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Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine Hardcover – February 16, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Based on seven years of reporting from over a dozen countries, writer Tom Wainwright takes you on an extraordinary journey into the business of being a drug lord. Learn more.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Watman chronicles America's longstanding love affair with distilled spirits, a love that he shares. As long as people have been making booze, the government has wanted to control it, and Watman colorfully illustrates a conflict that stretches from the Whiskey Rebellion through Prohibition. Watman travels from Colorado to Virginia to cover the current battles between moonshine producers and government agents, a journey that takes him from nip houses to NASCAR events. Watman also details his own complicated, and comical, attempts to manufacture hard liquor at home. He is a capable journalist and has an impressive grasp of the craft of distillation and the science behind it. His historical writing is lively as well, and he profiles fascinating, little-known characters and events like Johnny McDonald and the Whiskey Ring scandal during the Grant administration. Despite Watman's talents, however, his narrative meanders, in large part because Watman doesn't write as well about himself as he does about other people. Yet even though the parts don't add up to a satisfying whole, they remain entertaining enough to keep the pages turning. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Although most of us associate moonshine with Prohibition and the cross-border gin runners of the 1920s, the first moonshiners actually were outlaws who protested the new tax on whiskey; this was in the 1790s, and it was such a serious rebellion that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton sent 13,000 troops into Pennsylvania to quash it. Moonshine is, in parts of the U.S., still a booming business and an important part of the economy of the South. Watman, a journalist and southerner, takes us on an exciting and often-eccentric ride through the history (and present) of the moonshine business, at the same time chronicling his own frequently disastrous efforts to produce home-grown alcohol. Written in a lively, you-are-there style, and featuring some truly out-of-left-field characters, the book is sure to entertain as it informs. --David Pitt

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416571787
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416571780
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,081,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max Watman is the author of Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine (Simon & Schuster, February 2010) and Race Day: a Spot on the Rail with Max Watman (Ivan R. Dee, 2005). He was the horse racing correspondent for the New York Sun and has written for various publications on books, music, food, and drink.

He was raised in the Shenandoah Valley and has worked as a cook, farmer, silversmith, tutor, greenskeeper, warehouseman, and web designer.

After many collegial adventures he earned a BA at Virginia Commonwealth University and an MFA at Columbia University.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a literature fellowship in 2008.

He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and son.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In 1978, under the Carter administration, brewing beer in your own home became legal. You can brew as much as 300 gallons per year for your own use, and many people do so. They find this an appealing hobby. But you cannot distill your brew into liquor. It is illegal to do so, even if you make just a pint, even if you are not going to sell it, even if you are not going to drink it: home distilling is forbidden. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is dedicated to finding you if you distill at home, as it is in finding and punishing any moonshiner. It's no surprise that they haven't been able to wipe out illegal stills, but it might be a surprise what forms those stills take and who runs them. The story of one moonshiner (who says he is no longer practicing this particular outlawry) and a description of modern moonshining is in _Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine_ (Simon and Schuster) by Max Watman. It isn't a how-to guide, though anyone who wants to practice home distilling will find advice, especially on what not to do. It is an amusing account of his own, sometimes successful, attempts at distilling, a history of distilling in America, and a look into the work of the moonshiners and of the new legal micro-distillers who are producing artisanal liquor.

Watman's first attempt at distilling was a patriotic try of recreating the liquor brewed by George Washington himself. The first decades of the nineteenth century were good for booze, with bourbon being perfected and over a hundred patents being given for gadgets of the distillation process. The boom ended with liquor taxes levied to pay for the Civil War, making moonshining without paying the revenue tax illegal.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is about moonshine: its history and the folks who make it. Who would have thought it would be so interesting? But it is! I had heard about the Whiskey Rebellion that took place in the 1790s, but I really couldn't recall anything other than that the government had tried to impose a tax on liquor. Even though that initial tax was lifted after a few years, eventually a permanent tax was imposed at around the time of the Civil War. Folks have been flouting that law ever since!

In this book, the author very amusingly tells of his own attempts to brew a little of the white lightening himself -- or at least he uses such an attempt as a part of a narrative structure to let us know what is involved in this home brewing. This is highly illegal (as he reports, one person reminds him that it is not the state you are annoying, but the Feds! And they mean business!), whereas a little homebrewed, for personal use, beer or wine is OK. This is all truly fascinating.

The author also includes lots of wonderful vignettes about both moonshine itself (good grief! Who knew about the lead content!), but also the colorful characters that have been associated with it that he has heard about or met. Even though this can be a serious subject, you can't help but enjoy these stories.

Personally, although I believe in following the law, I've always had a soft spot for moonshine folks. It just doesn't seem like it should be against the law. And I can recall, as a small child many many years ago, visiting relatives (and there was no road in to their place -- you had to go up a dry creek bed on foot), and having shots fired in the air. My grandmother would announce that it was us, and then the shooting would stop.
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Format: Hardcover
"Chasing the White Dog" chronicles Max Watman's quest to learn about the people and politics of the modern American trade in bootleg liquor... as well as how to distill a drinkable glass of the stuff at home. That's illegal and has been since Prohibition. Watman points out that it is even technically illegal for cooks to inadvertently distill a bit of spirit while adding wine to a bubbly sauce. It's legal to ferment a certain amount of beer or wine at home, but making liquor is strictly forbidden, even for personal use, without a license. That doesn't stop bootleg liquor, or moonshine, from being big business. One large-scale operation that was shut down in Philadelphia a few years back pulled in $9 million a year.

Watman's quest to understand bootleg booze takes us to Franklin County, VA (self-proclaimed Moonshine Capital USA), to the agents of Virginia's Illegal Whiskey Task Force, former moonshiners, a nip joint in Danville, VA, former moonshine runner and 1960 Daytona 500 champion Junior Johnson, and finally to the trial of Jody "Duck" Johnson, all while we witness Watman's ongoing education in home distilling. He interviews both rural Southern moonshiners (though I wish he had done more) and people who went legit and founded legal microdistilleries, like ex-physicist George Stranahan and ex-firefighter Jess Graber, co-owners of "Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey".

The style is stream of consciousness, and Watman doesn't have an ear for what is interesting versus pure tedium, such as accounts of what goes through his "cinematic imagination". He makes short, superficial forays into the history of whiskey politics in the United States, which are the book's weakest point. The history is scant and seems to always miss the point.
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