Putting the “Shine” in Moonshine

  • Richard Carleton Hacker

In spite of the fact it has a distilling history as old as Cognac, as unfettered as single-malt Scotch, and as American as bourbon, no one takes moonshine seriously. But that is about to change, thanks to Ole Smoky Moonshine ($25–$27).

Historically distilled in the Great Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tenn., this is not the illicit white lighting that was the scourge of revenuers, but rather, a new breed of clear neutral spirit, albeit bottled in traditional Mason jars, without aging. “We mill our own freshly grown corn at our family’s gristmill just a few miles from where we distill it,” says Joe Baker, whose family has lived in Tennessee for more than 200 years and who, with longtime friends Tony Breeden and Cory Cottongim, is one of the creative forces behind Ole Smoky Moonshine.

“I grew up around the culture of moonshine and cooked my first mash when I was about 14,” recalls Baker. “Our moonshine recipe dates back to my great-great-grandfather. We take our time and run it through our copper pot still slowly, so as not to strip all the character out of the corn.” Contributing to the comparatively smooth taste of Ole Smoky Moonshine are other factors rarely used by the “old-timers”: carefully controlled distillation temperatures, the use of pure, ionized water, and—something few backwoods products were known for—double distillation, which tones down what is basically a straight-from-the-still, 100-proof clear spirit.

The brand offers four versions. Moonshine Cherries has Tennessee-grown maraschino cherries occupying almost all of a Mason jar filled with moonshine, infusing the spirit with cherry favors (these moonshine-soaked cherries also make a great garnish for a Manhattan). Apple Pie Moonshine embraces the natural flavors of apple cider, apple juice, and secret family spices. For the best of both worlds, combine chilled cherry moonshine (from Moonshine Cherries) and Apple Pie Moonshine in a 50-50 mix poured over some moonshine-infused cherries. (www.olesmokymoonshine.com)

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