Above, some of the more upscale drinks now made with white lightning at
Moonshine - the once taboo spirit found in cabins deep in the Appalachian mountains far away from the long arm of the law - is now making its way into mainstream drinking thanks to specialty restaurants and legal distilleries right here in Georgia.
Recently the Progress was invited to a trendy Buckhead restaurant whose niche is moonshine drinks and craft burgers. When we sat down for the media dinner at Stillhouse Moonshine & Burger Bar, my husband looked around the restaurant and said, “This is a southern man’s dream: burgers, moonshine and big-screen TVs.”
Once kept in Mason jars and transported in souped-up cars in the dead of night, moonshine makers are now getting on the right side of the law and selling legally throughout the nation. The closest distillery is most notably our neighbors to the east at Dawsonville Moonshine.
The other Georgia distillery is Ivy Mountain Distillery in Mt. Airy which has moonshine and sour mash and (once the most common around here) various fruit brandies.
At 61 Main, Jasper’s farm-to-table dining destination, a moonshine-based drink is their most popular.
“Our signature drink is one we call the Jasper Jackass,” said Manager Rob Jarrett. “It’s our version of the Moscow Mule and we use moonshine from the Dawsonville distillery. It’s probably our most popular drink. We ran it as a special drink in the spring of last year but it was so popular we have it permanently on the menu now.”
Moonshine, ginger beer, lemon-lime and pomegranate juice, Jarrett said, all mix together for the Jasper Jackass.
Moonshine from the Dawsonville distillery and Mt. Airy are both featured at Buckhead’s Stillhouse Moonshine and Burger Bar. According to the Dawsonville distillery’s website, they use traditional recipes from over 150 years ago that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Moonshine, white lightning, hooch, and mountain dew are all terms used to describe high-proof distilled spirits and trendy restaurants are taking the age-old mixture and bringing new life to traditional gin and vodka-based libations. Using moonshine - once a forbidden drink - to concoct drinks like Old Fashioned, Mojitos, and Cosmopolitans, may seem as out of place as a June Bug in December, but the result is nothing short of wonderful.
“Using corn-based moonshine just adds a nice sweetness to the cocktail,” said Nicholas Bustos head mixologist at Stillhouse.
Bustos said any drink which uses gin, vodka or even rum can be made using the different moonshines. He said he has experimented with the mixes but has been surprised by the versatility of the white lightning.
Moonshine, which is completely legal as long as taxes are paid on the product, has been around since the 1800s. Most recently during the 20s and 30s, moonshiners and bootleggers – the ones who smuggled and transported the product – raced cars packed with moonshine at night to avoid police. Outrunning the authorities while hauling the loads from North Georgia down to Atlanta grew into the NASCAR racing series and in fact, the winner of the first ever NASCAR race had used the same car to make a bootleg run just a week earlier.
Moonshine is different from the whiskey you find on the shelf at a liquor store primarily for its aging process – or lack thereof, according to howstuffworks.com.
When whiskey comes out of a still, it’s clear and looks like water. Moonshiners bottle it and sell it as is, while commercial alcohols have an amber or golden color to them because they are aged for years in charred oak barrels. The aging process gives them color and calms the harsh taste.
Whether out of curiosity or because it was outlawed for so long, demand for the backwoods beverage is booming both around town and in swank restaurants around the country. The popularity of the product, restauranteurs say, is that consumers demand products that are distinctive, novel and perceived as local.
One of the largest moonshine producers in the country, Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery, which opened in Gatlinburg, Tenn. in 2010, sold roughly 250,000 to 280,000 cases of moonshine in 2012, a jump from 50,000 in 2010 and 80,000 in 2011, according to Time magazine.
Stillhouse is located at 56 East Andrews Drive in Buckhead. 61 Main is located in downtown Jasper.