Tim Smith, the homespun star of Discovery Channel’s reality hit “Moonshiners,” has spent the much of the show's second season trying to go legit.
“Yep, that’s the plan – that’s what I’m shooting for,” Smith, who lives in rural Virginia, told FoxNews.com in his first ever online interview. “I’m trying to get out of these woods. I’m trying to get out there and take an illegal product and make legal money out of it. They say you can’t do it, but I think we can.”
Despite Smith’s fame from the show, and his noted expertise in the art of brewing hooch, he’s having a hard time lining up investors to manufacture legal moonshine.
'They’ve got helicopters, they’ve got night vision, they’ve got heat sensors'
- Tim Smith on law enforcement's tools to catch moonshiners
“It’s a challenge,” admits the fourth-generation bootlegger. “It’s kind of hard to tell someone that you’re an illegal moonshiner trying to start a legal business. A lot of times, there’s an investor–they kind of take it with the wrong interpretation, I guess. They kinda look at it as, ‘Well, if you’re brewing something illegal now, then you’re probably doing something illegal later, so we’re not too fond of that idea.’”
Smith even has a unique marketing angle for his yet-to-be brand.
“I want to make something that stands out,” says Smith, who favors denim overalls worn without a shirt. “My philosophy is that if I can set a bottle on a table or a bar and someone can see it from ten feet away, then it will stand out. If you gotta get up close to it to identify it, and then you take a person who’s been drinking, they could care less what it is. But I want something to be attractive and something that’s going to stand out, so we’ll just have to wait and see what I come up with.”
Smith also notes that he has a unique background in making the taboo brew that the big, legal distilleries lack.
“None of them have actually made illegal moonshine in their life,” said Smith. “They have no experience at all in the basics of where this comes from. And that’s what pushes me more to go and do this, because I’m probably going to be the one and only illegal professional moonshiner who’s gone legal.”
While some moonshiners claim to make upwards of $200,000 a year – tax free – Smith insists that’s nowhere near what the average bootlegger makes.
“There are very few people who are making that kind of money,” said Smith. “I know that they’re trying to build it up that it’s possible – and it is possible. Any kind of business is possible – look at Wal-Mart. But normally, it doesn’t happen. Normally, these guys just work and the money goes back into the business. No one really gets rich off of this thing, it’s just that everyone keeps going. Once you get in it, it’s hard to stop and get out of it.”
Legal or not, doubt remains about how much of “Moonshiners” – which plays like a cross between “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Cops” – portrays actual criminal activity.
Last year, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said in a statement, "If illegal activity was actually taking place (on the show), the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement would have taken action.”
But Smith insists that the law is after him and his fellow moonshiners on the hit reality series.
“They’ve got helicopters, they’ve got night vision, they’ve got heat sensors, they’ve got GPS tracking devices that they put on your vehicle to figure out where you’re going and where you’ve been,” declared Smith. “They can track emails, cell phones, the Internet.”
Smith also complains that the authorities are sending out drones to spy on him and his illegal operation.
“Now, I’m not talking about military, million dollar planes – we’re talking about maybe a $2,000 plane,” explained Smith. “You can get a small airplane, a small helicopter, and you can fly this thing a pretty good distance – a mile or so with a little remote control. And you can nail a camera on these things and you can fly these things over an area where you really suspect something. And they really don’t have to get that close to you – they can just fly over and take pictures. There’s a lot of ways technology has helped the law enforcement side.”
Despite any real or perceived danger dangers, Smith can’t stop making moonshine – and even plans to serve it at Thanksgiving dinner.
“Moonshine is perfect with egg nog,” said Smith. “There’s no other way to make egg nog. I don’t know how other people make it, but there’s no way to make egg nog if you don’t have moonshine.”
TIM SMITH’S MOONSHINE EGG NOG
Heavy whipping cream
Beat separately the yolks and whites of six eggs.
Into the beaten yolks, slowly beat one cup of sugar.
Add three cups of heavy whipping cream, stirring well.
Add – still stirring – one pint of moonshine.
Fold in beaten egg whites and dust with nutmeg. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Smith’s secret to perfect moonshine egg nog.
“Put the moonshine in the freezer and get a little ice on it – a little crystal – then that’s good. It won’t freeze if it’s good moonshine.”
"Moonshiners" airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on Discovery Channel.