When I tell people that I have come to enjoy moonshine as a leisure liquor, there is almost always a look of confusion. Perhaps it is because the word “moonshine” conjures grainy images of Appalachian distillers brewing the illegal elixir in the backwoods of the Kentucky and Tennessee Mountains.

The high-proof distilled spirits, typically made from corn mash, were invented under moonlight and secrecy at a time when some of America’s poorest settlers needed a way to make extra money in the early 20th century.

While there are still moonshiners who make the spirit in stills in the mountains as a hobby, it is now sold on the open market. Distilleries are popping up that showcase the history and allure of moonshine.

Sampling chocolate moonshine - photo: Tom Adkinson
Sampling chocolate moonshine – photo: Tom Adkinson

I stumbled on a unique distillery, Old Forge Distillery, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The small facility feels like walking into an old cabin in the woods. The front porch is inviting and the large front doors give way to a potent, yet pleasant aroma that lets me know something is definitely brewing.

The high-proof spirits in the giant wood barrels are at different stages of fermentation and distilling. Antique photographs adorn the walls as a reminder of the rich history that stands behind this product. Old Forge Distillery is a craft moonshine company. They distill in small volumes at a time. They do not have a large production facility or mass produce moonshine like other companies on the market.

Old Forge Distillery
Old Forge Distillery

In fact, to keep with the more than 200 years of Tennessee tradition, head distiller Keener Shanton creates and flavor tests all of the varieties that are produced. It is no wonder why he likes his job!

Here, mason jars of moonshine are still filled two at a time by hand. The small distillery creates several blends of moonshine including original, coffee, blackberry, apple pie, peach and my favorite discovery this year – chocolate moonshine. The flavors are rich because Old Forge Distillery uses several types of processes to actually infuse flavor into the liquor versus just “adding” flavoring.

Head distiller Keener Shanton
Head distiller Keener Shanton

In some cases a process called “infusion” is used. Natural botanicals are placed into a small basket on the distilling machine. When the vapor of the alcohol passes over the basket, the flavors are infused on a molecular level as it pushes through the pipe. The end result is a full-bodied taste that has a delicious flavor and not a strong taste of alcohol.

Old Forge Distillery has a special appeal also because of their conservation efforts. Since they are affiliated with the Old Mill and the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe and Grille, not a grain of corn goes to waste. Corn is milled at the Old Mill restaurant for bread and baked goods, then what is left is is used for corn mash for distilling the moonshine.

Corn used for distilling
Corn used for distilling

Once the moonshine is made, it is sold in the Old Forge Distillery store and some of the product is used for creative baking at the Old Mill Pottery House Cafe. I tried a coconut cake pop with moonshine ganache for a dessert and it was delicious!

Throughout history moonshine has gotten a bad rap. It is refreshing to see places like Old Forge Distillery that are classing-up the taboo spirit in a way that the public can enjoy. Because they are a small craft distillery, you have to physically visit them to get your hands on their specialty moonshine.

Old Forge Distillery craft moonshine
Old Forge Distillery craft moonshine

Think of it as the modern-day way of getting your moonshine from “a guy who knows a guy,” just the way the purchase used to happen long ago.

I recommend visiting Pigeon Forge and making a weekend or longer visit out of your trip. For area information visit MyPigeonForge.com.

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