Star Search: Masters of Moonshine in Partnership With USBG


by Jesse Hom-Dawson

As Ole Smoky’s fourth annual Masters of Moonshine nears, the Tennessee-based distillery has announced a slight twist to
the upcoming event. Past iterations of the program have seen entrants create cocktails for a panel of judges in select markets, with the finalists competing for audience favorite at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Last year, Makenzie Oliver of Tennessee and Karen Puttmann of Ohio, both emerged as victors after tying for first place.

This year, Ole Smoky is doing something a little different. “We’ve never had a Brand Ambassador for Ole Smoky Moonshine before, and we figured now is the time!” Vice President of Marketing Meg Bruno explains.

According to Bruno, a “natural evolution” of the Masters of Moonshine program inspired the distillery to do away with the old format of the competition in a quest to find five mixologists who will represent Ole Smoky in their respective territories for a six-month contract. “We’re looking for an opportunity to expand to more markets this year, so we want to reach out to the people who weren’t in one of the cities that hosted the semifinals and keep them engaged with us
all year long,” Bruno adds. “Each region is so different when it comes to their cocktail cultures, and Ole Smoky wants to make sure they’re all represented!”

Starting in mid-March, entrants will be able to submit an application for the brand ambas- sador position. The United States Bartenders’ Guild—perhaps the group most qualified to narrow down the applicants—will then pick two semi-finalists each from five regions: the West Coast, the Northeast, the South, the Midwest and the “motherland” of Ole Smoky Moonshine, Tennessee.

According to Sheila Rosario, Director of Sponsorship Sales for the USBG, the judges will adhere to impartiality throughout the process. “As a nonprofit, the USBG follows strict nondiscrimination rules while selecting participants for programs in an effort to avoid or mitigate conflict of interest. To make oppor- tunities fair to all members, we implement an anonymous selection process,” Rosario says. “We will be looking for characteristics that best match Ole Smoky’s values and mission. Family values, tradition, and perseverance are key components that have helped to shape Ole Smoky into the brand it is today. The best candidates for the Master of Moonshine program will be able to show they also embody these characteristics and would be an asset to the Ole Smoky team.”

After Ole Smoky narrows the field down
to five, the new brand ambassadors will embark on a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which serves as the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the home of the Ole Smoky Distillery, the most visited facility
of its kind in America. “Call it moonshine boot camp meets [Kentucky bartender camp] Camp Runamok—we’re throwing them into the trenches,” Bruno says with a laugh. “They’ll get to make moonshine, hang out with the locals, and learn about the history of Ole Smoky. We’re also going to have fun extracurricular activities like fishing, hiking, and four-wheeling.”

Although the boot camp sounds like a lively introduction to a moonshine enthusiast’s dream job, Ole Smoky expects the ambassadors to take their roles seriously. “As brand ambas- sadors, the five finalists have carte blanche with the help of Ole Smoky to create a program that fits their region, whether it’s going to parties to represent the brand, training staff, or working with us for development of digital content,” Bruno explains.

Ole Smoky will continue with this format for future Masters of Moonshine programs, and Bruno hints there might even be an opportunity in the future to expand the search internationally. “Ole Smoky is distributed in 45 countries, and last year we had an Australian semi-finalist participate, so we’d love to work with people around the world,” she says. 

Interested in entering this year’s Masters of Moonshine program? Visit for more details on how to apply.

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