When you think of moonshine, your mind may drift to backwood operations churning out the unsavory spirits by way of moonlight that would rob you of your sight if you drank too much. A rite of passage for some, it’s been nearly a century since Prohibition went into effect and saw arguably the height of moonshine.
But Ole Smoky isn’t producing your grandfather’s or great grandfather’s moonshine that may have been synthesized with antifreeze or lead (which was responsible for the reputed blindness of the harsh beverages). On the contrary, Ole Smoky is responsible for mainstreaming moonshine.
Vice President On-Premise Mason Engstrom spoke with ED Magazine about the history of Ole Smoky, and what they’re bringing to the 25th Gentlemen’s Club EXPO, including legitimacy to moonshine.
ED: Can you talk about the history of Ole Smoky and how you came to become the first federally licensed distillery?
Engstrom: Ole Smoky started in 2010 as a small family owned business (and is still independently owned today). Three guys with a family history of moonshining, bought some property in downtown Gatlinburg (Tennessee) with the hopes they would be able to get the first distillery permit in the state of Tennessee since Prohibition. They were able to get the state laws changed and were issued the first legal moonshine distillery permit.
They brought in some family members to start making moonshine, with the thoughts of selling moonshine to tourists coming through on their way into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. They made enough moonshine that they thought would last them three months, and opened for business. They sold out of moonshine within three days, and realized this was going to be bigger than they had imagined.
Within a couple years, Ole Smoky Moonshine was distributed in all 50 states, and is now distributed in more than 25 countries. Ole Smoky is the number one moonshine brand in the world and is still growing rapidly. We now have three separate distilleries, all in the Smoky Mountain region. Our original Gatlinburg distillery “The Holler” is now the most-visited distillery in the U.S. with more than two million visitors last year.
ED: What was the first Ole Smoky moonshine flavor? Which is the most identifiable with the distillery and why? Why are you promoting the Blackberry Moonshine?
Engstrom: Moonshine starts as basically un-aged corn whiskey. So our “Original Moonshine” was our first product produced. It is 100 proof, twice distilled in pot stills, clear corn whiskey. We take some of that original moonshine and further distill it out to six times, and it becomes our “White Lightnin’ Moonshine.” This is also 100 proof but becomes much more smooth and mixable with the further distilling. We then take some of that, and flavor it with traditions-old recipes using real fruits, juices, and spices. We then end up with our Apple Pie Moonshine, Blackberry Moonshine, and many others. Most people believe that moonshine has to be very high proof and clear to be a true moonshine, but this isn’t true. If you go back in history you will see that most moonshine was flavored with fruits and juices to make it more drinkable, and able to drink straight from the jar. Our recipes are actually our master distillers grandmothers’ recipes that are over 100 years old. Apple Pie is our number one selling moonshine in total, but we have recently noticed that the Blackberry Moonshine has become very popular in bars and restaurants. It seems it is mostly being consumed as a shot, mixed with lemonade, or dropped into a light beer (a Black-Light).
ED: What does that federal protection mean for the product and ease of access it means for interested parties?
Engstrom: Our moonshine is just as legal as any other spirit produced with taxes paid to the government. We are making traditional moonshines, but now paying our taxes, and we have distributors in all 50 states. So it should be just as easy for any party to get Ole Smoky Moonshine, as it is to get any popular vodka or whiskey.
ED: What is it about Ole Smoky moonshine that sets it apart from its competition? More specifically, how does Ole Smoky moonshine compare versus other moonshines from that region?
Engstrom: Ole Smoky was the first legal moonshine, and with our popularity many other “moonshine” companies popped up. Some of these are making legit moonshine, but unfortunately many are buying grain neutral spirits, flavoring it with syrups and sugars, and then calling it moonshine. At Ole Smoky, we distill all of our own product in pot stills in Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains, and only add real fruits and juices. It’s a very natural product and you can easily tell the difference between Ole Smoky and most other moonshines by sampling. I always tell people to try any Ole Smoky product straight from the jar or in a shot. They are very drinkable on their own or with easy mixes. I love to see people’s faces when trying moonshine for the first time, because they are expecting it to be very harsh. Then when they realize how good it is, they always ask for more.
ED: What is people’s general first reaction to tasting Ole Smoky moonshine?
Engstrom: Everyone seems very surprised how smooth and easy to drink it is. Everyone seems to think it has to be harsh. And many people seem to have the story of their crazy uncle that makes moonshine in his garage. But Ole Smoky has an almost 100% corn mash bill, we use copper pot stills, and all natural products. And with a portfolio of products from 40 proof up to 128 proof, we have something that everyone can handle.
For more information, call (865) 436-6995 or visit olesmoky.com.