Liquor distillers Digger Manes and Mark Ramsey gained notoriety from being part of Discovery Channel’s controversial reality-television series, “Moonshiners.” Over the years, they were producing an illegal alcoholic beverage known as moonshine, and it would only be a matter of time before they were caught by the authorities. However, rumors of them being arrested would come and go, but viewers have yet to see an actual warrant of arrest served on them, or even get just a slap on the wrist. The bigger question was why these two business partners and friends continued to incriminate themselves on TV engaging in illegal activities.

Who are Eric “Digger” Manes and Mark Ramsey?

Before they joined any television shows, they were just regular Joe’s with regular jobs. However, they both shared the same hobby which was making liquor, specifically moonshine. Here are some interesting facts about the two moonshiners:

Eric “Digger” Manes

Digger grew up in the tiny town of Smoky Mountain in Newport, Tennessee. When he was about 14 years old, he reached out to a friend’s father who was a stills builder, and asked to be taught how to make liquors. Amused by his interest, the man told him to come back when he was no longer a minor, and to ask his father’s permission first to be allowed to hang around with someone like him. Back then, Digger said that liquor making was seen as immoral, and no good man would have allowed their kids to be with people who did that for a living.

He was given permission by his father when he reached his 18th birthday, so he went back to the old still builder and learned the trade. Digger said that his father probably thought he wouldn’t stick with it; at that time he worked at his family’s funeral parlor as a licensed embalmer. However, by night he was moonshining, not to earn more money, but because he had great admiration for the old folks who made liquor in his town.

Digger was simply fascinated with the whole process of making moonshine. Earning extra profit was good, but it was never what lured him in. In fact, he said that most were known as reliable pillars of their small community.

Digger met one of the most popular moonshiners in history, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton. Most people, even those from Discovery Channel, thought that Popcorn mentored Digger into making moonshine, but the reality was that it was Digger who assisted Popcorn when the latter built his first 500-gallon still, about 1800 liters. He said that their working relationship was about sharing information on how to make moonshine efficiently, and was an equal partnership between friends which produced great-tasting moonshine for about two decades. The partnership only stopped working when Digger walked away from all of it. At that time, Popcorn was hell-bent on flaunting what they did for a living, and it became dangerous – Digger said he wanted to raise his kids without worrying about the authorities knocking at his door.

Digger Manes

He had fun, but said it was time to be mature about life and avoid the possibility of jail time. True enough, Popcorn was convicted of serious offenses associated with moonshining, as well as illegal possession of a firearm. He might have become a legend with many documentaries centered on him, but he’s no longer around to enjoy such popularity – in 2009 he committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, to avoid federal jail time.

Mark Ramsey

Mark came from the forested area of East Tennessee, where he learned the art of moonshining at an early age from local whiskey experts in town. He started building stills when he worked under the legendary moonshiner Popcorn; making different types of stills needed a lot of patience, and he learned from the best so his creations were second to none. Over the years, Mark earned the title “King of Tinkering,” as he developed a reputation for building one-of-a-kind stills. He used combined techniques he learned while growing up, from experts whose methods were handed down from generations in the East Tennessee Mountains.

“Moonshiners” – The reality-TV show

Magilla Entertainment, one of the biggest independently owned non-scripted TV production companies, chronicled the lives of the people behind the art and business of moonshining in the reality-TV show called “Moonshiners.” Moonshine was a term used in the past to describe high-proof liquor that was made without government authorization, and was distilled at night, under the moonlight, to avoid being caught, hence the word ‘moonshine.’ However, these days, some legal distillers use the word to label some of their liquor products.

The TV show premiered on 6 December 2011, and has raised many questions about its authenticity. It was supposed to be about individuals who went ‘deep into the woods of Appalachia, defying the law, rivals, and nature itself to keep the centuries-old tradition of craft whiskey alive.’ The cast developed great techniques to avoid authorities, so nobody was convicted of illegal activities, but other people accused the docu-series of being scripted and staged.

Digger and Mark’s journey with “Moonshiners”

When Magilla Entertainment was looking for legit moonshiners, it was Mark who was quite interested in joining. Digger was hesitant to be part of the new show, but his best friend convinced him, agreeing at that time only because he initially thought the TV series wouldn’t last more than a season. The executive producers told them that the show was on the verge of being canceled, as ratings dwindled after the novelty about moonshining wore off. They told Digger and Mark that they were trying to ramp-up the interest again by getting the two of them, who were known legitimate associates of Popcorn.

The duo became part of “Moonshiners” during the fourth season, and viewership numbers increased. When the fifth season was aired, it was reported that the ratings went up again, and they were back on top.

Poor quality moonshine led them to brew together again

It was in the sixth episode of the fourth season of “Moonshiners” that the viewers first saw Digger and Mark. While they were fixing a damaged 200-gallon Tennessee-made old copper still, the narration in the background said that while they were friends for about 35 years, they haven’t brewed anything together for the last 10 years. They said that the poor quality they saw on the store shelves was enough reason for them to do something about it. Mark convinced Digger not only to fix the still, but to actually make moonshine again; Digger was on board as long as his wife didn’t know about it. By the eighth episode, they were back in business with a new brew of moonshine, after 15 years of being on the straight and narrow path.

Using decoy cars for distribution

Mark and Digger knew all the tricks to avoid the authorities when hauling and distributing 150 gallons of moonshine.

Moonshiners

Digger said they had always been cautious and used decoy cars so it would not be traced back to them. In season five, Digger brought a funeral hearse and Mark was quite surprised about this but didn’t want to ride inside it initially as he felt that he would ride in it soon enough. However, he knew that it was the perfect way to fly under the radar and it had lots of cargo room. It was used back in the day when the mafia would stage a funeral procession with coffins stacked with booze to the hilt and they only stopped using it when they got busted by the police. Apparently, the police noticed that the mourners would go home in high spirits.

Sold premium gin to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ed King in 2017

Halfway through their goal of making and distributing 900 gallons, over 3,000 liters of moonshine in the sixth season, they sold another 60 gallons or over 200 liters of premium gin to a high-roller.

When Mark and Digger were on their way to meet the client through the liquor broker and comedian Killer Beaz, they became apprehensive, especially when they entered an affluent area in the city, and then saw three cameras while entering the driveway of the estate. They realized that they were out of their element, but were were surprised that the client was Ed King, the former guitarist of the legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He approved of the taste, but was surprised when it was worth $500 per gallon so that would be about $30,000 in all. Initially, he said he’d think about it first because it was expensive, and Mark apologized to him because he thought that it was already a done deal. They told him that they would be in town for another day so he could think about it, however, they were still in the car driving from the house when he called to say he would take it all.

Stopped by the police during a delivery night

During the final episode of the seventh season, Digger and Mark were on their last day of delivery, and chose the hearse as their vehicle.

The coffin was filled with moonshine worth $5,000, and the dynamic duo was in their formal wear posing as funeral employees, however, they were stopped by the police as they were running with expired tags. The policeman was curious as to why they were going to a funeral at night, but Digger said that they were just delivering a coffin to a funeral parlor. They were told to put a sticker on their plate so they could leave. Digger did that and they were let go, then safely delivered the liquor and were paid without any more incidents.

Popcorn Sutton’s hidden stash of moonshine

Popcorn’s widow Pam Sutton called Mark and Digger about something that had been bothering her for quite some time after her husband’s death – Pam was referred to in the moonshine world as the Moonshine Queen. Mark said that she was like family to them, and so they visited her to ask about her problem. She said that shortly after they married, Popcorn told her that he had a hidden stash of 60 gallons of moonshine.

That would easily be about $35,000 and if there was a huge demand for Popcorn’s legacy, the value could be much higher. They based the value on the recent alcohol stash of the famous Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, which was found buried under one of his cabins still encased in ice. She said that if they found the stash, she could comfortably retire, but she couldn’t trust just about anyone so she asked for Mark and Digger’s help. The moonshine duo told Pam that they would try their best to look for it.

Kept up with the times as they tried a new recipe

During the eighth season, Mark and Digger tried a new recipe by mixing their high-proofed cherry-vanilla moonshine with sipping cream; Mark said that he wouldn’t have done it previously as he would not be open-minded about mixing these kinds of flavors. He further said that he would have escorted anyone to the door who requested that kind of moonshine 20 years ago. However, they needed to keep up with the times, and develop something that would be appropriate to the new generation of liquor drinkers.

Digger said they had to do that to survive, and that they should expect more changes in the next five years.

Mark and Digger create their own legacy for their loved ones

When Popcorn’s widow called them about the legendary moonshiner’s hidden stash, they both realized that they had to make something that would be valuable in the future when they were already gone. Mark jokingly said that their future widows could blow the money they would get from it to their new man or, worse, a gigolo. They had all the best ingredients as it would serve as their long-term investment. However, they had a difficult time connecting the tubes as they had swollen due to constant use, so they had to make adjustments right there and then to make it work again. They said the good thing about their work was that they really liked each other, so they didn’t get easily annoyed if things didn’t work out right.

The moonshine that they made was about 53 gallons, and placed in oak barrels so it would be preserved for future use, aging the bourbon to perfection for three years and that would make it even more valuable. The bourbon would be their legacy to their wives, children and grandchildren, or could be used as great retirement money for the two of them.

Did Digger Manes & Mark Ramsey From Moonshiners Get Arrested Again?

Some rumors surfaced that the two were arrested again, but it was proven false since there was never any record even once, due to moonshining. Most of the fans believed that the rumors would now and then pop up because they were shown on TV engaging in illegal activities. Mark and Digger said in the series that the moment you light up the still, you’d already broke the law.

It was for this reason that people found it ridiculous that not one member of the cast was arrested over the years, in relation to the moonshine business.

Some of them did spend some time in jail but for reasons unconnected with making the illegal liquor. Apparently, the authorities needed to catch them in the act of making the moonshine, otherwise there would be no evidence to prove that they made the liquor themselves. So, everything that the fans saw on “Moonshiners” was filmed several months before it was aired on TV, never ‘on the spot’.

Reasons about the ‘no arrest’ controversy

Back in 2012, The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said that if there was an illegal activity going on, the Virginia Bureau of Law Enforcement would have already taken action. What they did back then was to ask the TV producers to place a disclaimer that it was just a dramatization, but that request was ignored at that time, although in recent seasons the producers did insert a disclaimer at the start of each episode: ‘Anyone making moonshine risks life-threatening injury or time in prison.

Do not attempt any of this at home.’ Also, most of the moonshiners featured in the show were actually licensed distillers, so there was no reason for them to be arrested – in essence, the show was, in fact, mostly just a dramatization.

Historically, making moonshine was considered illegal primarily because it was untaxed sales. If those moonshiners had acquired the necessary permits and paid the right tax associated with the product, they didn’t break any law. No one could be arrested with just the videos aired on TV as evidence. For example, Mark and Digger could easily swear that there was only water in their stills. Besides, chasing bootleggers these days is no longer a priority, unless they started selling moonshine to minors, otherwise it would be a waste of time for the local authorities to run after them, with little hope of success.

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