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May 27, 2018
Bootlegging in Florida

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Florida's Vice Economy

Bootlegging in Florida

Still waters still run

Mike Vogel | 12/13/2017

Last year, an 82-year-old man from Niceville in Florida’s Panhandle posted some items for sale on Craigslist that caught the attention of interested buyers: Two whiskey stills, one for $150, another for $250. Billie Ray Wilson sold the cheaper one in Destin; sometime later, he loaded the other into his Toyota Tacoma pickup truck and drove it to a truck stop in Mossy Head in Walton County to show to a buyer. Wilson, as the buyer requested, brought samples of the still’s output. He brought along recipes and walked the buyer through using the still. “I do not like bonded whiskey,” Wilson told the buyer. He said he made moonshine for family use but had sold some and advised selling it for “$25 a quart and not a penny less.”

The sale didn’t go through. The buyer was an agent of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

In an age of cheap, widely available legal alcohol, it may come as a surprise that people still moonshine, let alone get arrested for it. It also may surprise a public accustomed to sampling each other’s home brews and wines — perfectly legal for personal and family consumption as long as it’s not for sale — that home distilling is illegal in Florida and nationally. Distilling requires a license.

In the last five years, the alcoholic beverages control division, a unit of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has investigated 188 allegations of illicit distilleries and made 41 arrests.

No one’s confusing these latter day moonshiners with Florida’s legendary rum-runners and gangs that proliferated in Prohibition and endured afterward. Wilson, according to court records, completed a deferred prosecution agreement. He kept out of trouble and paid $875 in court costs and fees. In return, he wasn’t prosecuted. Efforts to reach him for comment weren’t successful.

See other stories from Florida Trend's December issue.

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