Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sipping Moonshine in Carytown

A nerd like me goes to book readings to learn and to be read to.

And sometimes, like today, I am rewarded with not only words, but moonshine.

And is there really a better way to let the words wash over you than sitting in front of an open window while passing a quart Mason jar of moonshine around the audience?

I'm not sure there is.

I showed up at Chop Suey Books to hear Max Watman discuss and read from his new book, Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine." 

What I didn't anticipate was getting to experience the glories of "corn squeezins" firsthand.

Watman offered it up first thing and I was one of only three in the audience brave enough to give it a try.

Interestingly enough, as the reading progressed, more people reached out for the jar as it went by.

The first thing we learned was who drinks moonshine and while you might guess that it's a favorite at bluegrass jams and stock car races, the bulk of it is consumed by African-Americans in nip joints and shot houses.

Apparently Philly has an extremely high percentage of such places, but the author was put off by its size and crime, so much of his search for nip joints was centered around Danville, VA.

Despite romantic ideas of what such a place would be (dark, smokey, women in bright dresses dancing, customers sipping 'shine, circa 1935), what he finally realized was that the reality was probably going to be much seedier.

Nips joints, he was told, were rough places where cops don't rush in to stop a fight in a place that technically doesn't exist.

He gleaned this information from a guy named Skillet, his antics and those of his friend, Tuba who grew up in his family-owned nip joint ("If it was a Saturday night, Tuba was cutting someone," Skillet boasted).

And although the moonshine Skillet procured for Watman came in Sierra Mist bottle, he described it as smelling " poison, vile and sharp. Like stomach acid and Sierra Mist."

 He said it had no lingering finish; rather it pushed into his mouth and exploded and his right cheek immediately went numb.

The fine 'shine we shared today was nothing like that, though.

Instead, it was sweet and a little grainy although the smell still made my nose hairs react.

I've tasted moonshine a few times in the past and this was much better than what had come before it.

The older woman sitting behind me, who had grown up with grandparents who made moonshine on their farm, announced midway through the lecture, "Someone take this away from me or it'll be gone."

Clearly she had a connoisseur's appreciation for good 'shine.

Me, I was just happy to have a tasting aid to enhance my pleasure and understanding of the subject.

Dispelling the notion that author readings can be dry affairs was just icing on the cake.


  1. Karen- great blog. Very refreshing! So tired of all the Eating Richmond blogs being about granola and flax seed... thank you for mixing it up!

  2. If there's anything I can do,it's mix it up! Thanks for the kind words and I hope you'll keep reading and enjoying.

  3. I had my first taste of "shine" when I was ten years old. Yeah, I know, it was wrong on so many levels. But what an experience. I wasn't given instructions on how to sip so I took a serious drink and swallowed. I can still hear the adults in the room laughing as I planted one leg stiffly and used the other to propel myself around in a circle trying to shake off the burn. They named my reaction the "broke leg" because it looked as if I was trying to dance with one stiff leg unable to move. I never had another drink of alcohol until I was twenty one. Sometimes I wonder if that one event was the reason for some of my adult eccentricities.


  4. Or maybe it's the reason people find you so fascinating now...