Ever wonder where the saying “The Real McCoy” came from? As it happens McCoy is the name of an infamous prohibition-era rum runner who saturated the market with world-class spirits at a time when people were drinking moonshine made in backyard stills and gin concocted in bathtubs.

Ever wonder where the saying “The Real McCoy” came from? As it happens McCoy is the name of an infamous prohibition-era rum runner who saturated the market with world-class spirits at a time when people were drinking moonshine made in backyard stills and gin concocted in bathtubs.

Homemade alcohol often tasted like turpentine and could be rather harsh on the digestive system.

Not only that but it was also known to kill people! One wrong ingredient could send one to the hospital or worse. According to the Time Magazine article “Top 10 Prohibition Tales,” bad batches of homemade rum containing methanol and other poisons killed dozens and permanently disabled hundreds more, causing blindness and paralysis in New York residents City during the 1920s.

People began to question where their alcohol was coming from. In an effort to make their booze look authentic, productioners would add iodine and tobacco to their homebrew in order to make moonshine resemble aged whiskey or rum.

Authentic rum began to emerge on the black market. While prohibition had killed whiskey production in the south, rum production in the Caribbean was booming.

William “Bill” McCoy saw this as an opportunity. The luxury yacht designer turned rum runner illegally smuggled rum from the Caribbean and into the US during Prohibition (1920-1933). At $ 8 a case, he would load up his speed boat, Arethusa, bringing shipments into coastal cities. Each trip brought in an estimated $ 300,000!

Although McCoy didn’t drink, he rationalized his decision to become an outlaw by stating “Americans, since the beginnings of this nation, have always kicked holes in the laws they resented,” according to the article William “Bill” McCoy: Notorious Rumrunner to Sally J. Ling.

The Arethusa was specially modified for speed and McCoy installed a machine gun hidden in the bow for protection, according to Ling.

McCoy expanded his inventory, adding Irish and Canadian Whiskey and fine wines to his product list, and supplying the east coast from Florida to Maine.

McCoy never went to shore to offload his cargo. Instead, he would anchor off the coast at night and allow smaller boats to tie up to the Arethusa to receive their orders. McCoy’s ship was described as a floating liquor store, where investors could sample his imported spirits before purchasing. The products were far superior to anything on the market at the time and advertised to customers as “The Real McCoy.” Despite their best efforts, no moonshiners in the US could come close to producing the quality products distributed by McCoy.

His methods of import spurred what is known as a nationwide Rum Row, where ships and boats would go into international waters and host lavish parties just out of US jurisdiction so the Coast Guard couldn’t touch them. These parties blatantly advertised the parties and prostitutes which eventually progressed to a warzone. Rather than sail all the way to Canada or the Caribbean, rum runners would pillage the parties and steal the cargo.

The competition inspired McCoy to expand and he bought another yacht, the Henry L. Marshall, and hired a captain to run it. However, when the boat accidentally floated into US waters, the Coast Guard seized it and McCoy, as the shipowner, was a wanted man.

Eventually, McCoy was caught delivering a shipment and arrested by the US Coast Guard. He served a minimal jail sentence of nine months on lockdown, most of which was spent at a hotel where he could come and go as he pleased, leaving some to speculate that the judge may have been a customer.

While McCoy lost much of his fortune, he was still able to retire to Florida after serving his time. McCoy died at the age of 71 from a heart attack brought on by complications of food poisoning while aboard his yacht Blue Lagoon in Stuart, Florida in 1948.

“The Real McCoy” saying will go down in history as synonymous with quality, taste, and authenticity in a world where cutting corners has become the norm.

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