October 5, 1946
Maggie Valley, North Carolina, United States
|Died||March 16, 2009
Maggie Valley, North Carolina, United States
|Notable work||Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey|
Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton (October 5, 1946 – March 16, 2009) was an American Appalachian moonshiner from Maggie Valley, North Carolina. He wrote a self-published autobiographical guide to moonshining production, self-produced a home video depicting his moonshining activities, and was later the subject of a documentary that won a Regional Emmy Award.
He committed suicide in 2009 rather than report to Federal prison after being convicted of offenses related to moonshine production. Since his death, a new company and associated whiskey brand have been named after him.
Bootlegging and moonshining career
Sutton had a long career making moonshine and bootlegging. Most of the time he was able to avoid law enforcement, although he was placed on probation in the 1970s and the 1990s. In 1999, Sutton published Me and My Likker, an autobiography and guide to moonshine production. Around the same time he produced a home video of the same title and released it on VHS tape. His first broadcast appearance was in Neal Hutcheson's documentary, Mountain Talk, in 2002. Sutton next appeared in the film that would become the cornerstone of his notoriety, This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I'll Ever Make. Filmed and released in 2002, the film quickly became a cult classic and over time drew the attention of television producers in Boston and New York. The source footage from this project was re-worked into the documentary The Last One that was released in 2008, which received a Southeast Emmy Award. Some of the documentary footage was later used in the 2011–2012 season of the Moonshiners television series produced by Discovery Channel. Sutton was also featured in the 2007 documentary Hillbilly: The Real Story on The History Channel.
Sutton considered moonshine production a legitimate part of his heritage, as he was Scots-Irish and descended from a long line of moonshiners. In January 2009, after an ATF raid led by Jim Cavanaugh of Waco notoriety, Sutton was sentenced to 18 months in a federal prison for illegally distilling spirits and possession of a firearm as a felon. Sutton, 62 and recently diagnosed with cancer, pleaded with the U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer to let him serve his sentence under house arrest. Several petitions were made in attempts to reduce or commute Sutton's sentence, to no avail.
|“||He was a short, skinny fella, who always wore his hat—that was kind of his claim to fame, his hat that he always wore. And his bib overalls—he always wore bib overalls. Even when he came to federal court, he was wearing bib overalls. He was a friendly fellow, and of course every time you would talk to him, he would say, 'Ray, I’ve run my last run of moonshine, I'm not gonna do it anymore, I'm just getting too old to be doing this stuff.'||”|
— Ray Snader on "Popcorn" Sutton, 2008.
Sutton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on March 16, 2009, apparently to avoid a federal prison term due to begin a few days later. His wife Pam Sutton discovered her husband in his green Ford Fairlane. Mrs. Sutton said, “He called it his three-jug car because he gave three jugs of liquor for it.” His daughter said he had told her in advance that he would commit suicide rather than go to jail. On October 24, 2009, Sutton's body was relocated from his original grave site in Mt. Sterling, North Carolina, to his home in Parrottsville, Tennessee, providing an opportunity for the first public memorial service to be held. His body was carried to its new resting spot by horse and carriage. Sutton's memorial grew in spectacle as country music singer Hank Williams, Jr. flew in to pay his respects. It was a small memorial only for close friends and family.
Hank Williams III mentions Popcorn Sutton in the song "Moonshiner's Life".
Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey
On Nov. 9, 2010, Hank Williams, Jr. announced his partnership with J&M Concepts LLC and widow Pam Sutton to distill and distribute a brand of whiskey named after Sutton that was asserted to follow his legacy. Dubbed "Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey", it was marketed as having been produced on stills designed by Sutton using his secret family recipe and techniques Sutton entrusted to former Supercross professional Jamey Grosser of J&M Concepts. Country music stars attending the launch event included Martina McBride, Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Zac Brown, Josh Thompson, Kentucky Headhunters, Little Big Town, Colt Ford, Montgomery Gentry, Jaron and the Long Road to Love and Lee Brice. According to press reports, Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey would be initially distributed in Tennessee and throughout the southeast. The copper stills for its production were made by Vendome Copper and Brass in Louisville, Kentucky.
On October 25, 2013, Jack Daniel's Properties, Inc. filed suit against the distiller of Popcorn Sutton's whiskey, claiming that the newly redesigned bottle and label too closely resembled their own. The lawsuit states that the new design "...is 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 current existing bottles be taken off the market and that all profits from the sales of those bottles be handed over to Jack Daniel's. The lawsuit was settled in 2014 with undisclosed terms.
Popcorn Sutton Distilling is based in Newport, Tennessee. Its CEO is Megan Kvamme. In March 2015, it was announced that John Lunn, who had until then been master distiller of George Dickel Tennessee whiskey since 2005, would be joining Popcorn Sutton Distilling as its new master distiller.
- Mansfield, Duncan (March 19, 2009). "Widow: Moonshiner took his life to avoid prison". San Francisco Chronicle. The Associated Press. Retrieved March 21, 2009.[dead link]
- Miller, Stephen (March 20, 2009). "Legendary Tennessee Moonshiner Plied His Trade to the End". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 21, 2009.
- Stroud, Emily (March 17, 2009). "Family of legendary moonshiner hoped his sentence would be reduced". WBIR-TV. Retrieved March 21, 2009.[dead link]
- Ford, D'Lyn. "Golden Moment: Bulletin: NC State University".
- "Me and My Likker at amazon.com". Retrieved March 22, 2009.
- The Last One" - Sucker Punch Pictures website
- The Last One at the Internet Movie Database
- "Famed moonshiner gets 18 months". Times-News. Associated Press. January 26, 2009. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
- Tim Murphy, Tales of the Last Moonshiner. Mother Jones, 11 July 2010.
- Miller, Stephen. "Legendary Tennessee Moonshiner Plied His Trade to the End". WSJ.com. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 21 March 2009.
- Davis, Lauren, "Estranged daughter remembers 'Popcorn' Sutton", local8now.com, March 18, 2009.
- Matheny, Jim, "Hundreds honor memory of legendary moonshiner", WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee, October 25, 2009.[dead link]
- Cooper, Peter,"Hank Williams, Jr. Helps Continue Popcorn Sutton's Moonshine Legacy", The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, November 12, 2010.
- Sanford, Jason,"Popcorn Sutton's whiskey goes legit with Hank Williams Jr.'s stamp of approval", Asheville Citizen-Times, Nov. 13, 2010.
- Hackett, Vernell,"Hank Williams, Jr. Gets into the Moonshine Business" The Boot, November 11, 2010
- Press Release "Hank Tips a Hat — and a Glass — To Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee White Whiskey", November 10, 2010.[dead link]
- Schelzig, Eric, "Dickel master distiller leaving to head Popcorn Sutton", Yahoo News via Associated Press, March 16, 2015