Alright class, raise your hand if you know what moonshine actually is. If you were thinking “unaged whiskey” you’d be right. Now raise your hand if you associate moonshine with a positive view of American history. No? Perhaps you still hold the stigma of dishonest backwoods hillbillies and “firewater” that will turn you blind. (We’ve all seen or at least heard of the Discovery Channel show, “Moonshiners”.) And while there is a little bit of truth in that stereotype, the majority of people hold a misinformed perception.
We’ve been curious to learn more about moonshine since brunching at Brickside last year where we were first introduced to legally distilled moonshine in the form of a Bloody Mary. Jaime Joyce’s “Moonshine: A Cultural History o f America’s Infamous Liquor” works to inform and enlighten those interested in the history of a long-held American tradition that began in the 1700’s (Colonial America) with the first Scots-Irish settlers and continues into current day America: through prohibition, the Great Depression, to the racetracks of NASCAR, and pop-culture including making appearances in the iconic The Bevery Hillbillies, The Andy Griffith Show, Thunder Road, and Moonrunners.
What we found the most fascinating is how illegal distilling (and we’ll leave it up to you to decide which side of the law they should be on) is often a family tradition with recipes and skills passed down through generations. The pull of such tradition was strong enough to keep moonshiners going even after serving jail time and paying hefty fines. In fact, in 1945 “…federal, state, and local agents had captured an ‘unprecedented’ 22,913 stills capable of producing each year about 36 million gallons of non-tax-paid liquor… which meant that by midcentury, more than a quarter of all distilled spirits made and sold in the United States were of the illicit variety.”
The knowledge and importance of one’s heritage has turned some illicit moonshiner’s “straight” so they could safely continue preserving their family roots, while others have seen the value in traditions and distill legally as artisans to inform and uphold parts of American history that is typically buried in the regular text books. (Because obviously children don’t need to know how much people relied on distilling as a sole source of income, or the corruptness of the legal system.) Some of the most popular legal moonshine brands today include Midnight Moon, Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, and of course Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Jack Daniel’s all jumped on the band wagon recently releasing their own versions of modern moonshine.
So, we can’t write about moonshine and Jaime Joyce’s book without telling you where you can find moonshine in Washington D.C., can we? That just wouldn’t be fair. We’ve compiled a small list of places, brand of moonshine they use, and their drink descriptions just for ya’ll:
- Mentioned in Joyce’s book, The Lincoln serves a cocktail dubbed “Abe’s Moonshine”. Made with ShineXXX White Whiskey, housemade ginger syrup, fresh lemon, and orange bitters. We wouldn’t expect anything less than for it to be served in a mason jar.
- One of our favorite speakeasys in the District, we’re happy to say The Gibson – in true speakeasy fashion – offers the cocktail “Grown but Still a Frat” made with George Dickle White Whiskey, watermelon, honey dew, sage, and Thai chili.
- Still relatively new to the city, STK‘s signature Washington D.C. drink – “District Darlin'” – is a gorgeously sweet combination of Apple Pie Moonshine, aperol, lemon, thyme honey.
- Brickside now offers two cocktails with the inclusion of moonshine. The first is their “Brickside Moonshine Punch” with Midnight Moonshine, orange vodka, fruit, prosecco and soda. The second is the “Brickside Poinsettia” with champagne, pomegranate juice, and a splash of Midnight Moonshine.
- And finally Copperwood Tavern has earned all bragging rights when it comes to moonshine. In addition to two signature cocktails Copperwood also lists a total of 10 varieties/flavors of moonshine for customers to indulge in (or experiment with) on their menu. Cocktails include the “Shine ‘N Tonic” with Virginia Lightning Moonshine, house-made tonic, and lime as well as the “Smokey Paloma” made with Ole Smokey Moonshine, Milagro Reposado, house-made grapefruit juice, Agave syrup, fresh squeezed lime juice, and smoked salt.
We suggest picking up a copy of Jaime Joyce’s new book and sitting down to read with a jug of sugar whiskey. Wonderfully condensed history in an entertaining yet easy to read style, we think it’s time to bring back more of American history and cultural heritage. (We’re seriously considering opening a distillery in our retirement after reading Moonshine: A Cultural History of America’s Infamous Liquor.)
*Photo courtesy: (Top Center) STK & TAAPR, (Top Right) Brickside, (Bottom) Copperwood Tavern
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