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While our country’s booze pioneers have been distilling unaged spirits in their homes for 300+ years, moonshine only became technically legal in 2010.
Now recognized as a clear, unaged whiskey, moonshine doesn’t shy away from its notorious past. But it’s certainly become a more elevated spirit — and one that hasn’t received its proper due in most home bars.
Until now. John Schlimm, a Harvard-trained educator, writer of 17 books and a member of one of the oldest brewing families in the U.S. (Straub Brewery), just released Moonshine: A Celebration of America’s Original Rebel Spirit, possibly the most definitive book on the rebel spirit.
Why moonshine? For Schlimm, his love is twofold.
There’s the American history, of course. “The moonshiners were our country’s original daredevils and adventure-seeking crusaders,” sasy Schlimm. “They were pioneering farmer-entrepreneurs, patriots and artisans who handcrafted their own destiny in jugs and Mason jars, and at all costs, from the start of our country to current day.”
(He also adds: “It’s thanks to them that we have NASCAR!”)
And there’s also an honesty to this simple concoction of homegrown corn, mountain spring water, sugar and yeast. “It’s pure, clean and natural,” says the author. “And it packs the most radical, knock-you-on-your-ass, buzzworthy punch — unlike anything else on the bar shelf.”
So put down your 12-year whatever and pick up your Mason jar. Below, Schlimm’s five favorite moonshines, in his own words. As well, he lists cocktails you can enjoy for each (with recipes for several available in his book).
Caveat: “These are the moonshines you can easily get at a liquor store or local distillery, and not have to trek deep into the hollers to procure … which can be a rip-roaring good time as well.”
Ole Smoky Moonshine
From the first federally-licensed distillery in Tennessee, Ole Smoky Moonshine is easily the most famous XXX in the land. Its 100-proof fiery recipe was handed down through many generations, and it now has more than two dozen flavored varieties — like cherry, peach, lemon drop, dill and even “Harley-Davidson Charred Moonshine.” Ole Smoky’s The Real Dill is especially awesome in a white lightning-infused Bloody Mary. BUY IT HERE
Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon
Junior Johnson is the real deal in every way. It owes its name to owner Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson’s bootlegging days, when he perfected the 180 maneuver to outrun the authorities (he’d later become one of NASCAR’s first superstar champions). His 80-proof family recipe for moonshine is as smooth as the best whiskeys and vodkas, and works equally well imbibed straight over the rocks or as part of cocktails like The 180, Creek Breeze or Moonrunner’s Manhattan. BUY IT HERE
Catdaddy Spiced Moonshine
Spicy and sweet, with hints of nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla, Catdaddy is the most savory triple-X on shelves today. We’re talking eyes-roll-back-in-your-head delicious here. This blend of 80-proof perfection can play party starter or nightcap over ice, or rock out as your secret ingredient in cocktails like a Moonshine Monkey, Happy Sally’s Sweet Tea or Old Apple Tree Likker. BUY IT HERE
Sun Dog 130 White Whiskey
Southern Grace Distilleries, Inc. in Mt. Pleasant, NC, holds the distinction of being the only moonshine distillery in the U.S. housed in a former prison (among various outlaws, moonshiners were held in this prison until the 1970s). Besides street cred, their Sun Dog 130 is handcrafted, soothing and authentic ‘shine at its best. Guzzle over ice or used as part of an ultimate blowout punch, like Party in the Holler or Redneck Knockout. BUY IT HERE
Tim Smith’s Climax Moonshine
Outlaw-turned-legit moonshiner Tim Smith became a household name because of his starring role on Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners. His Climax Moonshine is distilled from corn, rye and barley malt; I highly recommend using it to make a round of Stockcar cocktails for your friends. BUY IT HERE
Photos: Via John Schlimm; Ole Smoky; Junior Johnson; Piedmont Distillers; Southern Grace Distilleries; Tim Smith’s Climax Moonshine
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