Southern Comfort: Roger Scruton on the Illegal Liquor That Is the Vital Ingredient of Any Party in Virginia

Article excerpt

"Moonshine" means foolish talk; it is also a name for the drink that often produces it--an integral part of the culture of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The home distillery was brought there by the Irish, along with the pentatonic scales and jittery rhythms that were eventually to marry with the blues to become blue-grass music. And just as no party in rural Virginia is complete without a blue-grass band, so is no party complete without moonshine.

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Its effect on the body is as discoordinating as its effect on the tongue, producing a kind of slithery, sideways-rocking, falling-over dance called "clogging". And when all three--blue grass, moonshine and clogging--are in place, a new order of society emerges, one that bears some resemblance to an Irish country pub at the end of a hunting day. People sing with, dance against, and drink to each other, hardly conscious of what they say, do or sing, and seeming to recognise their surroundings only with the sudden stare of astonishment that precedes their slump to the floor.

Moonshine tends to be served in jam jars or plastic water bottles. Despite its criminality, it is neither concealed nor apologised for, but sampled with eager interest, as neighbouring hill-billies compare the secrets passed down in rival families since before recorded time. It is never sold, but comes as a gift, sometimes together with a haunch of venison or a brace of squirrel. And it is esteemed for its purity, each redneck swearing on the constitution and the Founding Fathers that his product has never produced the faintest suggestion of a headache, and could be drunk without harm by a child. …