WNC man featured in moonshining documentary

Latrice Williams
The Gaston Gazette
Lucas Owens is photographed at the South Mountain Distilling Company in Connelly Springs, NC.

Lucas Owens still remembers the day his father introduced him to moonshining. Bound by poverty, producing high-proof liquor illegally was necessary to generate an honest income. Simply put – it was a means to an end.

“One day when I was a kid, we were taking feed around to the farmers,” said Owens. “He had a wooden box on top of the truck that had alcohol in it. I asked what it was for and he said that is what keeps shoes on your feet and oil in the furnace.”

The Cleveland County resident said his family, known for moonshining, will be featured in a documentary called, “The Spirits Still Move Them.” Producer David Weintraub said he chose Owens because he needed an authentic, realistic moonshiner to connect with the audience.

And too, Weintraub wanted to clear up longstanding false narratives about moonshiners, saying the hallmark of the tradition was trying to survive.  

“I’ve read so much about the stereotypes – lazy moonshiners drunk in the woods with his long beard and long arrest records,” said Weintraub. “I knew that wasn’t the case. I knew moonshining was about putting food on the table and having cash money to pay the tax man. Rather than make people a laughingstock like popular culture tends to do, it puts them in context.”

The piece tells the story of moonshining in Cleveland, Yancey, Transylvania, Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Polk and Burke counties. Owens and Weintraub were connected through Donor Services Manager Wendy Hamil from the Community Foundation of Henderson County. The film has been in the works since 2014.

The Cherry Bounce moonshine and whiskey drink has been handed down through each generation.

“Hamil told me she had the perfect person for me to interview,” said Weintraub. “We are excited about him coming to the world premier and saying a few words.”

Owens said he grew up dirt poor and was determined to prevent poverty from being passed down to his children.

“Most dads taught their kids how to play baseball,” said Owens. “We taught our kids how to survive. And that’s what we had to do. We were such a poor family.”

Owens is related to Amos Owens who Lucas Owens said was a well-known moonshiner and produced Cherry Bounce, a popular beverage that was celebrated throughout the state and beyond.

“They would take the cherries off the cherry bounce, and they would put them in the barrel along with whiskey they made and age it for a year,” said Owens. “When the second week of June came, they would have the Cherry Bounce Festival. They would have all kinds of events such as bare-knuckle boxing and horse racing. They did it every year to celebrate the next year’s harvest of the cherry bounce.”

Amos Owens fought in the Civil War but turned to moonshining after he got out of the military. He fell right into the Owens’ legacy.

“The family has always been in moonshining even before the 1700s,” said Owens. “He took the craft he was taught and started making Cherry Bounce.”

Although a noble man who served his country dutifully, Lucas Owens described him as defiant, saying he refused to pay taxes on the liquor he produced.

“He was angry at the federal government,” said Owens. “He felt like that was giving in or bowing down to the federal government and he did not want to do that.”

Owens is a label partner for South Mountain Distilling Company in Connelly Springs and teaches classes on moonshining for educational and historical purposes. He operates legally after having obtained his liquor license, a grave decision that many of his family members would have disagreed.

“I am sure all the elders in my family have turned in their grave,” said Owens. “But I am too old and pretty to go to prison.”

The film is set to be released June 17 at The Orange Peel in Asheville. A release date for Cleveland County has not been scheduled. To view the trailer, visit

Latrice Williams can be reached at 704-669-3333 and