Johnny Welles believed the only thing he had in common with his father was a name. The elder John Welles, although present in body, was deficient in every way possible in his youngest son’s life. His father left the parenting of Johnny and his three siblings to their stepmother, Collie. While Collie’s influence in their young lives kept them on the straight and narrow path, their father’s absence had a negative impact, especially on Johnny. The effect would have far-reaching consequences and make Johnny question as an adult which was stronger in his life: nature or nurture.
John Welles the elder’s downfall was the result of his predilection for alcohol. His poison of choice, moonshine, also known as white lightning, hooch, homebrew, mountain dew, white whiskey, and white liquor, is a high-proof, distilled spirit often produced illegally from unlicensed stills. The liquor, rarely aged in barrels and coming in at 190 proof, is typically made with corn mash.
One source stated that the term moonshine came from moonrakers, used for early English smugglers and the clandestine nature of the operations of the illegal Appalachian distillers who produced and distributed whiskey. Another stated that it was due to the fact that distillers always worked at night. I suspect it’s a little of both.
Despite its illegal status, or perhaps because of it, John Welles the elder managed to make just enough money to indulge in his favorite addiction to his own detriment and that of his family. So why was moonshine illegal then and still today? Per Michelle Tsai’s 2007 post, Why is Moonshine Against the Law?:
Because the liquor is worth more to the government than beer or wine. Uncle Sam takes an excise tax of $2.14 for each 750-milliliter bottle of 80-proof spirits, compared with 21 cents for a bottle of wine (of 14 percent alcohol or less) and $.05 cents for a can of beer. No one knows exactly how much money changes hands in the moonshine trade, but it’s certainly enough for the missing taxes to make a difference: In 2000, an ATF investigation busted one Virginia store that sold enough raw materials to moonshiners to make 1.4 million gallons of liquor, worth an estimated $19.6 million in lost government revenue. In 2005, almost $5 billion of federal excise taxes on alcohol came from legally produced spirits.
If it weren’t for the harmful effects the high proof and often poorly produced liquor has on people, I’d vote in favor of the moonshiners as our government has done such a pitiful job of handling our taxes and doesn’t deserve any more of our money.