Most often associated with high proof and illegality, moonshine is now available in liquor stores across the country and it looks like it’s here to stay. Legal moonshine, that is, which is to say liquor made above board and in the style of illegal moonshine.
And moonshine has plenty of regional variations. Speaking just for My Old Kentucky Home, the river country of Western Kentucky has a half corn, half sugar version, while in the Southeast, the better known “corn in a jar” 100% corn whiskey style is prevalent. The Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia are known for a rum-like, all sugar moonshine, and up in New England moonshine might mean a spiked, high proof version of apple jack.
Some will tell you that legal moonshine isn’t moonshine at all, because the key distinction is the illicit nature of the spirit. People are entitled to their opinions, but my thinking on that is two-fold. First, between Thomas Jefferson’s repeal of the hated Whiskey Tax and the Civil War, there were no Federal excise taxes on spirituous liquors. In many parts of the country, moonshine was still called moonshine and it was perfectly legal.
My second thought is that if someone wants to tell a distiller face to face that making moonshine using the family recipe is inauthentic (and there are plenty of them out there doing that) just because they have the licenses and pay taxes, they are welcome to do that. I don’t think that’s the case, so I’m won’t.
Since moonshine can mean so many things, knowing what’s what is tricky, and few experts pay serious attention to the category. With that in mind, here are several choices of the clear stuff that won’t let you down.
Ole Smoky Original
Made on the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains, Ole Smoky’s line of moonshine liquors are the most widely available in the U.S. This 100-proof corn whiskey is pretty strong, but smooth and pretty far from being the rocket fuel of legend. The corn character in this Appalachian offering presents itself as a campfire-roasted corn on the cob, buttery and just a little toasty.
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By: Richard Thomas on 8/4/17