How odd to see legal moonshine in the blinding light of day

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comFebruary 6, 2014 

File: A moonshine display inside Sea Pines Liquor and Market on Hilton Head Island.

STAFF PHOTO

Moonshine has come barreling out of the darkness and into the light.

It's a wonder anyone can see it.

When I was young, a display at the fair showed actual moonshine being made in old car radiators. We were warned that the lead in it would make us blind, then crazy, then dead. Seems like a lot of stuff was itching to poke our eyes out back then.

Maybe that's why it is so stunning to see legal, supervised moonshine micro-distilleries and retailers popping up like tree frogs.

Just a couple of years ago, a man from the North Carolina mountains promised to bring some illicit moonshine to the Lowcountry. "It'll be the good stuff," he said. "What we give the judges."

Back before there was a "red dot" store or a zippy mart on every corner, moonshine was a rare way to a dollar in these remote reaches of the Lowcountry.

Pierre McGowan, who grew up on St. Helena Island and is now 87, said that one of his best friends growing up made enough moonshine to fill our newspaper building up like a fish tank.

He said it was called "scrap iron" because of what it was distilled in.

Wick Scurry sent me a letter last week to say that Daufuskie Island moonshine was called "scrap iron" for a different reason.

He said there was a day when Daufuskie men made corn liquor in stills not far from the schoolhouse where Pat Conroy taught, while the women made scuppernong wine.

"The market for their merchandise was Savannah," said Scurry, who owns a restaurant and general store on Daufuskie, as well as ferry and barge services between the island and Hilton Head.

"They would put 50 gallons of liquor in a bateau and row or sail it to Savannah, sometimes taking a day or more to get to the city," he said. In the real old days, they got $5 for 50 gallons.

"They would hide the vat of liquor or wine under pieces of scrap iron," Scurry said. "If a revenue officer were to ask what they were doing, they would say, 'We're carrying scrap iron to sell in Savannah to feed the family.' "

Scurry said the main operator took a half pint of Seagram's 7, emptied half of it, filled it with scrap iron, and sold something that would stun and amaze the consumer.

When J. Randolph "Randy" Murdaugh III retired as solicitor in 2005, ending an 85-year run in the job for three generations of Murdaughs, he told me that despite all the manhunts by ax-wielding lawmen, the rising price of sugar is what made moonshining stumble.

Like voodoo, moonshine all but disappeared from deep in the Lowcountry shadows.

Now it's gone mainstream.

Scurry said that in honor of his old bootlegging friends, his Daufuskie restaurant sells a drink called Scrap Iron.

"We can't tell you what's in it," he said, "but like days of old, it works pretty well."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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