In the Spirit(s): Mainstreaming Moonshine
Mar 01, 2017 05:24PM ● Published by Makayla Gay
By Brandy Woods Snow
Photography By Greenville Headshots
Moonshine. White Lightning. Hooch. White Whiskey. Corn Liquor. Homebrew. Mountain Dew. ‘Shine. If you’re from the South, no doubt you’ve heard of it or may have even known someone who used to make it, though you’d probably never own up to the fact publicly. Until now.
The term “moonshine,” traditionally applied to distilled corn whiskey made illegally “by the light of the moon”, now has a new moniker: Legal. An alteration to state liquor laws in 2009 allowed micro-distilleries to take advantage of the changes to produce and sell moonshine and other distilled spirits in South Carolina. There have been other changes, too, most noticeably the people’s desire to understand the culture of these often misunderstood spirits, from the rich history to the intricate techniques required to ensure the perfect brew.
While distillers are pushing for further legislation changes (the current laws in place are considerably tighter than those faced by craft beer brewers and wineries), they are also blending age-old traditions with innovative techniques to create the best-tasting spirits to honor the history of the craft as well as win new customers. This effort has not gone unnoticed by the state, which has included moonshiners and distillers in its Satisfy Your Thirst Tour focused on introducing visitors to the craftsmanship, history and lore behind these iconic beverages.Palmetto Distillery
200 W Benson Street, Anderson SC
www.palmettomoonshine.com | 864.760.0469
It’s a good thing moonshine’s now legal in the state since Palmetto Distillery is located, ironically, in a century-old brick warehouse in the backyard of the county courthouse. Brothers Bryan and Trey Boggs, descendants of moonshiners, have revived the family craft, passionate about preserving the heritage of this Southern tradition and breathing new life into original recipes and mash bills passed down for more than a century. “Our mission is to spotlight the deep connections between our brands and South Carolina, to embrace the southern roots of moonshine’s colorful history and how, for many families in years gone by, it was a vital part of their ability to put food on the table,” says Trey Boggs.
Palmetto Distillery is the first micro-distillery in the state to produce Palmetto Moonshine, S.C.’s first legal moonshine, and Palmetto Whiskey, S.C.’s most awarded craft whiskey. They have also been named the South Carolina Whiskey Distillery of the Year by the NY International Spirits Competition. From what started in a 30-gallon still made by a fifth-generation bootlegger has now grown into an operation requiring two thousand-gallon stills to maintain capacity. They currently offer five moonshine flavors, including the traditional White Lightning, Strawberry, Peach, Blackberry and Apple Pie. Palmetto Whiskey uses 21-percent rye and is aged in new French oak for exceptional quality with notes of caramel and vanilla.
Palmetto Distillery products are now being sold and shipped internationally and will soon have a presence inside the Grand Hall at GSP International Airport. The distillery is open six days a week, providing free tastings and facility tours, souvenirs, and local goods.
Sugar Tit Moonshine
330 Main Street, Reidville SC
www.sugartitmoonshine.com | 864.249.6483
While petting Whiskey, the guest-greeting goldendoodle at Sugar Tit Moonshine (STM), is the highlight of any still tour, visitors can also expect to taste some excellent spirits, see the production process, and experience a trip through history all in one outing. Located in a restored circa-1857 apothecary/country store in historic Reidville, STM opened for business in 2015 and is a small-batch distillery with all moonshine and flavorings made in-house from proprietary recipes, including their six signature flavors of apple pie, pineapple, peach, strawberry, blueberry and “Plum Crazy” as well as their 100-proof “Simply Naked” moonshine and a special label “Shinetown” 120-proof offering. Distilled six times, STM is exceptionally smooth, described by owners Kat and Bob Jordan as a “sipping whiskey,” and is made from corn mash and open-air fermented. Some juices used in the flavorings are made in-house, and fresh fruit is used during season.
STM carries apparel, handmade leather, soaps and candles, local honey, vintage jewelry and more. Free tours with tastings are offered daily along with a history of the building (complete with recovered artifacts from excavation), the town, and the “sugar tit” itself. At tour’s end, visitors are inducted into the STM “Bootleg Buddy” club, which earns them a pin on the wall map, denoting their hometown. What once marked visitors from across the country has now expanded to cover the entire wall with global entries from as far away as New Zealand.
“The perception of moonshine and the development of new flavor profiles have taken off, so much so there’s a tremendous amount of tourist interest in what we do,” says Kat. “We’ve even had people come in to ask if we’re legal. We like to laugh and answer no just to see the reaction.”
Dark Corner Distillery
14 S Main Street, Greenville SC
www.darkcornerdistillery.com | 864.631.1144
Joe Fenton, a native of South Carolina’s Dark Corner, graduated from Clemson in 2007 and worked in electrical engineering before “retiring” in 2015 to pursue his true entrepreneurial passion: producing distilled spirits while educating tourists and locals alike on the area’s rich Appalachian heritage. The inspiration came shortly after the passage of the Micro Distillery Law when he was working as an engineer at one of Diageo’s bottling plants and thought: Why not open a tasting room, bottle shop and distillery on Main Street? Fenton partnered with Brass Ring Spirits Brand to usher in a new era in craft spirits, growing the business on all fronts, including a centrally-located retail store and bottle shop, a new 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and 21 states of distribution. Through a strategic alliance with the Cayman Spirits Company in Grand Cayman, they recently broke ground on Hilton Head Distillery, producing full lines of rums and vodka.
Dark Corner uses the highest quality local corn and the best red wheat and barley in production. The distillation system, designed to favor quality and taste through the implementation of time-honored methods, plays a vital role in producing The World’s Best Moonshine, Whiskey Girl flavored whiskeys, Jocassee Gin, Greenvillian Absinthe and Game Day Spirits Tiger Fire and Cock Lightning.
Dark Corner is known for legally distilling the state’s first-ever bourbon whiskey, gin and absinthe, and was awarded the South Carolina Distillery of the Year Award twice by the NY International Spirits Competition. Says Fenton, “We want to pay homage to our Scotch-Irish ancestors who settled the Appalachian hills over 200 years ago. They lived off the land and made good drinks from it, too.”
Six & Twenty Distillery
3109 Highway 153, Piedmont SC
www.sixandtwentydistillery.com | 864.263.8312
If owners David Raad and Robert Redmond (better known as DR and Farmer) could describe the most important element in the production of their spirits, it’d be craftsmanship, because that’s what ensures the sophisticated flavor profiles and state pride synonymous with Six & Twenty Distillery. Unwilling to chase trends, the partners focus on one key objective: the premiumization of products through the use of only the best locally grown SC grains. Mashing, fermentation and distillation occur on-site with a custom Artisan Still Design still, producing a variety of hand-crafted whiskies, bourbon, gin and vodka. Each bottle is filled, hand-corked, labeled, numbered and personally signed, and the whiskey exclusively uses S.C. grains, with soft red winter wheat and corn from the Upstate, rye and malted barley from the Midlands and rice from the Lowcountry.
Their flagship brand, Old Money, was created at their wives’ request to be a smooth sipping spirit with hints of caramel, vanilla and maple. The 5-Grain Bourbon, created at their friends’ request, offers a bolder, more complex flavor and higher proof. They also offer a citrus-forward Gin, Virgin Wheat Whiskey, twelve-time-distilled VI&XX Vodka, Carolina Rouge Whiskey, and best-selling Carolina Cream, a dessert-style spirit reminiscent of an Irish Cream but kicked up a notch.
Tours are available upon request and allow visitors to see the distilling process first-hand then taste the award-winning spirits. “We meet all sorts of people from novices to aficionados, and we enjoy educating them on the process and instilling that appreciation of how our spirits are crafted. We help them experience an awakening to various tastes and the differences between ages and intensities,” says Raad. “Our products are an expression of who we are. They’re meant to be savored.”
Copperhead Mountain Distillery
14 S Main Street, Travelers Rest SC
copperheadmtn.com | 864.610.2228
John Connelly’s father was a terrific artist, and for years he waited on his very own artistic talent to emerge. After more than a decade of dissatisfaction in drinking commercial spirits, he discovered his creative calling in a few library books detailing the distillation process. In 2013, John and his wife Regina decided to put the newfound knowledge into action by opening Travelers Rest’s first legal moonshine still. The venture was a natural choice for someone like John, whose roots are comprised of Irish, German and Italian bloodlines—three of the world’s greatest drinking cultures.
Copperhead Mountain offers hand-crafted versions of scotch, rum, bourbon and both clear and naturally flavored moonshines, from 100-proof Snakebite to fruity fusions to dramatic chocolate, peppermint and butterscotch varieties. “We believe smaller is better, and that holds true in our case,” says Connelly. “We specialize in small batches and use 30-gallon, all-copper stills to produce some of the smoothest spirits you’ll ever try.”
In addition to spirits, Copperhead Mountain also offers a full line of moonshine-enhanced products such as moonshine boiled peanuts, moonshine jams, jellies, pickles, hot sauce, salsa and chow-chow. Their signature moonshine chili, which won last year’s TR chili cook-off, is also a crowd favorite.
Located on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Copperhead Mountain is a mom-and-pop star in the picturesque town, bringing in tourists from around the world on a daily basis. “Our customer experience is like none other. Our motto is we don’t want to be the biggest, we want to remain the best.”
Motte & Sons Bootlegging Co.
220 E Daniel Morgan Ave., Spartanburg SC
www.motteandsons.com | 864.308.1844
For the Mottes, bootlegging is truly a family business. Originally from Riverside, Ca., Eugenia and Michael Motte relocated to Spartanburg several years ago with their four sons, Johnny, Matthew, Michael and Luke. It was on one fateful night, just before their last son left for college, that the Mottes stumbled upon a new business venture. After a nice dinner and a tour of Greenville’s Dark Corner Distillery, they wanted to make their own mark on the industry and bring it home to Spartanburg.
They crafted a business plan and entered into Spartanburg’s The Main Street Challenge, where the business was selected as one of the city’s inaugural winners. They found the perfect 5000-square-foot building, previously home to Pittsburgh Paints, to become the home of Motte & Sons Bootlegging Co.’s 2,000-square-foot retail space and 3,000-square-foot distillery workspace. The doors opened in August 2014.
The distillery features nine signature liquors, including vodka, jalapeno pickle vodka, The General light whiskey, Brigadier light whiskey, Palmetto Rum, Aged rum, gin, brandy, and most recently, Johnny Reb moonshine, handcrafted by Motte’s oldest son, Johnny. More signature spirits are currently in development. Tours and tastings are available along with a variety of local products and gifts, including bulk nuts, candies, chocolates, Dee Dee’s Gourmet Cheese Straws and Spartanburg’s favorite peanut brittle. Seasonal gifts and baskets are available as well as space for private events.
Situated in the midst of Spartanburg’s development projects, within walking distance to downtown and easily accessible to four local colleges, Motte & Sons’ future is bright.