Appalachian History Popcorn Sutton

Moonshine has been a popular drink in the Appalachian Mountains for generations and there is no name more popular when it comes to the illegal brewing of corn whiskey than Popcorn Sutton.

Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was considered to be a living legend and the day that he took his own life, he placed himself permanently in the pages of American folklore, whether he intended to or not. Since his death there has been more interest in the world of moonshine than ever before by people who were never around the stuff in the past. Documentaries were made featuring Popcorn and his rustic style, which caused more people to want to learn all that they could about this interesting individual.

Popcorn’s Early Life

Popcorn was born in Maggie Valley, North Carolina in 1949, his parents were Bonnie and Vader Sutton who lived inside a wooden house that was next to a tumbling stream. The house was always full of love, life and music as it was with most mountain residences. Bonnie enjoyed playing the fiddle while Vader would play spoons. Popcorn and his sister would dance.

According to Sky Sutton, Popcorn’s daughter, a longtime resident of the area told her once that “Your Daddy danced like a limp dish rag.” His daughter said that she would find herself listening to some amazing stories and almost everyone would chuckle while they talked. She heard stories about drunken geese, tipsy frogs, and purple eyed monkeys…which would have a way of making people laugh.

Popcorn’s Life & Legacy

Popcorn was viewed by many as a larger than life character and he didn’t care if the words he said offended anyone or not. He always spoke what was on his mind and if the person on the receiving end didn’t like it, that was their own problem.  He was the master of self-promotion and the author of the book Me and My Likker, an autobiography and textbook on how to make moonshine.

Popcorn chose to live his life inside of his little self-created spotlight. Ultimately this way of thinking and his lifestyle led to his arrest and conviction of distributing illegal moonshine in 2009. Already diagnosed with cancer, and facing an 18-month prison sentence, Popcorn decided to end his own life on his own terms instead of taking the chance of dying in jail. He shot himself at on March 16th in 2009 at the age of 62.

Popcorn spent 40 years running moonshine in the mountains of East Tennessee. He had been arrested a number of times and most recently in 2008 when he had possession of 800 gallons of moonshine and a few firearms. He had always kept a white oak casket inside his bedroom. Inside of it was a set of plastic flowers and a shovel to dig the grave with. That same casket was the one that was used to bury his body after he died.

Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey

Today a brand new legal whiskey company and associated whiskey brand has been named after him.  The liquor is named Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. On November 9th 2010, Hank Williams Jr. announced his partnership with the J&M Concepts LLC and Popcorn’s widow Pam Sutton to distill and distribute the brand of whiskey. It was marketed as having been produced on stills that were designed by Sutton using his secret family recipe as well as the techniques that Sutton had entrusted to former Supercross professional Jamey Grosser of J&M Concepts.

According to reports, Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey would be initially distributed in Tennessee and later throughout the southeast. The copper stills for its production were made by Vendome Copper and Brass in Louisville, Kentucky.

Lawsuit with Jack Daniel’s Properties

It seems that Popcorn is still creating havoc long after he’s gone. On October 25th 2013, Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc. filed a suit against J&M Concepts claiming that the bottle design for Popcorn’s Whiskey, with its square shape, beveled shoulders and white-on-black label closely resembled their own. The lawsuit said that the design was “likely to cause purchasers and prospective purchasers of the product to believe mistakenly that it is a new Tennessee white whiskey product in the Jack Daniel’s line”. The suit asked that all bottles be taken off the market and all profits from the sales go directly to Jack Daniel’s. The lawsuit was settled in 2014 with undisclosed terms. In May of 2016, Sutton brand’s bottle design had a brand new look with a round bottle and alight silver background color.