Like most moonshine producers in the country–a dying breed plying a dying tradition–Bob Tibbs is almost old enough to have been baptized with celebrations from Prohibition’s repeal: he’s 70. (There are very few moonshine produces younger than 60, even in Appalachia, the Mecca of moonshine in America now that northeast Texas moonshiners, old standards in the trade, are dying off.
Tibbs, who lives and operates his business on County Road 325 in Flagler County, was briefly at the Flagler County jail today before posting $5,500 bond, for possessing more than a gallon of moonshine, “or whiskey,” as his booking sheet notes soberly. (The word originates from the 15th century, perhaps referring to work done by moonlight, and has come to refer to illegal liquor–corn whiskey or other types of spirits made with fermented fruit.)
Reached by phone at his home later in the day, Tibbs was surprised to have been arrested. “I thought you could make so much of it,” he said. He’d learned to make it only recently, he said, watching “Moonshiners” on the Discovery Channel a show that, according to its website, “tells the story of those who brew their shine — often in the woods near their homes using camouflaged equipment — and the local authorities who try to keep them honest.”
Moonshining in Florida is indeed illegal, whatever the amount. Possession of “less than one gallon of liquor, as defined in the Beverage Law” is a second-degree misdemeanor. Possessing one gallon or more is a third-degree felony.
Tibbs says he doesn’t drink the stuff himself, which he compares more to vodka than whiskey (“it runs clear,” he says, though many of the jars cops found with him had amber and orange hues worthy of the finer spirits), with an alcohol content closer to 50 percent than 40 percent, and with many uses: “It runs good in my lawnmower,” he says. “I just make it for people that wants it made,” he said. As far as he’s concerned, he can’t touch it because of bad kidneys and his dialysis treatment.
He claims he’s only been making it for “a couple of months,” a timeline that, in light of investigators’ revelations today, strains credibility. Then someone was at the door, and Tibbs excused himself.
Tibbs was arrested by a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy after the deputy got a tip that Tibbs was going to be driving his red Dodge pick-up to Bunnell, and that he was going to be carrying moonshine, a word the police report places between quotes. The tipster had told the cop that Tibbs would be setting up his truck on U.S. 1 in Bunnell, on a grassy lot, to sell shrimp by roadside.
It wasn’t, of course, an errant tip: Tibbs had been under investigation for weeks, and had sold moonshine to undercover investigators. But the investigation itself began after cops got a tip that Tibbs was operating the still. “You can buy them over the internet,” Tibbs had said by phone earlier today. He’s right. (Here’s an example, and another, with music.)
Tibbs also has a prior record for driving drunk and having his license revoked, so when the deputy ran his name through a database, he got his picture and his record, and recognized Tibbs as he drove north on U.S. 1, just past Drain Street. The deputy pulled him over between East Booe St. and Martin Luther King Ave., the area where Tibbs likes to park and sell. When the deputy asked Tibbs for his driver’s license, Tibbs only gave his name. When information about Tibbs’s driving record was confirmed, he was placed under arrest on the driving on a revoked license charge.
Only then, according to the police report, did the deputy ask him if there was anything illegal in Tibbs’s truck. Tibbs consented to a search. The deputy describes what was found: “Located inside of his truck was a brown paper bag lying on the front seat. Inside of this bag were two one gallon containers. One was a ‘Musselman’s Apple Cider’ one gallon container with a brownish tinted liquid inside and the second was an unlabeled one gallon container with a brownish tinted liquid inside. Located on the passenger side floorboard was a cardboard box containing nine small brown paper bags with written labels on the top of each bag. Each bag contained a glass mason jar with a clear liquid inside. There were two labeled ‘Straw Ber,’ one labeled ‘Apple,’ two labeled ‘Blk ber,’ two labeled ‘Reg,’ and two labeled ‘P.M.'”
Tibbs was then placed under arrest.
Unfortunately for Tibbs, George W. Bush is no longer president. In 2002, Bush’s very first year of issuing pardons, he pardoned Kenneth Copley of Lyles, Tenn., who had received two years probation for a 1962 conviction for selling whiskey at a time when Copley claimed making moonshine was a way of making it through hard times. Copley had long ago paid the price of his very minor crime, but the presidential pardon wiped his record clean, and gave him a tiny spot in presidential history. It could also have been part of the president’s atonement for his own days as a drunk.
What authorities don’t like isn’t the making of moonshine so much as the selling or distribution of it outside of the state’s well-regulated licensing system, which ensures that makers, distributors and retailers of alcohol are distinct entities. Excise taxes apply to beer and liquor, too, which bring in considerable revenue to the state. (If cops chased after hobbyists making beer, wine and other spirits, they’d hardly have time left for chasing after bad guys.) For example, the excise tax on a gallon of beer is 48 cents, and $2.25 on wine. On liquor, it can go up to $9.53 per gallon, depending on the alcohol content.
There’s also the danger factor: moonshiners have often made their product in unsanitary canisters such as fuel drums or radiators and mixed liquids with dangerous ingredients. The results can literally be lethal.
Joe A. says
I wonder if Mr. Tibbs gave a gallon to Mr. Fleming it would have been over looked?
After all it wouldn’t be illegal for Mr. Fleming because he did not ask for it and it isn’t worth anything.
What a ridiculous waste of resources. People make wine and beer at home all the time. What’s the difference? How about going after the coke and meth dealers?
What’s the difference with that, then?
@ Joe A. you are right and so funny!
We make our own Rhum, Kalua, Whiskey, Vodka… Cake, at home… we consume it, just don’t sell it. Mr Tibbs is a 70 years old, who is he harming? Some snitch out there. Mr Tibbs needs to pick his friends better. After all moonshine is just as American as Apple Pie. What about going after the real criminals around us?
Can I place my order?
Dudley Doright says
Hey, they call him “Mr. Tibbs”. He is just a “good ole boy” trying to survive in these hard times.
Ahh now I feel safe, knowing they’re cracking down on moon shiners instead of doing something productive.
Stay classy fcso. You couldn’t be more useless….. Wait, actually….
What an ignorant comment and 7 likes to boot.. Wonder what you were doing when FCSO caught some shooters from a Ralph Carter park incident last evening? Yeah stopping people with guns while you’re probably sitting home thinking, wow Alex Trabek is getting old……
Wow, That’s very insightful and well thought out.. How hard is it to catch a car full of people driving down a 5 mile road when you know where they’re going? Everybody knows the, unfortunate, negative wrap Ralph Carter Park has; the FCSO knows this as well. Maybe your precious law enforcement officers should be there a little more often?
I feel bad for this man. I can’t help it. (His previous DWI, yes that was bad.)
But a little home-brew isn’t criminal in my eyes.
There are so many better candidates for arrest here in Flagler.
Heck, just go up and down through the roster of our elected officials!
Good luck Mr. Tibbs!
Do his neighbors get any happier when he mows his lawn?
Poor Mr. Tibbs forgot that any proceeds Uncle Sam doesn’t get his cut from is going to be branded illegal, whether it’s moonshine or cocaine and if it “runs good in your lawnmower”, it probably isn’t good for human ‘innards’. Besides why camouflage the equipment if moonshining is legal? Alibis aside, I think we all agree the man was trying to make a living and not doing it for cheap thrills, which points to the future of life without adequate safety nets for the poor and elderly if some politicians have anything to do with it. Folks will turn their hands to whatever will keep body and soul together, legal or not and this applied to dealing drugs for the jobless as well as making booze for Discovery Channel watchers. Doesn’t make it right, but one illegal commodity is no more righteous than another. It is, what it is.
Really? They spent months investigating someone who turned a hobby profitable? Moonshine is only illegal because the government can’t regulate it, much like marijuana! Get over it and go after someone who is actually doing something harmful! You know, like the pill pushers or coke dealers!
Joe A. says
How about we invest time into investigating these low lives selling drugs in our town.
Ben Dover says
Alcohol is the #2 killer in this country, cigarettes is #1, but as long as uncle Sam is getting his cut , the politicians have driven up the cost of medical care and insurance by taking kickbacks from the drug and insurance companies , so not only are they responsible for people getting sick , they make it impossible for most to afford a cure. but ole Bobby boy is the crimminal.
Memo Juez says
More Americans die in Car Crashes than from smoking or drinking. Let’s outlaw cars!
Memo, your numbers and comparison are not accurate on a few counts: In 2010, 33,000 people were killed in car crashes in the United States. “The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States,” the CDC tells us. And “There are approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States,” according to the CDC. The comparison is also inaccurate in this sense: virtually every American will ride an innumerable number of vehicles, from family cars to school buses to public transportation, in any given year, adding up to trillions of miles traveled, with comparatively low lethal results. The proportion of Americans drinking and smoking is far smaller, yet the death rate far, far higher. And driving is a necessity. Smoking and drinking are not. The CDC has yet to calculate the dangers of vapors from second-hand comparisons.
This is so ridiculous soon they will be busting you for having a garden in your back yard.. Just a little bit of “licker” for your own use is harmless.
go after gangs and thugs and let this guy do what he does – not hurting anyone