'Moonshiners' Tim Smith, Steven Tickle: Our Country Was Built On Homemade Booze

12/08/2013 08:59 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

They certainly ain't city boys.

That might explain why moonshine makers Tim Smith and Steven Tickle threw back a few shots of their signature moonshine to take the edge off before chatting with HuffPost Weird in New York City.

Smith and Tickle, hosts of the Discovery channel show "Moonshiners," spend their days making illegal moonshine in the backwoods of Virginia, evading authorities and gaining a big following in the process.

But the two said they aren't in the business of being televised for the sake of fame and fortune.

"It's about keeping [moonshine] alive," Tickle said. "We were afraid that this next generation growing up wouldn’t even know what it was.”

"I think we need to think about our heritage and where we come from," Smith said. "Even our government getting established, it all came from this. These guys was drinkin' moonshine and makin' moonshine. It wasn’t considered illegal at the time."

While the show follows both men making illegal moonshine, Smith has begun marketing his own brand of legal moonshine called Climax, named after the town where it's made.

Distilled from corn, rye and barley malt, the clear concoction smells more dangerous than it tastes. The flavor is bold and smooth, and Smith enjoys pouring shots and introducing more people to the timeless liquor.

And the only difference between Smith's illegal and legal moonshine? The taxes. According to Medicinal Mixology:

"Moonshine is liquor made by a person that doesn’t give the government the taxes it so loves to collect on liquor sales. So really, the only thing that separates a distiller from a bootlegger is money paid to Uncle Sam."

Smith says part of the reason he makes legal moonshine is because he worries having his face on television will make it increasingly harder to produce the illegal stuff. Tickle, however, has taken up the torch with little worry.

“It’s about the culture, the heritage, the process of making it," Tickle said. "It's about difficult times. There’s nothing easy about it, that's one thing the show puts out there and lets you know, the real trouble it can be. That and how much trouble you can get in for doing it.”

Aside from walking the fine line between legal and illegal moonshine, both brewers noted that making moonshine isn't for the faint of heart. It can literally kill you if made incorrectly.

"There's a lot of risk in not doing it right," Smith said. "You can't just learn it on the internet and go out there to do it."

Health problems associated with bad moonshine are serious. In the wrong hands, you're drinking poison. People have suffered blindness, strokes and respiratory problems.

"It’s chemistry," Smith said. "You need to be a mechanical engineer in building ... And then you need to be a chemist in how you mix up your raw goods too. It’s kind of like a big giant lab out in the middle of the woods. You’re not in an operating room, but you’re doing something that could kill somebody, or yourself."

But does the fear of being caught by Johnny Law or making a misstep in their brewing process make Tickle and Smith hesitant to keep working? Hell no.

"We just want people to really appreciate what we do," Smith said. "We put all our heart into what we do. It’s like Tiger Woods playing golf -- he started carrying clubs around at three years old; I started carrying moonshine jugs around at five years old."

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