Editor’s note: This was first published in 2003.
All this spring, golden birch catkins were dangling throughout the woodlands of the Smokies region. These are the male, pollen-carrying part of the sweet birch (Betula lenta), also known as black, cherry, or mahogany birch.
They served as a reminder that moonshine stills weren’t the only kind of stills that once proliferated the region. Indeed, there was a time more than a century ago — way back in the 1800s — when birch stills were more common than moonshine stills. For one thing, they weren’t illegal and didn’t need to be hidden.