Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Moonshine Bust

HANCOCK COUNTY — Most people believed the days of rebels in overalls cooking up 100-proof whiskey deep in the backwoods of this county were long gone, at least since Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

And certainly, since the emergence of legal distilleries such as Jack Daniel and Jim Beam, all of Uncle Jessie’s secret moonshine had vanished along with his hoodsliding, bootlegging nephews, right?

Not exactly.

From June 2005 to the same time this year, revenue agents have dismantled 12 moonshine distilleries in Mississippi’s backwoods.

On Monday, the Alcoholic Beverage Control made one of the largest whiskey still discoveries in recent history, hidden in a rundown tin shack near Rocky Hill Road in an area once considered the bootleg capital of the South.

ABC agents arrested 63-year-old Willie “Junior” Necaise on felony charges of possession of an illicit distillery and possession of nontax-paid whiskey.

Agents said the whiskey recovered was between 90 and 100 proof and sells for about $20 a gallon.

In the early 1900s, Prohibition laws helped spark the boom of moonshine, and the thick woods along the Jourdan River in Hancock County offered great cover for bootleggers. Today, many locals still know the whiskey only as “Jourdan River Dew.”

Last month, the state’s only licensed brewery began bottling its beer in limited-edition growler jugs, reminiscent of the moonshine days, to pay homage to Hancock’s rich history of bootlegging.
Mark Smith, the ABC agent in charge, said the whiskey still was operational when it was discovered. Agents reportedly received a tip that led them to the homemade still.

During the raid, agents said they recovered more than two dozen, 55-gallon barrels holding more than 1,500 gallons of mash. A 100-gallon stainless steel cooker was used to distill the whiskey. Agents estimate the operation was capable of producing about 250 gallons of moonshine a month.

“Finding a still takes more than just luck,” ABC Director Mark Hicks said. “The methods used to conceal them from law enforcement are passed down just like the recipes for moonshine.”
Hicks said moonshine is often concocted under “extremely unsanitary conditions.” Agents destroyed a still last year in which a car radiator was being used as a condenser.

An agency spokeswoman said the still found this week in Hancock County was the largest whiskey cooker ABC has destroyed in the past four years.

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