Popcorn Sutton. The man sans the myth.

 

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Popcorn’s Still set up.  Photo courtesey ATF

By:  Alchemist Cabinet writer, beer brewer, wine maker, and distiller Bill Hockett

Alan has asked me to talk a little about my time with Popcorn Sutton. I have found this article rather difficult to write as I have no idea where to start. So much has been written by him and about him. A little true, a lot false.

I first heard of Popcorn Sutton when I was a teenager, I saw a T.V. show about moonshine and he was a guest on it. I had already dabbled in distilling and homebrewing as my family has a history of it. Something about him however made me want to learn more. I tracked down a P.O. Box address in Maggie Valley, NC for him online and sent him a letter, nothing to lose right? Within a few weeks I had a response as well as a copy of the first edition of his book.

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Popcorn and Bill

After that I wrote him again to ask if he could build me a bigger pot, I wanted a single barrel. I got a phone call a few days later asking for specs and he quoted me a price. For a man who had been arrested for building stills before he seemed rather relaxed about selling one to a stranger.

It was probably about a month later, I came home from work and had a message on the machine. My new toy was ready and I was like a kid at Christmas. It took a few phone calls and a couple more weeks to plan my trip to Maggie Valley to pick it up. The first time I met him face to face was on a Saturday morning in the parking lot of Stompin’ Ground on Soco Rd in Maggie. He pulled up in his little red car, he got out and approached me and my friend who had come with me. He was clearly checking us out, making sure we weren’t cops.

After about a half hour of talking he asked us to follow him, back into our cars and up the road a bit. Following him was no easy task, he flew up those mountain roads, seemingly clear evidence of NASCAR and it’s legendary descent from blockading.

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One dollar bills used as wallpaper.  These were later taken down to pay fines.

Once we arrived at his house I followed him around back and there was my new toy, along with a few others. Shiny new copper to a person interested in distilling is truly something special. Popcorn showed me some stills and we talked making liquor as he gave me some tips that I still use to this day. We hit it off from the start.

After loading up the still, and a few gallons of clear from the back of his little blue Nissan that was loaded down with liquor in the driveway, I was headed home.
That first meeting led to numerous return trips. I would run to Maggie whenever possible to buy liquor then break down the gallons to quarts for resale. We would talk on the phone every few weeks as well, about liquor making and life in general.
When he moved to Parrottsville,TN and married Pam my trips continued. The wedding was a great time as well. That was probably the largest gathering of moonshiners there ever was. The wedding reception was about 20 cases of beer and a huge old foottub of spiked punch.

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Popcorn’s stash house.  Photo via ATF

Much has been written about Popcorn Sutton. But from my view he was simply a man doing what he knew how to do in order to make a living. That fact that he loved doing it was a bonus. He was a bit eccentric, dollar bills thumbtacked up to the bedroom ceiling $1,875 I believe, that had to be taken down to help pay his bail. Hiding liquor in the cemetery under headstones, tho I can’t think of a safer place for it.

I loved helping him cut down liquor in the barn on Scotts Pond Rd in Parrottsville. You could smell the mash as soon as you stepped out of your car. Three big pot stills and a wall stacked high with sugar sacks and cases of jugs as soon as you walked in. Up the road a bit in another old barn was a hidden away back room that held much of the liquor ready for sale. Outside of the barn was an old broken down school bus that was also full of cases of liquor.

The last trip to Maggie Valley to move liquor involved a rented Uhaul truck and 800 gallons in glass jugs. That truck was weighted down to the maximum. The liquor was put up into a couple of rented storage sheds to be sold to tourists in Maggie. A few weeks later Popcorn was arrested for the last time. He had sold on multiple occasions to an undercover agent, the feds had been watching the whole time on his last run to Maggie.
After they busted the barn on Scott Pond Rd, they also got all the liquor from the school bus and other barn up the road. About two weeks later they got all the liquor in Maggie. About 1,900 gallons total.

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Popcorn and Bill.

He was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison and chose to end his own life rather than serve his sentence. He had been to prison before and always said he was never going back. While I don’t like nor condone what he did, I can understand not wanting to go back, especially at his age.
To some Popcorn is a hero,to others a villain. To me he was a great friend and mentor, and is very missed.

One thought on “Popcorn Sutton. The man sans the myth.

Add yours

  1. I had an uncle who made shine right up to the end of his life. He was in the Blue Ridge Mtns. and his still was hidden well. Of course as kids my cousins and I knew exactly where it was. We stayed away, because we would have gotten our hides tanned otherwise. He managed to make his shine, and retire from the railroad before the drinking finally got to him. Doctors told him if he drank again it would kill him. I guess he was ready to go cause he never stopped drinking his homemade hooch. I loved that old man. Still remember weekends on the farm with him, my aunt and all the cousins. Funny how some memories fade away and some stay clear as a bell.

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