Why hasn’t Moonshiners star Tim Smith been arrested? Is the show real?

Moonshiners star Tim Smith from Discovery Channel

With Moonshiners, Discovery Channel has yet another huge reality show hit on its hands. In the spirit of such gritty profession series as Deadliest Catch, Axe Men, and Ice Road Truckers, Moonshiners adds an extra spicy ingredient to the recipe: illegality.

The big star of the show is moonshiner Tim Smith of Climax, Virginia, who walks viewers through the complex and stressful process of finding a location, building a still, and brewing moonshine – all while looking over his shoulder for the police and Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents (like Moonshiners co-star, agent Jesse Tate).

Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has made a statement to the Associated Press that states that a crime is not taking place on the show because it is a dramatization, and no illegal liquor is being produced.

“If illegal activity was actually taking place, the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement would have taken action.”

Moonshiners Tim Smith JT and Tickle
^ Tim Smith (center), son JT (left) and pal Tickle

Tim Smith reveals a lot about his identity on the show, including the fact that he is Chief of the Climax Volunteer Fire Department, which seems to beg the question, why hasn’t Tim Smith been arrested? And is he actually making moonshine?

Though the question has yet to be answered definitively (thanks in large part I believe to the cast members’ contracts with Discovery Channel) there have been a couple interviews that seem to shed a little light on the subject.

The first interview was conducted by local ABC affiliate WSET reporter Heather Rosenbaum (More like Heather Rosenbomm nom nomm!) (She’s mighty fine) who spoke with both Tim Smith and Jesse Tate in addition to the show’s executive producer, Matthew Ostrom:

(Video may take a couple minutes to load)

UPDATE – It appears that WSET has deleted the clip 🙁

The revealing part of the interview is with Tate, who states quite clearly, “Nobody in the whole series was actually making any liquor, we wouldn’t allow that. If we knew somebody was making liquor they would have been in the next episode in handcuffs.”

That seems to answer the question, but Tim Smith did a phone interview with BourbonBlog.com‘s Tom Fischer that seems to hint that cameras did actually catch some outlaw moonshine brewin’:

Bourbon Blog: A lot of people have been asking us, they’ve been coming to our web site and they’ve been saying, “Is this really for real? Is this – are these people really moonshining? How are they doing this without getting arrested?” Is one of the questions that they’re asking.

[Tim chuckles]

Bourbon Blog: Now is that something you can answer?

Tim Smith: That’d be something I couldn’t answer.

[both laugh loudly]

Tim Smith: With the laws in Virginia, and I’m pretty sure around anywhere else, you must be witnessed and physical samples of the product you’re producing has to be taken and analyzed – and all of this has to go to a court of law, and then that arresting officer has to testify in a court of law that he did that.

Bourbon Blog: Right

Tim Smith: So how are you going to arrest me for moonshinin’ that I did five years ago? Moonshiners take a lot of precautions. And I would say professional moonshiners, you know? Professional moonshiners take a lot of precautions.

Bourbon Blog: But now people know who you are.

Tim Smith: Yeah, now I’m jumpin’ the fence. Now I’ve become, um, retired, OK? [chuckles] What I did yesterday doesn’t mean I’m going to do it tomorrow.

Moonshiners star Tim Smith and his famous still pots

Either way, it sounds as though Tim Smith is retired from the illegal moonshining business. It also sounds as though Tim has a tight grasp on the law and my guess is that he worked with Discovery Channel producers (and their legal team) to bend the law as far as they could without breaking it. Now, whether that means Tim never actually made alcohol on camera or not, or he skirted arrest because law officers never saw anything in person, or Tim somehow managed to record all the footage five years ago and is exempt from arrest due to some sort of statute of limitations – that’s still unclear.

One thing that isn’t unclear is the fact that Tim Smith is a wonderfully charismatic guy with a really sharp head on his shoulders (which might be hard to pick up on for those who look down on his thick Southern/hillbilly accent) and that adds up to some seriously entertaining television! Where else are you going to see a one-lane bridge shotgun showdown?!? As a matter of fact, Moonshiners led all original cable programming Wednesday night with over 2.6 million viewers!

It should be interesting to see what Tim and Discovery Channel have planned for their sophomore season given that Tim has “retired.” I know I’ll be tuned it to whatever they come up with.

Moonshiners airs on Discovery Channel Wednesday nights at 10PM e/p.



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