What happens when you put three moonshiners in a room? Short Mountain Distillery!

Recently, I attended the San Diego Spirits Festival. It tends to be heavily focused on the big(ger) name brands, with a sprinkling of craft distillers. One of my favorites of the day was Short Mountain Distillery. Initially, I will admit that I had the same reaction some of you may have to seeing the word, “moonshine”. Maybe you tried the other stuff (some with fruit, some not) and didn’t really like it.  But my job is to try things, even after having a less-than-tasty experience, so I can tell you about it.  And I can safely say, I’m really glad I tried Short Mountain’s ‘shine!Mule logo

I had the pleasure of talking to their founder, Billy Kaufman, about how he makes such a tasty moonshine.  Short Mountain Distillery is Tennessee’s sixth distillery –  and what makes it even more interesting, they operate in a dry county! Yes, there are counties (leftover from Prohibition) that don’t allow the sale of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. Short Mountain worked to get the rules changed, and they were on their way!

Let’s back up a bit first: back in 2001, Billy moved to Tennessee with the goal of starting an organic, sustainable farm. And he succeeded by installing erosion protection, water conservation systems and fencing.  “Little Short Mountain Farm is nestled in 300 acres of land that Kaufman wants to protect and make a viable part of our community.”  Sounds like the perfect place – to make moonshine?! While he’d achieved his goal of an organic farm, Billy’s an entrepreneur. Like his great-grandpa, the guy who founded Samsonite, he’s always thinking. There’s a cave spring on the farm that according to local legend, was where local moonshiners made moonshine that supplied Al Capone’s speakeasies in the northeast. The wheels ever turning, Billy contacted some of the local ‘shiners, picturing in his head a great collaboration, using their different recipes and techniques.

The collaboration lasted all of 10 minutes.

Why? Because all three moonshiners used the same recipe! What’s easier to carry into the backwoods (by the light of the moon): a big bag of sugar, or many bags of corn? If you’re trying to keep ahead of the law, you chose sugar. In this case, Short Mountain’s moonshine is 70% sugar, 30% corn. But don’t go thinking that this moonshine is sweet. Sugar makes it smooth, not sweet – and it’s still 105 proof.  I will say it’s probably the smoothest 105 anything I’ve had, let alone something labeled as moonshine.

Another flavor of moonshine that’s pretty popular is apple/apple pie. There are subtle differences between apple and apple pie – things like cinnamon and spices, maybe a little sweetener for the pie version. I’ve had whiskies blended  with different kinds of apple (both flavors and more of a liqueur-whiskey blend), but this is actually tastes like a pie.  Even down to the slight hint of a buttery crust. No, really. It does! 10616161_704863202883419_6230232163873791233_n

Some common misconceptions about moonshine are that it doesn’t taste good straight, and it should be cheap. When was the last time you bought a bag of sugar? It was probably between 1-5 pounds, which set you back maybe $5. Multiple that by the quantities needed to make moonshine, it’s no longer a cheap proposition. To get the flavor that he wants, Billy makes huge cuts – meaning he gets about half the amount of alcohol out of each run that a whiskey distiller might. That definitely shows his commitment to making a quality product. Fruit was also used to mask the taste of poorly cut moonshine. If you make it right, you don’t need to do that – fruit is an enhancement. Billy and his team take the time, and spend the money, to make a great moonshine. Apple pie and Prohibition Tea (his other flavor) aren’t made because they have to mask anything, but to add variety to cocktails.  You can also read about the government’s rules that do (and do not) apply to moonshine in my post, “Moonshine isn’t what you think it is“.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is a motto that Billy and his brothers live by. They even include it as part of Short Mountain’s branding. They contribute to the local economy by creating jobs, the farm is organic and sustainable (even the livestock benefits – they eat the spent grains from the mash) and Billy is doing what he believes in. “The best moonshine ever made, made even better” is their other motto. After tasting it, that’s a motto I can believe in!

If you happen to be in Tennessee, there are distillery tours that will give you an inside look at the process Billy uses to make his moonshine. If you make it down that way, tell Billy LikeYourLiquor sent you.  Cheers!

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About Jeanne Runkle

Jeanne Runkle currently lives in San Diego, and is a certified bartender and craft liquor expert. Her specialty is the brown stuff, whether it's bourbon, rye or good old American whiskey. She can sometimes be found stalking the aisles of a liquor store near you, answering your random whiskey questions.

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