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November 21, 2013

Do you like this?

Our man on the barstool hits on some moonshine at Blacksmith’s

Over the weekend I was watching Bugs Bunny cartoons and saw the episode, “Hillbilly Hare” in which Bugs tricks two bearded brothers (Curt and Punkin’head Martin) into whoopin’ each other up while square dancing.

This gave me an idea…moonshine.

Now in case you’re not from ’round here, moonshine primarily refers to “homemade” hooch.  And you don’t have to look any further than the business end of your remote control to see it several times a day on every other reality show. The newfound popularity of both the liquor itself and the culture behind it is pretty astounding.

It’s not anything new to us down here in the South, though. For hundreds of years fellas have been up in them thar hills cooking up high-octane squeezins only leaving the pot still long enough to fight a war or two or to run from the revenuers.  

And until quite recently, you would end up in the house of striped sunlight faster than you can say, “Otis Campbell” if you got caught holding the stuff. Of course, a lot of those lawless shenanigans still exist and as explained by the television shows, it’s spreading. But these are usually small time operations with a very limited client list.

All of that is changing now as I discovered while visiting Blacksmith’s this past weekend. There are legit companies springing up to bring the sensation to the general public. I had a sit down with bartender Ashley Campbell (no relation to Otis) to peruse the selection they have on hand and see what all the hoopla is about.

At the top of their extensive drink menu is an item called, “Moon-Jito.” What sorcery is this? It’s basically a Mojito made with that good Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine.

Ole Smoky is a distillery located in downtown Gatlinburg and has been around since 2010 to rave reviews that even earned them a spot on “The Today Show.” They have tours, too. And after you take it, you can get an airbrushed T-shirt and a rubber tomahawk on “the strip” to prove you’ve been there.

Now this Moon-Jito is hand muddled with mint, lime, sugar and what I nicknamed “Olé  Smoky” Moonshine. And get this…moonshine comes in flavors. That’s right, race fans. You have a choice of peach or blackberry. I went for the blackberry and it was dee-licious. 

Since it was already there, I asked for a taste of the peach-flavored Ole Smoky. It is what it says. It’s peachy! It’s kinda like schnapps but, it’s a bit warmer on the back of the throat. I like this.

Ashley presented me with another selection from a distillery in Woodbury, TN called Short Mountain. It was started by ex-USDA water conservationist Billy Kaufman and his three brothers on a 300-acre organic farm. 

It also comes in flavors. They have an Apple Pie shine that tastes like…you guessed it. And by golly, it does indeed. No fork required. They also have your straight-up high-test that you really wouldn’t know is 105 proof because it’s so pure and smooth. I detected a slight apple aftertaste. More please!

The third jar comes from a legend in the racing world.  Junior Johnson is as responsible for stock car racing as the V-8 engine. Junior’s family was in the shine business. When I say “business,” though, they didn’t go to the courthouse and apply for a license. The Johnson family has been the real-life “Dukes of Hazzard” since the Whiskey Rebellion back in George Washington’s day. After spending 11 months in the hoosegow for running hooch, Junior went legit—and went on to become a NASCAR champion.

But fame isn’t keeping him out of the moonshine business. In 2007, Junior went back to making North Carolina white lightning. But this time, he’s above board with Midnight Moon. The triple distilled spirit is made more like high-end vodka than backwoods rotgut. It also comes in flavors, seven to be exact.

Blacksmith’s had the blueberry variety close at hand and curiosity got the best of me. After I tasted it, the first thing out of my mouth was the word, “BOOM! Wow…” Don’t let the innocence of the word “blueberry” fool you. This is moonshine after all, and all 100 of its proof will remind you of that fact real quick if you’re not prepared. This ain’t frou-frou. 

“Promenade across the floor, sashay right on out the door, out the door and into the glade, and everybody promenade.”- Bugs Bunny,  “Hillbilly Hare,” 1950

Cheers, y’all.

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