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Bootleggers, rum-runners, whiskey smugglers and moonshiners represent the idea of freedom that was particularly embodied during the prohibition years in the United States. Told that they couldn’t drink, make or sell alcohol, many people decided that they were going to fly under the radar and make their own rules, secretly manufacturing and producing whiskey, moonshine and other liquors. 

While it’s no longer illegal to make and sell alcohol, the spirit of this idea continues to be celebrated on National Bootlegger’s Day!

History of National Bootlegger’s Day

The term “bootlegger” got its start in the United States back in the 1880’s when Midwestern white men would slip flasks of liquor into their boots so they could illegally trade them with the Native Americans. 

When Prohibition became a reality in the United States in 1920, it didn’t stop people from making, drinking or transporting alcohol. Instead, it really just seemed to encourage people to make and sell their alcohol on the side, in an illegal manner – and the idea of bootleggers became even more popular.

Those who started making and peddling alcohol illegally were often known as bootleggers, whiskey peddlers, moonshiners, rum-runners and more. Although prohibition didn’t last long, it was a time of much illegal activity in the US. And since that time, the idea for bootlegging has expanded from not only alcohol but also to include people who produce and distribute anything in an illegal manner, particularly media.

One famous alcohol that was made during prohibition in the United States was called Templeton Rye. Named after the town in which it was made, Templeton, Iowa, this illegal liquor supplemented the income for the farmers in the area. Of higher quality than many bootleg alcohols, Templeton Rye was said to be a favorite of mobster Al Capone and was served in many speakeasies in Chicago, Kansas City and other places.

In 2006, Infinium Spirits, a family owned liquor company, brought its own version of Templeton Rye whiskey back into production in the mid-western United States where it claimed the use of a prohibition era recipe. Originally this whiskey revival was distilled in Indiana, but its small batch plant brought production back to Templeton, Iowa in 2018.

Infinium Spirits founded National Bootlegger’s Day to pay special attention specifically to their Templeton Rye whiskey, but also to celebrate the freedom that was found after the 13 years of prohibition was experienced in the United States.

National Bootlegger’s Day Timeline

7000 BC

Alcohol is brewed

As early as this time, evidence shows that humans have been brewing alcohol from fermented fruits.[1]

1494 AD

Patent for distilling spirits is issued

In Scotland, a friar named John Cor makes his distillation process official.[2]

1920

Prohibition is started, inspiring bootleggers

In the United States, the sale, production and transportation of alcohol is prohibited with the 18th Amendment.[3]

1933

Prohibition ends

On December 5, the 21st Amendment is ratified and signed by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.[4]

2015

First National Bootlegger’s Day is celebrated

Established by Infinium Spirits, this day is founded on the birth date of Templeton Rye, a legendary whiskey made during prohibition.

How to Celebrate National Bootlegger’s Day

Consider some of these fun and interesting ideas for celebrating National Bootlegger’s Day:

Enjoy Some Templeton Rye Whiskey

One way to give a nod to the folks who stood up to their freedom being restricted is to celebrate National Bootlegger’s Day with a taste of Templeton Rye Whiskey. Flavors of this whiskey include lots of vanilla as well as some notes of cinnamon, pear, and black pepper.

In addition to the original rye whiskey, Templeton also comes in options such as Barrel Strength or Oloroso Sherry Cask Whiskey. Prices range from less than $20 for a small 375ml bottle of four year whiskey, to $85 or more for a 1 liter bottle of ten year aged whiskey.

Now made in Iowa, Templeton Rye is aged for either four years, six years or ten years. Its trademark is “Small Town, Strong Spirit”, a theme which embodies the idea behind this drink with an interesting history. So grab a friend and raise a glass of Templeton Rye in honor of National Bootlegger’s Day!

Listen to Some Prohibition Era Music

The roaring twenties brought about a new lifestyle that was less inhibited in many ways, including the way women dressed, the way people danced and the music they listened to. Celebrate National Bootlegger’s Day by creating a playlist that includes some interesting classic titles that hail from back in the day of the 1920s and 1930s.

Get started with some of these ideas for National Bootlegger’s Day songs:

  • West End Blues by Louis Armstrong (1928). This instrumental song increased the popularity of this trumpeter’s who was nicknamed “Satchmo”, “Satch” and “Pops”.
  • In the Jailhouse Now by Jimmie Rodgers (1928). A folk song featuring the super-cool banjo and vocals by Jimmie Rodgers vocals, with lyrics that tell the story of what can happen when people don’t follow the law!
  • The Prisoner’s Song by Vernon Dalhart (1925). One of the best-selling songs of the 1920s, this song was marketed as part of the hillbilly music genre. Its theme is another ode to what happens when a person – perhaps even a bootlegger – gets caught breaking the law and is thrown in prison.
  • Sugar Foot Stomp by Benny Goodman (1937). By this time, prohibition had ended and the people in America were feeling super free and easy again as they danced to this jazz inspired song featuring tons of brass instrument solos.

Host a National Bootlegger’s Day Party

Get some friends together to celebrate the fact that the bootleggers and rum-runners kept the liquor trade alive during the lean years of the early 20th century. Invite friends to dress up as a favorite character from the 1920s, whether it’s a whiskey-making farmer, a mob boss from Chicago, or a singer at a speakeasy. 

Of course, a National Bootlegger’s Day party wouldn’t be complete without plenty of hooch! Friends can each bring a different type of whiskey to try, including Templeton Rye, and certainly some mixed drinks can be made as well. Enjoy the fun and celebrate the freedom that it is to be able to drink alcohol.

And to make sure the party has a vibe that channels the bootlegger’s spirit, put on some music that embodies the 1920s era. Perhaps create a playlist on Spotify or some other online music platform that includes songs like the ones listed above.

Give the Gift of Whiskey

In a simple celebration of National Bootlegger’s Day and the freedom behind it, give a gift to a favorite whiskey lover. Choose a unique or favorite bottle of whiskey that embodies the spirit of the day and gift it to a friend. And, if you’re lucky, they’ll crack it open to celebrate and offer to share! 

National Bootlegger’s Day FAQs

What is a bootlegger?

A bootlegger is a person who makes or sells alcohol or other products illegally or without permission.[1]

Where did “bootlegger” come from?

The use of the term “bootlegger” entered into the Midwest in the 1880s in relation to putting flasks of liquor in the tops of boots when they illegally traded alcohol with Native Americans.[2]

What is Johnny Bootlegger?

Johnny Bootlegger is a 24-proof spirit beverage that comes in ten different flavors.[3]

How did bootleggers make alcohol?

Alcohol during prohibition was often made by fermenting a mash made from corn sugar, beets, or even potato peels.[4]

Is bootlegging still around?

People no longer need to bootleg alcohol in the US, but bootlegging still happens when it comes to selling media illegally.

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