Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: Chasing the White Dog

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, was a birthday gift from my wife (she knows me well).  It is one part history, one part experiment.  The history is the story of moonshine, or white lightning, and the folks that make it.  Watman destroys a lot of stereotypes about moonshiners and their customers.  Did you know that Philadelphia consumes most of the moonshine made in the country?   And some of it is some pretty toxic stuff.  Watman takes us through early American whisky history and through Prohibition.  He even introduces a fascinating theory: "the main result of Prohibition--whether that result was gained willfully or accidentally--was to destroy a liquor trade that could not be controlled and replace it with one that could be."  As he moves into modern moonshining, he introduces us to the Illegal Whiskey Task Force, and takes us through the 2008 Federal trial of accused moonshiner Joey Alton "Duck" Smith.  He loses me a little bit when he gets into the NASCAR story and it's connection with moonshine; I think he veers off course just a bit too far into the world of race cars.  But even that chapter has it's bright spots.

Intertwined through the history is the experimental portion of the book--Watman's efforts to make his own moonshine.  We get to go with him to his first tentative encounter at the homebrew supply story.  Then we journey into his basement where he sets up his still and produces the first few disgusting drops of liquor.  We rejoice when he actually has a bit of success.  But like all good moonshiners, Watman tells us he's done with it.  I even believed him when I read it, but upon reflection I'm not so sure...

Chasing the White Dog was a great read thoroughout my summer.  And nothing went better with it than a shot of whiskey, preferably some white dog.  Heaven Hill Trybox series, perhaps?  It tastes like corn syrup with a harsh burn, but at least it's legal. 

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