Tennessee moonshine maker concocts high-proof liquor, battles consumer demand
Ole Smoky Distillery CEO on managing the costs from tariffs, spiking corn futures
Moonshining is the process of making illegal alcohol Opens a New Window... During Prohibition, distillers concocted the high-proof spirit in secret to escape the ban and taxes. However, now it’s legal and has become a big business for one Tennessee distillery whose roots can be traced back to the Smoky Mountains’ earliest settlers.
“Business is going great,” said Ole Smoky Distillery CEO Robert Hall to FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo Opens a New Window. on Thursday. “Our biggest challenge is satisfying the growing demand for our products.”
They have become so popular they received the “Hot Brand” award in 2018 by M. Shanken Communications, a leading publisher in the U.S. wine and spirits industry.
“An industry publication indicated that we had sales of 338 thousand cases… a 9-liter case is a measure of volume in the spirits business,” he explained. “Three hundred and thirty-eight thousand 9 liter cases translates to over 700 thousand physical cases of product.”
Corn is used as the main ingredient in the many recipes used in the moonshine. And although many farmers worry that President Trump’s Mexico tariff threat could dampen business, Hall said “corn and tariffs are actually both different issues” for the company.
“Corn futures are actually spiking at the moment driven by the rainy weather in the Midwest. So plantings are down and that could well lead to prices. Tariffs have come and gone… these are just challenges that we have to… manage,” he said adding that like any “great American company we’re endeavoring to challenge them” with investments in equipment and space.
However, Ole Smoky didn’t escape from tariffs completely unscathed.
“On one side the tariff on our products entering Canada and the European Union are liable to tariffs and that’s increased prices of our products in those areas and so demand did slow a little bit there,” said Hall. “But the tariffs put on by Canada have now been repealed so we should be back to neutral there.”
There was also some impact from the metal used on their Mason jar lids.
“The price of our lids went up,” he said, adding “even though we buy everything domestically.”
The liquor comes in a “range of proofs for a range of tastes” from as low as 35 to as high as 128 and costs around $25.