looking at what people do and passing legislation to regulate it and make it safe, laws are passed to coerce people into behaving the way someone well removed from a situation wants them to behave. That or the legislators themselves are in someone's pocket.
And it's not libertarian nonsense to point out poor engineering. Hell, 1/2 the reason you have 'drug' stores is the holdover from blue laws prohibiting selling alcohol on Sundays. So Joe's Wine shop has to close, but Bill's "drug' store which has one shelf of aspirin and ten shelves of whiskey gets to stay open. That's total hypocrisy, not to mention theocratic.
Speaking of which the cost of repealing the blue laws has been that more people drink and do drugs (and go less often to church and donate less). So, you want 'em back? Your tax dollars are going to cops to nail people DUI and emergency rooms and medical treatment. All it costs to prevent is installing a theocracy. Or perhaps we could bring prohibition back.
Hell they had a 'tax' on marijuana, and 'regulation.' Made it so the growers couldn't get the permit to buy one, and when they applied, they arrested them. We all know it was business interests behind those government laws and actions. So perhaps it's not about "the government leaving you alone" perhaps it's about a transparent government responsive to the needs of the people instead of business interests.
I have the feeling that this particular guy's life wouldn't have ended in this tragedy were that the kind of government policy in operation here. But no, pretty much hounded him. And yes, he had a pistol (even *less* dangerous than a rifle) and had a controlled substance, all that.
Seems to me he was at odds with the law for some time over this.
Think that's his fault? Think he just couldn't learn? And then, being a pussy, took his own life?
Because, yeah, that's how it works.
Or maybe we could take a walk in this guys shoes and see it from his POV. I'm not saying he's right, I'm saying the law was stupid here from the get-go.

I have no gripe with people who grow marijuana. And I don't really have a problem with some guy making moonshine if he's blocked from doing it legally.
(The controlled substance, intent, all that, this guy, different story, it became what it was either way despite the why's and wherefores).
But all too often laws are written to escalate the levels of crime involved. On top of that, you have very little support in place in some areas for jobs, education, etc. etc. Just the basics.

Y'know, it's exactly the same argument for urban poor who deal drugs. I'm not saying hands off, but there too decriminalization would go a long way to preventing violence and tragedy rather than favor some asinine drug policy some guy behind a desk thousands of miles away thinks is good for other people while he downs some oxycontin.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


the real money's in marijuana.

And eventually, organic farming.
posted by Tenuki at 3:38 PM on March 19, 2009


I met Popcorn Sutton almost 20 years ago, and I can say that there was nothing 'put-on' about him. He was who he was, and made no excuses or apologies for it.
posted by hanncoll at 4:21 PM on March 19, 2009


Arrested for selling untaxed liquor and driven to suicide. I guess liquor is only okay if the gov't gets a share of the profits. If a few people have to die, so be it.

Isn't this how to mob works?

No. This is how business taxation works.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on March 19, 2009


Wow! "Harder than a minister's pecker" Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton second video: "the Thump Keg"
posted by carping demon at 7:15 PM on March 19, 2009


"It's not like he was shipping this overseas or out to California. He hands a jug to someone, they know his first name, where he lives, all that."

800 gallons (US) would fill a cube just under a metre and a half long on each side; that's quite the jug.
posted by Mitheral at 9:02 PM on March 19, 2009


I'm not anti-government. I'm not anti-anti. The fact of the matter is that this is an atrocity.

Even if it was not murder, it was assisted suicide. because it was mortally insensitive.

This was cultural.

Thinking of everyone as the same is what gets us all into such predicaments in the first place. This person may have been swift and cantankerous and even clever or publicity-minded.

He was also clearly of another kind resembling but quite unlike most Western kinds.

Treating him as such is yet another addition to a cultural criminality which all of us would do well to extract from out way of thinking and our way of life.

If he hurt someone, he can be held accountable. But otherwise he was practicing a way of life as integral as religion. What a disgusting shame for the loss, to he and his people, and the rest of us and our way of life.

Peace, Mr. Popcorn.

*
posted by humannaire at 10:16 AM on March 20, 2009


He was operating a business. He broke business laws.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:18 AM on March 20, 2009


Business is cultural, as well. As a societal mechanism, "business" (or trade) is not exclusive to one culture. Cultural insensitivity to unique classes of people is the problem here, not what business laws were being broken.
posted by humannaire at 3:09 PM on March 20, 2009


Some video of Popcorn Sutton, 1, 2, and 3.


I finally got a chance to watch these. What treasure that someone got access to him and captured it in stereo technicolor. That's history, right there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:47 PM on March 21, 2009


Dear Metafilter, You don't know nothing about this shit so shut the fuck up and go back to being a bunch of urban assholes.
posted by nola at 5:27 PM on March 29, 2009


Ah, hillbilly mystique. It's really nothing.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:37 PM on March 29, 2009


He was operating a business. He broke business laws.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:18 PM on March 20 [+] [!]


Great point there, you soulless douche
posted by nola at 5:39 PM on March 29, 2009


Chill out. You're way late to the party.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:41 PM on March 29, 2009


Yikes! Burhanistan I feel like a kid caught tagging the bathroom walls.
posted by nola at 5:42 PM on March 29, 2009


A long time ago, in another life far remote from my current track, I was shoplifting beer with my friend. He turned the corner in the aisle I was in and I didn't know that it was him. I turned and he caught my deer in the headlights look as I was lifting a bottle of Paulaner. I always thought he had a little piece of my soul because of that moment (until he died, that is, and I got it back).
posted by Burhanistan at 5:45 PM on March 29, 2009


wasn't snarking about an entire culture, and nothing I said would indicate that I don't know something about people that live in the Appalachia region. But come on. As said by FatherDragon, Sutton clearly was playing up his identity of a crazy hillbilly as part of his own self-promotion.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:57 AM on March 19


Dude, if that's true I've known hundreds of guys that were "acting".


I always thought he had a little piece of my soul because of that moment (until he died, that is, and I got it back).


Man you can keep that little piece of my soul then. Keep breathing damn you!!! I wasn't using it anyway.
posted by nola at 5:49 PM on March 29, 2009


AFK for more whiskey.
posted by nola at 5:53 PM on March 29, 2009


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