Book Review: The Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton
By Cody Sexton
Whenever I’ve found myself in the mood for unconsciousness and a screaming hangover, I’ve turned my attention to Moonshine. I used to drink an heroic amount of it whenever the opportunity presented itself (which for a while was almost every weekend).
My first introduction to this wondrous medley of flavors, however, came about one summer night in June a few years back.
We had been out nursing our insecurities all night at some provincial shithole (a local bar owned by a guy who has failed in business as much as he has failed in everything else) only leaving after last call. (And were threatened with having the cops called on us if we didn’t finally leave).
Once our DD (read: sister-in-law) dropped us off at my apartment, and not yet drunk enough to call it a night, we (DD included) decided to head to my brothers to continue the debauchery. At the time he lived only a few minutes from me, but before we left someone else also decided it would be a really “great” (dare I say: “stupendous”) idea to crack open the jar of Apple Pie Moonshine I had stashed away as a Christmas gift for my wife’s Uncle. (It’s a tradition in the mountains and we always celebrated Christmas with them in the summer since they lived out of state). And since not one among us had any real need to continue forming memories, we each took a sip (ok, a few gulps) and by the time we arrived at our destination, we were gone.
Whatever I am ceased to exist. I have no memory of that night (I can barely recall the following day). No memory even of the trip there. At some point I must have fallen into or down something? (Perhaps judging by my appearance possibly gotten into a fight with a wild animal) because I woke up the following morning bruised, bleeding, and sore, lying prostrate on the floor in the living room. My brother had apparently passed out at some point in the bathroom and was covered in what can only be described as: an epic amount of vomit. It was literally caked onto the walls. (Out of respect I won’t mention the condition of the others). But it was like a scene straight out of the movie The Hangover.
And so I’ve come to learn the hard way (aka the right way) that Moonshine is a whole lot like the people of Appalachia themselves: charming, sweet, even comforting. But if disrespected, will not hesitate for a moment to beat the ever-loving shit out of you. (And I’m talking about legit Moonshine here, not that bottled shit you can buy at any liquor store now with cutesy little names like: Kentucky Mist or Ole’ Smokey. I’m talking about 197 proof liquid Jesus. I’m talking about Moonshine made in a ‘holler’ by a man who comes from the poorest part of the country and if crossed, is just as likely to kill you as is the ‘likker’ he sold you). Nevertheless, getting lit on Apple Pie Moonshine is my kind of night. And if anything the world needs more of it, not less.
Apple Pie Moonshine is actually one of the oldest and most traditional mountain Moonshine recipes (having once been described to me as: silent and deadly like a Baptist’s fart).
“Historically, straight moonshine required a steel palate,” writes Eric Dopkins. “However, in order to make the product more marketable to everyone, bootleggers started cutting their moonshine with flavors like cherry, blackberry and, of course, the ever popular apple pie. Adding juices and spices takes away any of the alcoholic flavor and delivers a potent, delicious concoction.”
Likewise, the art of distilling alcohol illegally in order to avoid paying taxes on the spirit first began in the U.S. around the end of the Revolutionary War. With many early Moonshiners hailing from Ireland and Scotland, countries that had a history of Moonshining. It’s no surprise then that the practice would go on to form such a huge part of American history. (You might even say that making ‘shine’ is about as American as Apple Pie).
Though as an author and reader who appreciates up close and personal honesty with his history; the thing I appreciated the most about this book is that it’s quite unlike anything else you’re likely to experience. Hutcheson successfully shines a much needed light onto a greatly misunderstood and misanthropic Moonshiner, presenting us with the true story of a modern day American folk hero, the man behind the myth in a celebration of craft, heritage, and irrepressible character. (And in the process presents us with an absolute stunning collection of photographs, essays, and interviews).
“At the end of his life, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was called a hero, a rebel, a figure of righteous resistance and, ultimately, King of the Moonshiners.” Writes Timothy Lydon. “Those interested in Appalachian history and culture would do well to spend time with this book.” (Goddamn right! Now please excuse me, this Apple Pie Moonshine bout to have me in a coma).
Cody Sexton is the managing editor for A Thin Slice of Anxiety. His work has been featured at: Writer Shed Stories, The Diverse Perspective, Detritus, Revolution John, Due Dissidence, and As It Ought To Be Magazine where he is a regular contributor. In addition he is also a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee for his pioneering essay The Body of Shirley Ann Sexton.