Junior Johnson’s Moonshine Legacy – ‘Shine So Real, It Should Be Illegal

Written by 'Courtney Doss' on September 21, 2021 / Moonshine

Why is moonshine illegal? Midnight Moon explains away the stigma of illegal moonshine, all while sharing how their production process is legal today; however, Junior Johnson’s legacy does have some run-ins with legality, making Midnight Moon moonshine all the more authentic.

Moonshine’s history is riddled with crime and rebellion, making it one of the most notorious spirits known to man. Though Midnight Moon has always legally produced moonshine, our history is tied in with Junior Johnson’s fascinating past. We like to think his legacy adds an extra kick to our moonshine – where else can you find ‘shine that tastes so authentic, it should be illegal?

Before we dive into Junior Johnson’s past, let’s take a look at what made moonshine illegal in the first place and how Midnight Moon is producing it legally.

Why is Moonshine Illegal?

Moonshine’s illegality is rooted in its origin. Making moonshine was Americans’ answer to avoiding taxes on alcohol in the 18th century and rebelling against Prohibition during the roaring 20’s. The Federal government’s actions lead to an explosion of moonshiners, bootleggers and moonshine aficionados. This explosion carried on in many states long after the Federal government ended Prohibition, as many states decided to remain “dry”.

Of course, the U.S. government wanted to collect on those taxes, coercing them to illegalize moonshine in the first place. Nowadays, there is still a ton of Federal red tape around producing ‘shine for monetary and health reasons.

Again, the government wants to profit off this rebellious spirit, especially since the whiskey is a hard alcohol. However, distilling the hard liquor involved in making moonshine is another reason why making moonshine, especially for personal use, is illegal: if you don’t know how to properly handle the still and mash, you could have a fire, an explosion, wind up blind, or even worse, be poisoned to death from the methanol commonly found in homemade liquor. There’s a real danger to distilling moonshine at home.

Junior Johnson shows off his Midnight Moon moonshine in a mason jar.

How to Make Moonshine Legally

While making your own moonshine at home breaks federal law, businesses can make legal moonshine after garnering the correct permits. The two permits available either allow you to produce alcohol for human consumption or for fuel purposes.

Midnight Moon legally produces its ‘shine with permits obtained from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau. This allows us to produce and sell to the public. We may have to pay taxes nowadays, but it’s worth it if that’s what it takes to be able to share Junior Johnson’s original recipe with everyone.

Junior Johnson came from a long line of moonshiners and mastered the Bootleg U-Turn, which later led to his NASCAR career.

Introducing Junior Johnson – a Bootlegger and Original NASCAR Driver

Some moonshine enthusiasts believe real ‘shine can’t be legal – that secrecy is essential to being real moonshine’s – but by partnering with Junior Johnson, Midnight Moon was able to bridge the illicit to the legal and keep it real.

Junior Johnson’s legacy is bigger than moonshine. Bootlegging inspired many of his accomplishments and his impact on the American South is extensive. The critically-acclaimed, American writer, Tom Wolfe went so far as to write the famous article titled, “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” in Esquire Magazine in 1965.

Born on June 28th, 1931 in Ronda, North Carolina, Robert Glen “Junior” Johnson was an apple who didn’t fall far from the tree. His father was already in the moonshining business when he was born and Junior was a young boy when Federal Agents recorded the biggest moonshine  bust in U.S. history (7,000 gallons) at the family farm.

Junior Johnson may have followed in his father’s footsteps, but Junior became a legend bootlegging white lightning. His impressive driving skills allowed him to outrun the police every time. In fact, he told Founder and President of Piedmont Distillers Joe Michalek that he loved to play chicken with the police. The outcome? “Joe – I never lost. Not once.”

His execution of the “Bootleg U-Turn,” one of those driving stunts you see in action movies where the car is able to quickly turn 180 degrees while staying on the road and then speed in the other direction, certainly helped his outrun-the-police record.

Junior Johnson also added some tricks up his sleeve, like listening to the police radio, going out to where they were planning his stakeout and taunting them with an empty car. He even went so far as to buy a police siren to trick the cops into leaving their stakeouts and join him on a fake chase.

Unsurprisingly, Junior Johnson’s talent and wit led him to become one of the most accomplished NASCAR drivers, owners and part of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame selection. The other NASCAR Hall of Fame inaugural inductees include Bill France, Sr., Bill France, Jr., Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Johnson essentially turned his bootlegging practice runs in his driveway at home into an American sport beloved by many.

Johnson didn’t just drive or run championship teams – he brokered the groundbreaking sponsorship deal between R.J. Reynold Tobacco and Bill France that lasted 30 years, while laughing that he “never got a dime of sponsorship for his own team.”

Junior’s involvement in bootlegging led him to create and transform the NASCAR racing industry. His involvement in Midnight Moon was just as powerful.

Junior Johnson loves to share Midnight Moon moonshine with his NASCAR fans.

Junior Johnson and Midnight Moon Moonshine

Simply put, Junior Johnson decided to share his family moonshine recipe with Midnight Moon and after tasting a batch, he declared, “That’s the best damn ‘shine I’ve ever tasted.” No other moonshine company – legal or not – will ever receive a higher endorsement.

Junior Johnson soon became the face of Midnight Moon, touring the United States and signing autographs at tracks and stores. Joe Michalek joined him on these tours and recalls, “Junior had a twinkle in his eye, and I could tell he loved meeting his fans. He would not leave until he met every person in line.”

Despite his beginnings in the illegal bootlegging business, Junior Johnson enjoys the fact his life came “full circle” with Midnight Moon. He went from moonshining and bootlegging illegally with his father to legally sharing his family’s moonshine recipe with even more people thanks to Midnight Moon; that recipe later became the foundation for several naturally infused moonshine flavors, like our famous apple pie moonshine.

Moreover, whereas Johnson used to run from the police, he opened the doors to the garage on his farm every morning to anyone who would like to join him and his friends for breakfast – racing fans, NASCAR media, even the State Police.

History tells us why moonshine was illegal as late as the 20th century, but those times created a legend we are lucky enough to call a true friend – Junior Johnson. With his ties to the old ‘shine and bootlegging days and his support and love of Midnight Moon, there’s no question we have the most authentic and legal moonshine out there – it’s so delicious and real, it should be illegal.