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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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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

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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: #333,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 3, 2010
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 Verified Purchase
"Cute" writing that's too self-consciously clever. The author pads this book with a lot of his own tedious experiences. There's not much actual information here and what there is is presented in such a contrived, arch voice that I'm never certain what is fact, supposition or hyperbole.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Considering the subject (Mr. Watman's personal search for the how, why, and where of nontaxed, illegally made whiskey), Mr. Watman has presented a remarkably balanced - and entertaining - report on small-volume whiskey-making in these United States. After a brief survey of whiskey-making pre-20th Century, he narrates his personal experiences with distilling at home and with seeking out persons who made, or now make, and consume moonshine. His wonderful stories capture the romanticized view of moonshining, but he balances this with some hard, and occasionally uncomfortable, descriptions of the basic business of selling untaxed whiskey for profit. He also introduces us to some of the persons responsible for, and currently contributing to, the current growth in craft distilling which grew out of that complex business we oh so simply call moonshining. Where his personal biases or internal conflicts arise, as in his attempt to distinguish those who are making whiskey for family and friends from those who make, literally, rotgut, he carefully and humorously shows how difficult it is to draw a line. For example, just how big can that group of "friends" be before the maker becomes a business?

This is not a how-to book. This is an excellent addition to the literature about American whiskey.
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