My only connection to moonshine was a memory from childhood, when my parents set up a still in the laundry room, on top of the washer and dryer.
The project was likely steeped in my mother’s over-the-top frugality and a surplus of corn from a friend’s garden. The highlight came when the final product drip, drip, dripped into a jar, into which Mom stuck a finger for tasting purposes.
“Look,” she proudly declared, holding up a wounded digit. “It split the skin.”
My sister and I hunkered down in our rooms for the ensuing moonshine party, during which there was no shortage of country-western music and trips to the bathroom. Afterward, the still disappeared, as did whatever moonshine might have been left over.
Now, I know why.
Moonshine is hot now, they say, the booze hound’s equivalent of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Cooked up by so-called craft distillers, it is even available in some Sam’s Clubs. Ole Smoky brand became available last month in Illinois. Naturally, I got in touch with the publicist, and a box arrived a few days later, straight from Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Twelve jars! That’s what the box was marked. Much to my initial disappointment, the box contained just three Mason jars, one filled with booze-soaked maraschino cherries, the other an amber-colored liqueur labeled “apple pie” and the third honest-to-God moonshine straight from the Smoky Mountains.
I called a couple friends, call them Bubba and Slim, and we set up on the back deck – I mean, porch – for a tasting exercise. We didn’t have the right hats or dogs, but there was a see-ment pond and plenty of Flatt and Scruggs.
Naturally, we started with the 100-proof straight stuff. I had high hopes, given what I had read about minty finishes in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Sipped simply neat, the best of this new generation of ‘white dog,’ ‘new make’ and so-called ‘moonshine’ can be smooth and complex as fine tequila or eau de vie, even at high proof levels ranging up to 62.5 percent alcohol,” the East Coast reviewer waxed.
This stuff tasted as if it had been run through used coffee filters stolen from a cousin’s meth lab, with a finish evoking Tinactin with a hint of nightshade. Yup, declared Bubba, who had once lived in West Virginia – this is the real deal. The 40-proof apple pie flavor, however, was pretty darn tasty. The ’shine-soaked cherries brought us back to college days, when fruit cocktail dumped in Everclear-and-Kool-Aid punch made for unforgettable parties that no one can remember.
The folks at Ole Smoky Distillery had kindly included cocktail recipes, and so we went to work. The trick with moonshine, we figured, was to mix it with other things so that it would not taste like moonshine. The problem was, some of the concoctions were worse than the straight stuff.
We had been sent corn whiskey, recommended for sipping, as opposed to the version called white lightnin’, which the maker says can be substituted for vodka, tequila and other more common liquors in your favorite mixed drinks. Oh, well.
Orange juice mixed with ’shine was awful, but made moonshine-and-tonic nearly acceptable. I did not sample moonshine-and-grapefruit-juice, but the scrunch on Slim’s face said it all. Red Bull and ’shine, on the other hand, was palatable, as was Coke mixed with apple-pie ’shine, an elixir we invented all by ourselves. We did not make it to the Triple Sec or cranberry juice.
Outshining everything was Coke mixed with radioactive-pink ’shine from the jar filled with cherries, which we used liberally as garnish. Called a Cherry Pop and reminiscent of Dr. Pepper, this was not only good, but extraordinarily good, something Bubba declared he would order at a bar.
We consumed the entire jar, leaving many cherries high and dry. Not to worry: They are now soaking in the moonshine we didn’t drink.