ATLANTA — You have to understand the role a dog plays in the manufacture of whiskey, especially that created in the dark of night, away from prying eyes of government agents.
A good dog keeps watch and lets her human know whether strangers are afoot. A crackle in the leaves, a limb snapping: She’s on it, a four-legged alarm.
That brings us to Camo, a fine hound. She comes by her name honestly. She’s got mottled fur, perfect camouflage in the Virginia woods where she found work guarding moonshine for her human, Tim Smith.
Now, dog and human have honest jobs.
Smith — a star of “Moonshiners,” Discovery Channel’s series about a collection of liquor-making goobers who drink, get in trouble, drink, get out of trouble, drink, then get in trouble again — has gone legit. He’s brewing ’shine with the government’s approval.
Camo? Her noble visage graces every bottle of Smith’s legal lightning, debuting in Georgia and South Carolina.
Ask any moonshiner and he (most are men) will tell you: It’s a generational thing. Most distillers who set themselves up in business without benefit of government license learned it from a daddy, granddaddy, great-uncle or other family member. Smith says he got his start at 7, carrying jugs for his father in the woods of Climax, Va. When the elder Smith died, his son took over the art of making family ’shine.
For art it is. Making liquor on the sly calls for equal parts distilling and disappearing.
Smith says he never got caught, even as the cops nailed others.
Once, he hid his product in a tobacco field.
“The key is to keep moving,” said Smith, 46. “It’s hard to hit a moving target.”
He wasn’t caught, but that didn’t stop his fame from spreading. Several years ago, producers wanting to make a documentary about the illegal distillation of whiskey sought him out.
“They knocked on my door, and that documentary led to a reality show,” he said.
Smith is such a big deal these days that he has his own website. Want a Tim Smith flask? A camo cap? Log on, buddy, and have that credit card handy. He also has a site devoted to his legal liquor.
And what liquor it is. It’s 90 proof, or 45 percent alcohol. You could run it through a carburetor. Satan’s tail is not as barbed as Climax Moonshine. Thirteen years ago, about 25 small distilleries operated across the country. Today, more than 400 are producing small batches of booze, defined as less than 40,000 cases annually.
“We’re in the legal business now,” he said. “We’re not doing anything illegal anymore.”
That brings you, dear reader, back to Smith’s dog. Let other booze makers adorn their bottles with a turkey or a gray goose or even a ruffled grouse. That liquor is for, well, you know ... for the birds.
If you want something that is as much bite as bark, look for Camo.