The lesson of Max Watman’s Chasing the White Dog is that American history and whiskey are kin. From the Revolution until at least the 1950s, whiskey-making was simply smart farming. Yeoman-distillers used unsold peaches, apples, and corn to make liquor and sell it to neighbors. A North Carolina old-timer named Bluford McGee tells Watman early on that his father, famed for his apple brandy, would blow an industrial whistle to signal townsfolk that the prized first batch was ready. Young McGee’s schoolteacher, his mouth atwitch, would put on his hat mid-lecture and leave a “clear streak of sunshine behind him.” Distilling was universally felt to be legitimate, any law to the contrary notwithstanding.

Whiskey and taxes, locals have long felt, mix none too well. An excise tax provoked the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. Where the Treasury Secretary Hamilton saw revenue, Jefferson saw an “armament against the people...

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