Moonshine and the Mountaineers: tradition of the West Virginia - ESPN tailgate

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – It is an early autumn on Saturday morning, and the smell of moonshine is already floating through the hills around Mountaineer Field. It is a fragrance that is completely West Virginia.

"That has some deep roots," says Sharon Harvey about the high-proof whiskey as she enters the Milan Puskar Stadium. Harvey's grandfather immigrated from Poland to West Virginia, got a job at a coal mining company and had his own silent for a while.

Harvey grew up in Fayetteville, one of the small towns across West Virginia, and became the first dental hygienist in Richwood, another small town 40 miles down the road.

"This man would come in and have his teeth cleaned," says Harvey. "Then I would unlock the back door, and there he would put a gallon of moonshine for the dentist as payment."

For those who hang around at the stadium, Harvey's background story is hardly unique. In addition to West Virginia's football, West Virginia's moonshine is a powerful connecting force in the Mountaineer state.

A tie that binds generations. Brings families together. Turns strangers into friends.

"Moonshine is part of our heritage," says Darrell Brown of Burnsville, who supplied the tailgate he regularly visits in the Blue Lot for J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, which is across the street from the stadium. "It is a way to bring people together."

Brown's moonshine roots go back to the ban. His great-grandfather was shot and killed by the revenuers while he shone. Brown still has the recipe his great-grandfather used – "The slower you cook it," he explains, "the better it is" – but he seldom drinks it. "I bring it to everyone," he says.

For anyone who explores the chase scene in West Virginia, moonshine bricklayer pots are actually not immediately visible. Instead, they are usually tucked away, waiting to be brought out when a friend or family member arrives – or even when a fan from another team from Kansas, Oklahoma or Texas passes by.

An illegal party moonshine is made in a homemade still in a cooking house in southern West Virginia. Stephanie Strasburg for ESPN

"That's something I want to warn you about," says Tim Wolfe of Morgantown. "Do not take West Virginia like nothing else than hillbillies that drink moonshine blah, blah, blah." That's not who we are Moonshine is a way to bring generations together, it's part of our history … And the one big West Virginia family. "

And they like to let others visit. "We're always like," Hey, come here, try some moonshine, a pepperoni sandwich, "said Matt Comer of Barboursville, whose two sons, Evan and Andrew, live in Morgantown." Then you're the next you know, we become your best friends in one way or another. & # 39;

Richard Marsh, an estate lawyer from Clarksburg, understands the attraction of moonshine well. A dozen years ago he started independently with a tailgate. Gradually people who did not know him regularly started massively to his place because of the company, the ribs and the moonshine.

Hours before the kickoff, Marsh's tailgate for the law school is already busy with former strangers, like Dustin Fitz, who drove the night before from New Jersey. "When I was here at school, Richard had the best tailgate," Fitz said. "I am here as a walk-on."

Marsh's current cargo moonshine came from a chance encounter two years ago. He thought he bought a gun safe from his brother's friend. When the salesman discovered that Marsh was not a single prosecutor, he offered to throw a milk carton with peach-moonshine, sealed with black tape at the top, for an extra $ 70. "He's my husband now moonshine, "says Marsh.

It is not difficult to find a "man of moonshine" in West Virginia, according to Marsh. "Even most policemen in the state know someone who has a moonshine connection for them," he says. "Someone has learned to make moonshine – probably heard of their grandfather, like one of those things in West Virginia, you know that?"

In West Virginia, making moonshine is as old as the state itself. The combination of field grain and soft creek water gave West Virginians the required ingredients to produce a profitable spirit. "They shipped it as moonshine instead of corn because it was much needed and cheaper to transport," says Mark Sohn, a retired university professor in Kentucky who wrote an Appalachian cookbook.

During the 1920s Prohibition only reinforced its production in Appalachia, because the desire for it rose. "West Virginia actually made a lot of moonlight for the urban mobs in Youngstown and Cincinnati and Chicago," says Payton Fireman, a lawyer in Morgantown. Then the distributor picked up the gallons and sent him to the north. & # 39;

Subsequently, and in the coming decades, West Virginians made moonshine to earn a living. "You did not have any prosperity then, you did not have the government to help you," says Harvey. "You had to work your own way."

And outside of the mines and the wood industry, there were not many ways to make a lot of money in West Virginia. "You would always hear:" We have boots at Christmas time because dad, he would come up with a party and sell it and have Christmas money. ", Says Firefighter." People had to make moonshine to go around come. It is a difficult situation to get a living, even though people from West Virginia work hard. "

Fireman actually opened West Virginia's first legal distillery since the 1999 ban, after years of marching with the state. He came up with the idea when he was with his mechanic who kept a glass jar with moonlight in the store he had made. "It was terrible tasting," says Firefighter, "but it made me think." Fireman studied the status codes and made an application to submit. He first obtained a federal license, which ultimately convinced the state to relent.

While the firefighter paves the way, there are now more than a dozen legal distilleries, such as Pinchgut Hollow in Fairmont. Pinchgut sells four flavors: buckwheat, honey peach, apple pie and, the one that hits the hardest, corn gloss, all of which can be sampled on the spot.

However, distilling moonshine in West Virginia is only legal for those in possession of a permit. Making it without a making is a crime, with a fine and imprisonment. But according to a public prosecutor who knows Marsh in Harrison County, no one in her 30 years has ever been prosecuted for moonshine.

"It is technically illegal," says Marsh. "But nobody will start talking about it."

Jay Nowak, the police chief in Summersville, can not remember that someone was ever arrested for moonshine in his city, at least not under his supervision.

But even though commercial moonshine is available in stores nowadays, you will find a Pitt flag outside of Mountaineer Field. "Of course you can go to a liquor store and buy moonshine, but this is illegal moonshine here," says Rusty Walker from Duck pointing at one of the pots he has just released. "That makes it cool.

"And truthfully, [commercial moonshine] tastes like to s —, just to be honest with you. "

Bootleg-moonshine stands for unlimited flavor options, making every tailgate unique. On this day, blueberries, black cherries, rye, butterscotch, java, salted caramel, toast with cinnamon toast, white grape and orange ice cream are a small part of the selections spread over the blue and brown parties. "You can do any kind you want," says Walker, who has just melted green Jolly Rancher sweets into a trailer to make up sour apple moon.

Walker really learned how to make moonshine in a chemistry course at high school in Braxton County. He received an assignment to make something and he and his lab partner decided to make a silence. "We have an A", he says.

Darrell Brown sits next to Walker and shows off the different flavors he brought, including apple pie and chocolate banana. However, Brown does not use pots with a bricklayer. To save money, he collects discarded liquor bottles from a nearby bar and puts his moonshine into it. "I think the Crown Royal bottle is the best," says Brown. "It's easy to hold, you will not let it fall, because you can really get a good grip on it, and those pots will be expensive."

Although each tailgate has different moonshines, almost all have one standard: the white lighting without filling. Although even the most rigid commercial moonshine is only 100 proof, homemade white light & # 39; 170-proof & # 39; are, if not higher.

"I make [the flavored] moonshine because I want everyone to have a fun experience, "says Walker. But if you want to drink the right things, we can do that too. "

Many wonderful culinary inventions have their perfectly matched companions. Cheeseburgers have fries. Peanut butter has jelly. Around Mountaineer Field has moonshine pepperoni rolls, the other West Virginia-style tailgring staple, in addition to white lightning pots.

"When I left school and went for work across the country, I assumed that everyone had pepperoni rolls," says Brad Favro of Morgantown. "You just thought it was everywhere, and it was not."

The history of the pepperoni rolls in the area goes back to the coal mines, where many Italian immigrants worked. "You could not afford much, but you always knew how to make dough, you added some pepperoni and cheese and you made pepperoni rolls," says Comer. & # 39; Then it was another: if you were in the coal mine, you could take a pepperoni sandwich there, and you could keep that. Because of the portability and longevity of the meat in the bread, it would take a long time So they took it in the coal mines and it was something to snack on. & # 39;

Just like moonshine, pepperoni sandwiches can be bought at most West Virginia bakeries and many convenience stores. But the best at these tailgates are homemade, from recipes that have been passed on for generations. "Both our mothers have made them & # 39 ;," says Tracy Comer, Matt's wife, who taught their high school daughter, Mady, to also make pepperoni rolls. "The ultimate snack food."

Earlier this summer, The Mountaineer, the mascot with West Virginia mascots, brought pepperoni sandwiches that his mother had baked to Big 12 media days in Frisco, Texas, for the sampled writers.

At the most basic level, a pepperoni roll consists of a white yeast roll wrapped around pepperoni. When fried, the pepperoni melts in the bread, creating a savory combination.

Several recipes that go back decades, however, lead to nuanced debates about the best way to make them. "She thinks it's in the pepperoni", says Jeff Wiles about his wife, Tammy. "I think it's in the bread."

Summersville is a small town almost on the other side of the state of Morgantown. And yet it feels like the whole city has temporarily moved to the lots outside the Milan Puskar Stadium. Nowak holds the court on the left. On the right, Bucky Frame, Randy Taylor, Greg Sproles, Mike Hughes and an optometrist call everyone "Eddie P." its acting sips from a mason jar. "In a city of 3000 people, you will meet a hundred of them," says Aaron Maloney, who had an uncle who made moonshine.

Those of Summersville claim that they have the best moonshine in the world. "We come from the central part of the state, near the mountainous areas, and that's where a lot of moonshine comes from because we have the best water," says Michael Young. "Most of what we have goes back to generations, some of these things in the Discovery Channel TV [“Moonshiners”] has involved a number of pretenders. But it is not like my grandfather did and his grandfather did it. "

This part of the Blue Lot has no reserved bumper spots. But just like pews, people from Summersville park their trucks and trailers in the same places at every home game. They greet each other with moonshine pigs – "That's the real stuff there, it burns all the way down", says a Summersville man after trying someone else's white light – and wait until the other fans pass by. "West Virginia football and moonshine go hand in hand, both are ways to bring people together," says Ellis Frame, Bucky's son. "Fans of other teams, they come, and they say," Okay, I know you guys have it, let's taste it. "

"That's the best thing about being in the Big 12: meeting all these people."

Wiles and John Maloney, Aaron's father, died long enough to remember that the Mountaineers had no conference during the Don Nehlen days. Among them, they missed a total of six home games, which went back to when Major Harris was the quarterback in the late 1980s.

When Aaron turned 5, John Maloney started to take him to Mountaineer Field. Aaron is married to Wiles & # 39; daughter, Rachel, with whom he has two children. Now John Maloney and Wiles have passed on the tradition to the next generation and brought Colin, their eight-year-old grandson, to games. "We do not have a professional team in this state," says Wiles.

"Mountaineer football, this is it."

As the moonshine starts to come through on this day, optimism also fills the air. West Virginia has its most complete team in perhaps a decade, with a high-flying attack led by quarterback Will Grier, who could become the first Heisman finalist of Mountaineers since Harris.

Last Saturday, Grier West Virginia lashed out for the most exciting – and perhaps most crucial – victory since joining the Big 12 six years ago. With a 16-second touchdown to reach Texas, he connected with the wide receiver Gary Jennings pass a 33-yard touchdown. But instead of kicking the extra point and playing for overtime, coach Dana Holgorsen opted for two and Grier raised the Mountaineers to a dramatic, come-from-behind victory with a winning quarterback draw.

"When you talk about the state, the program, the people who are invested in this, I hope that this means a lot to them," Grier said Saturday night. "They mean a lot to me … And it was an incredible feeling to get that victory for them."

On the heels of Grier's heroic deeds, West Virginia directs its own path to the Big 12 championship game, and suddenly the hustle and bustle of the College Football Playoff talk has started. And yet West Virginia fans remain a bit fatalist after so many shocking defeats.

"We've had some of the disappointments," says Wiles while his son-in-law, Aaron Maloney, called Pitt's Pitt loss in 2007, knocking West Virginia out of the national championship game. "We have been there so often," continues Wiles. "Have been on top of it and have seen it slipping so many times."

For now West Virginians feel themselves on top, bound together by the Mountaineers – and a little moonshine.

"They go well together, do not they?" Walker says. "The two have been around for a long time, and they are part of our heritage."