Moonshiner Marvin 'Popcorn' Sutton': His legacy lives on

I am always on the lookout for news items that run under the radar and would make for interesting and different reading. This next post fits this perfectly. It involves whiskey and moonshiners, perfect!

Allow me to provide a bit of background and why I enjoyed this so much. Many of you know I am not one to turn away from excellent whiskey and a good cigar.

When I first moved to Oregon in 1978 my first job was at used truck and heavy equipment yard. We sold everything from used trucks, buses to forklifts and of course tons of used logging equipment. This was back in the days when could make a very good living in the timber industry. This was before the environazis ruined the entire state for logging and related timber industry jobs.

One of the guys I worked with Kerry, got fired and went back to driving over the road freight, hauling furniture made in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. The furniture was beautiful stuff, mostly hardwood. Dovetailed drawers were standard and all of the work was done by craftsmen who had learned this from their fathers, passed down through the generations, mostly handcrafted works of art. We are talking about Maple(my personal favorite),Oak, Ash, Walnut and some old growth Pine.

Kerry's route was run every two weeks and when he was in Eastern Tennessee on his third trip back east he was approached by one of the older craftsman if he wanted a drink of homemade whiskey. That first drink led to a steady supply of what I knew as 'Red bone' Whiskey. Of course once Kerry shared this with me I started stocking it at home and selling it when there was enough inventory. Best whiskey I ever had, by far. Most of it was around 110 proof but once a month the moonshiner (never found out who they were) ran a batch of 190 proof white lightning. You would not have known it was 190 proof. It was that smooth. They had several stills stashed in the mountains and the only thing I knew was that it came from somewhere around Danville Kentucky near the Daniel Boone Wilderness area. This lasted for about 5 years until foreign competition in the furniture industry shut these craftsman down.

Imagine my surprise when I went to fetch the morning paper, you know the kind that is delivered to your house on newsprint, and found this article. I had heard about some moonshiner named Marvin "Popcorn' Sutton who was quite a legend back in that region. I was very pleased that the state of Tennessee had made microdistilling legal under this new bill that is mentioned in the post below.

The whiskey I had the pleasure of drinking was more than likely not from Mr. Sutton's stills but I thought this made for interesting reading and is break from the normal news posted up here.

From the Bend Bulletin.


 Marvin 'Popcorn' Sutton. Image source is here.
Yesterday’s moonshiner is today’s microdistiller
By Campbell Robertson / New York Times News Service

PARROTTSVILLE, Tenn. — This is a story about a man named Marvin Sutton and how he proved that the road from criminality to commodity is sometimes shorter than it looks.

Until his death in 2009 at the age of 62, Sutton, known as Popcorn, was a moonshiner. He was not quite the last, as he often claimed, but he was probably the most famous ever to work out of Cocke County, which long had a claim as the nation’s moonshining capital.

It may yet again. As of Feb. 16, microdistilleries are legal in Cocke County for the first time. And at the head of the line is a distillery making Sutton’s recipe.

Nestled in the rocky embrace of the Great Smoky Mountains, Cocke County was a moonshine center for as long as anyone here can recall.

For most families, in a rugged place with few opportunities, it was a matter of survival. But for an enterprising few, making and hauling untaxed and unregulated liquor became a profitable, dangerous and inevitably romanticized trade.

Making moonshine later began to give way to growing marijuana, and by the 1960s the county was notorious for chop shops, cockfighting rings, prostitution and corrupt officials. Over the decades, the lawless elements have been corralled for the most part. But the bad old image of Cocke County lingers. And irks.

“They’re having to live down now that reputation they got some time ago,” said Al Schmutzer Jr., who for 32 years was the district attorney here.

Thus the complicated legacy of Popcorn Sutton.

A North Carolinian by birth, Sutton learned to distill in Cocke County, where he was known as an affable rogue and a maker of potent but fine-tasting corn whiskey. He lived in a cluttered cabin on a wooded hill where he also built his stills, gave pistols to the incoming sheriffs and fathered so many children that no one has any idea of the exact accounting.

Marketing moonshine

But perhaps his greatest gift, and his most notable departure from the standard moonshining model, was in the field of marketing.

“He's very atypical,” said Duay O’Neil, who writes a weekly column in The Newport Plain Talk about the county’s history. “He gave the world what they expected of a moonshiner. He dressed the part and he talked the talk.” Sutton’s beard and profanity were equally effusive.

“And he made a good product,” O’Neil added, “which I can say from experience.”

In 1999, Sutton published “Me and My Likker,” a rambling, obscene and often hilarious account of his life in the trade. Soon after, he was featured in a documentary “This Is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make” (later recut as “The Last One”), which he sold out of a North Carolina junk shop. It became a cult hit, leading to newspaper features, occasional meetings with celebrities and a high-profile role in a 2007 History Channel documentary.

At one point, Sutton even made business cards.

“I told him, ‘Old man, you can't be a movie star and make liquor too,’” said Mark Ramsey, a close friend. “He said, ‘You can't sell it if nobody knows you got it.’ I don't know whether he had a point or not.”

In March 2008, Sutton, who had had run-ins with the law about once a decade, was arrested by federal authorities after offering to sell nearly 1,000 gallons of moonshine to an undercover agent. Despite a guilty plea, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal judge plainly displeased with Sutton’s fondness for publicity. It came as a shock, said his friends, to whom he had sworn he would not go to prison.

While under house arrest, Sutton befriended a former motocross racer named Jamey Grosser, who came to Tennessee with plans to set up a legal distillery. Sutton sold Grosser, 29, the recipe for his whiskey and they worked out a partnership deal.

Then, on the morning of March 16, 2009, four days before Sutton was to report to prison, he climbed into the green Ford Fairlane parked in his yard and, having rigged a pipe from the tailpipe through the back seat, killed himself.

The Popcorn Sutton industry was far from finished. Continue reading here.

 Original Source is here.

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1 Comments - Share Yours!:

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the capstan tables? I would love one of those for my kitchen,
however I don't inhabit an estate
My blog post : stylish furniture