Here's the deal with moonshine stories; there are more lies, falsehoods, deceptions, poorly understood half-truths, bluster, bravado, misquotes, and corrupted second-hand information than at a West Virginia Liars Contest. Many of these untruths are willful misdirection, but most — maybe even the majority— of them are simple misunderstandings, innocent of malice.
I think that's what landed on my desk yesterday morning.
Ever since the Discovery Channel began broadcasting its new series Moonshiners last month, the Whiskey Forge would get frequent spikes for searches about late moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton. Even before that, he often showed up in the site traffic reports, but this was more than the usual pings here and there. Yesterday, surfers from across the US and Canada were digging into earlier stories about Sutton.
ran a story about him and the new 93-proof white whiskey crafted on his persona and the moonshine he made. Also turns out that Huffington Post doesn't have an ear for Southern accents. The article includes a video in which Sutton's widow Pam talks a bit about the whiskey. It quotes her as saying:
“We have a distillery set up in Nashville, Tennessee. We can’t legally call it moonshine. We have to call it Tennessee Wild Whiskey, and also Popcorn’s liquor is the first white whiskey that the federal government has approved.”Well, a few clarifications are in order. Mrs. Sutton doesn't call it "Tennessee Wild Whiskey" in the video. What she says is "Tennessee White Whiskey." If you hear talk or read of a new "wild" whiskey, double check that source.
Sutton's white whiskey, however, it not the first approved by the federal government. Just last Fall, Whiskey Advocate magazine ran Lew Bryson's reviews of more than a dozen unaged or minimally aged white whiskeys. There are plenty of such spirits out there and plenty more on the way.
The brand's website is here, but as of today, it's just a parking page. The distillery Pam Sutton mentions isn't one of Popcorn's old rigs in which he cranked out thousands upon thousands of gallons of untaxed liquor. "Nashville" was the giveaway. Popcorn operated in and around Maggie Valley, North Carolina, about midpoint between Asheville and Gatlinburg. No, Nashville and commercial white whiskey mean one thing to me and one thing only: this particular grain spirit got its (legal) start at DSP TN-15006, our good friends at Corsair Artisan Distillery, makers of some really lovely spirits.
Darek Bell of Corsair tells me Jamey Grosser originally used Corsair stills to make Sutton's whiskey, but just secured his own Distilled Spirits Plant permit. The TTB confirms it: Popcorn Sutton Distilling, LLC of Nashville, Tennessee has its DSP*. The day to day operations guy is distiller Travis Hixon, formerly brewer at Nashville's Blackstone Brewery.
Congratulations, boys, on getting your own place set up. Any chance we'll be seeing some legal versions of Popcorn's brandies?
*Edit 1/10/12 I had originally written that DSP TN-S-15009 was assigned to Popcorn Sutton Distilling, LLC, but Christian Grantham of Short Mountain Distillery corrected the record: HIS Tennessee distillery is TN-S-15009. I can only sympathize with distillers and the endless reams of paperwork they have to endure to get a legal distillery up and running.
Goes well with:
- Legal Moonshine? You've Been Conned, a bit I wrote this summer about the flawed concept of so-called "legal moonshine."
- One of Corsair's standout whiskeys is the triple smoke American single malt. Attendees of last year's Tales of the Cocktail session on New American distilleries got to sample some, but if you missed out on that, do try tracking some down.
- Moonshiners runs on the Discovery Channel on Wednesdays. Last week's marathon of it is what made me late for a New Year's Eve party. I happen to like the show, even if—as are all "reality" shows—it is so clearly a product of artifice. Viz Popcorn's bumper sticker supra.
- The West Virginia Liars Contest has been going on for decades. I've never been, but would love to make it one day.