Neat with a Twist: Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

JIM CARTER (this article was originally published October 1, 2012)

The three jars of moonshine delivered from Ole Smoky. Photo by Christophe Jammet of

Not so long ago the making of moonshine was feared to be a dying art. No longer; legally taxed moonshine (an oxymoron) is catching on as a mainstream liquor. One can purchase a still kit or one fully assembled.  There are a large number of brands available commercially, including Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine and Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon.

Moonshine means untaxed illegal whiskey. It is usually clear because it is not aged in wood barrels like finished whiskeys, a property that lends itself to another name –  white lightning. It is often made from corn, but can be made from other grains.

Until recently, the word moonshine brought to mind the romance of colorful still owners in fast cars evading revenuers on winding country roads. I first heard of moonshine as a small boy back on the farm in the Piedmont area of South Carolina.  Revenuers flashing a warrant descended on one of the small houses on the farm where a sharecropper and his family lived. A revenuer complained that the dishwater smelled of alcohol, but I guess criminal science wasn’t advanced enough then to prove that the sharecropper’s daughter, thinking quickly, had poured the moonshine into the dishwater.  On another occasion I recall standing out on the lawn of our home with the men of the family while listening to the revenuers and their bloodhounds chasing some of our moonshine makers back along Reeves Creek behind the house. Once again they avoided being caught by the revenuers. Years later as a teenager, I came across the remnants of their old still in thick undergrowth along that creek while quail hunting.

Stephanie Carter’s black and tan coonhound, Sabine, awaits the moonshine tasting. She’s the same breed as the mascot of the Tennessee Volunteers. Photo by Christophe Jammet.

Maybe some of the romance is gone, but happily the commercial moonshines today don’t have to be feared as were the moonshines produced in those old homemade stills. One doesn’t have to worry about lead problems associated with the distillers using old automobile radiators as condensers.

So understandably, there was much excitement here at OKRA Magazine when the Ole Smoky Distillery, LLC of Gatlinburg, Tennessee delivered a selection of moonshine products to the offices following the recent Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans.  We couldn’t wait to give them a try.

Published recipes fell into three categories: those in which moonshine (often 190 proof in the day) is mixed with other high alcohol content liquors like grain alcohol and 151 proof rum and a small amount of something sweet; those that were simply mixed more traditionally with a cola or juices; and those that seemed of the modern sophisticated bartender type with a large number of bar ingredients.  None sounded like the way I wanted to try original Ole Smokey Moonshine.  So I went to the Ole Smokey website.

Happily Ole Smoky said their original moonshine product was best enjoyed straight from the Mason jar. Upon reading this, I immediately put the jar in the refrigerator. Unlike vodka, which is purified to a neutral flavor, moonshine has an odor and flavor. The nose has a hint of sweetness of the corn as well as a more evasive, pleasant odor. The taste is similar finishing with a wisp of corn sweetness. While there was no doubt this is a 100 proof whiskey, there was none of the fire or burn going down that one might have expected. It was amazing smooth. Let’s just say sipping original Ole Smokey Moonshine from the jar might just be an acquired taste. However, after a sip or two, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you acquire that taste.

The website said the Moonshine Cherries product could be enjoyed one at a time, “Good day? Have a cherry. Bad day? Have a cherry.” However, they had a recipe they call Hayseed Manhattan combining both Moonshine Cherries and the original Ole Smoky Moonshine that sounded like a more interesting use of cherries.  The ingredients are:

  • 1 part Ole Smoky Moonshine
  • ½ part juice from Ole Smoky Moonshine Cherries
  • ½ part sweet vermouth
  • Dash of bitters
  • Garnished with Moonshine Cherries and an orange twist

Your editor, Stephanie, and I checked the bar in her home and found some Angostura bitters and Dolin Rouge Vermouth. We put together our cocktails, expecting a overpowering sweet flavor. To our surprise, the drink was hardly sweet. There was a dry cherry flavor with a hint of freshly mowed oat straw, which I recall pleasantly from those early years on the farm.

Finally we tried 40 proof Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine.  It seems this is a traditional drink during Halloween in some of Appalachia. There are published recipes for making this drink from scratch (moonshine, cinnamon sticks, apple cider, apple juice and sugar): however, why not just get the ready-made. Of course, it is meant to be imbibed straight. We chilled it and drank it from the jar. It was deceptively smooth and mellow, like Halloween and Thanksgiving both happening at once right in a jar, and not overly sweet. Stephanie had a hard time sharing this one and proclaimed that it would be a yearly treat at her Thanksgiving table.

So thanks Ole Smoky for sending OKRA Magazine samples of your product. They brought back memories, and were great to drink.


3 thoughts on “Neat with a Twist: Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

  1. My uncle was a tripper, he ran ‘shine in the backwoods of West Virginia back in the Fifties and Sixties. I still remember riding in the car with him, five or six kids in the back seat with no seat belts, and he’d pop a J-turn at 80 MPH on some country road. Kids would be flying everywhere, screaming with joy. “Do it again, Uncle Bob!”
    The men who made the ‘shine were feared and respected. They kept to themselves up in the hollers and anyone who went up there without an invitation likely never came back. Even Uncle Bob, a hulking slab of a man who could count the things in this world he was afraid of on the fingers of one hand and still have enough digits left to dial a telephone, didn’t venture into those hollers. Someone brought the product to him, and he was fine with that.
    I grew up with an awesome respect both for the culture that produce white liquor and the men to whom the production of untaxed whiskey was both livelihood and birthright. When I came of age to imbibe, I was given entrance to a secret world; there was a particular gas station one went to, ordered an appropriate amount of “kerosene,” and milled around the store for a few minutes. You’d buy a Coke and a pack of nabs, and the clerk would ring you up for the whole purchase. When you went to your car, there was a brown paper bag in the passenger’s side floor of your car, containing the product. Even now, in my approaching dotage, I still get my “hillbilly fuel” through an intermediary. I know people who know people.
    It is for these reasons, and a few more, that I still turn up my nose at the thought of legal ‘shine.

  2. Pingback: Apple Pie Moonshine | Pam's Food Court

  3. Pingback: ‘Shine On: Humorist Hillbilly Savant on Moonshine and Culture #totc |

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