Moonshine. What images come to mind when you hear that word? Old Chevys racing down dirt roads? Hidden shacks in the woods? Long beard hillbillies in overalls? A mason jar full of kick-your-butt in liquid form? Moonshine is basically its own brand – authentic, slightly exotic, filled with risk, worth seeking out – so it’s no wonder that distilleries, legal ones, are popping up and trying to leverage the “Moonshine brand.”
Anyone who has ever heard of Popcorn Sutton knows something of the magic of moonshine (and if you haven’t heard of Popcorn and his brilliant but tragic life, do some research and check this out and this and definitely buy a copy of Chasing the White Dog to read). And anyone who has tasted the real thing, the good stuff, not some throwaway bathtub mockery of the real thing, likely has a fondness in their heart for the magic of moonshine. These folks, I’m guessing, will not be jumping on the “legal moonshine” bandwagon. For there is no way that a mason jar bought at the local liquor store can replicate the magic of honest-to-goodness, backwoods, quality moonshine. The product may be great, the packaging may be beautiful, but the soul, the shared risk, is simply not there. And then there’s the semantics of calling a legal product “moonshine” – a moniker that has its roots in the very illegality of that product. Can a store-bought whiskey really be “moonshine”?
Despite our quibbles with the pre-empting of the moonshine brand by legal distilleries, we don’t want to disparage the products of these new distilleries that are marketing “legal moonshine.” For example, there’s no doubt that the folks behind Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine have a true reverence for the history of moonshine in Tennessee and will do their best to do that legacy justice. From their website…”When Tennessee state law recently changed to allow the distillation of spirits, we saw an opportunity to showcase the art of superior mountain-made moonshine. The Ole Smoky recipes are the product of the hard work and experience of local families who have made moonshine in the mountains for the last two hundred years.” They are simply working hard to take that brand, the “Moonshine brand,” and commercialize it. And it looks like they are on their way to success. The esteemed (and very expensive) Blackberry Farm in Tennessee has featured Ole Smoky’s “Moonshine” and “Moonshine Cherries” in a cocktail recipe (called The Hillbilly & Tonic) sent out to their many fans. Ole Smoky’s products are popping up in stores across the South. They may even convince some of the folks who have experienced the “real thing” to try the “legal moonshine.” Hey, we even look forward to trying them. But, in our minds, “legal moonshine” is simply an oxymoron. Call it unaged whiskey, call it white lightnin’, call it “kick ass stuff,” but, in our book, it’s not Moonshine.