When a moonshine bust was to be made in the mid-20th century, distillers could be certain of two things.
First, the investigating law enforcement agency would make an example of them, flipping or hacking apart barrels and creating glorious waterfalls of mash.
Second, any and all media members — especially newspaper photographers — were guaranteed to be in tow.
Decades later, the mutual excitement surrounding one of these busts is obvious on policemen’s faces and in a published photograph’s angle or caption.
Moonshine was illegal then and remains so today because its makers don’t pay state taxes. Moreover, health departments cannot inspect their operations, an obvious health hazard.
As George Swetnam of The Pittsburgh Press wrote in the 1970s, “…beginning in 1862, during Civil War days, came the Department of Revenue, and moonshiners have been in business ever since.”
In Pittsburgh, the brews were generally made in rural areas around or outside Allegheny County, “where the smell doesn’t bother anyone,” as city police inspector William Moore said in 1975.
They were then brought into city speakeasies and other illegal drinking locales; this was still the case long after the end of prohibition. The busts gradually declined in number in the second half of the 20th century — perhaps because of the negative press examples, but more likely because there were just better jobs to be had then.
By the early 1980s, only a dozen Pittsburgh-area moonshine busts had been made in five years. Drugs like cocaine and eventually methamphetamine, considered under state and federal law to be more dangerous than alcohol, became the more common source of illegal income and thus a cause for more arrests than was moonshine.
And at the end of the 1980s, according to the Associated Press, moonshine-making seemed more a problem inside Pennsylvania prisons than outside.