Diners at the Wild Magnolia in Martinsville were treated to a special evening Thursday as Law’s Choice Distillery owner Henry Law, with his cousin Kenny Law and former Congressman Virgil Goode Jr., entertained guests with stories about the history of moonshine in southwest Virginia.
Approximately 50 guests were greeted by a couple of vintage moonshine vehicles parked in front of the restaurant and also were able to taste variations of Law’s Choice whiskey. You may know the Laws from the TV show "Moonshiners," which has been a fixture on the Discovery Channel since 2011.
The emcee for the evening was former Martinsville mayor and current city councilman Danny Turner.
Goode focused on the historical aspect of moonshining, including some family history. He noted that even George Washington had a still in 1776. Alcohol taxes were needed to fund the country’s wars.
He talked about his family’s history with moonshine including his great-uncle, who he said worked for the Internal Revenue Service. Goode explained it was his great-uncle’s job to inspect the legal stills in Franklin and Henry Counties — of which were approximately 99 in 1894 — and to collect the taxes that were due.
According to Goode, legend has it his great-grandfather David Goode’s death was a result of having imbibed to excess one day, which caused him to fall from his horse and be fatally injured.
His grandparents, however, were opposed to alcohol consumption and involved with the Anti-Saloon League of Virginia. The Anti-Saloon League was the leading organization lobbying for prohibition in the early 20th century.
Goode’s remarks also included information about the coming and going of prohibition and about the Moonshine Conspiracy.
The men in the Law family found themselves in and out of jails throughout the year in an effort to feed their families and for the thrill of moonshining. Henry Law said there was “always one or two of the fellows absent at Christmas.”
Bootlegging was especially attractive because of the prospect of bringing home several hundred dollars a week compared to $50-$60. Law described the moonshine business as being very hard work.
“For everything we did, we built it,” he said. This way they didn’t have to provide law enforcement with requested serial numbers.
“Moonshiners are decent guys,” he said. “We love the business. We love it. It was a rush.”
Mike Pashley, owner of Wild Magnolia, said he was pleased with how well the evening’s event went.
“Anytime we can do anything to promote city business, it’s a good thing,” Pashley said.
Turner said attendees were “amazed” and very curious during a question-and-answer session.
“People just kept asking questions, just total interest what went on in our backyards, when a lot of these people were growing up or what their grandparents got into,” Turner said.
They were interested in “the high level of violence that went on back that to protect their interest. Because of the Depression it seems like everybody was involved in this side hustle,” he said.
He said his twin sister was reading through some family papers and found a handwritten note from an uncle to his grandfather, his dad.
“They were adding two pots to the production to supply the order in Philadelphia and Newport News, the shipbuilding place; I guess they were gearing up for World War II,” Turner said. “My mama would have rolled over in the grave if she knew that was going on, but there it was in the letter. I guarantee that my mother didn’t know it – or, she never included that in the family history.”
Elesha Light, who attended the moonshine history and tasting event, said she enjoyed the moonshine tasting and learning more about moonshine’s history.
Allen Hale said he glad he attended the event because it reminded him of his family’s history.
“For me, it was a trip to the past because my father ran and manufactured moonshine,” Hale said. “It was how we made ends meet. The samples were fantastic. The smells and tastes took me back to a young time.”