The Tasting Panel magazine

January 2016

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Page 121 of 148

january-february 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  121 The sacred roots of Appalachia burrow deep in the veins of Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. Co-founder Joe Baker can trace his Eastern Tennessee lineage back more than 200 years. The families of Baker and Ole Smoky's Master Distiller, Justin King may or may not have had a hand in making moonshine 'round these parts for over a century (it's moonshine—of course there's going to be some mystery). Both see the collection of the moonshines created from their distilleries in Gatlinburg, TN and Pigeon Forge, TN, as a means to pay tribute to the legacy the region has proudly created through the formerly illicit elixir. The latest way they've honored this legacy is through raising the proof of their top-selling Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine (from 40 to 70 proof), a sumptuous apple pie moonshine served up in a Mason jar, just like the rest of Ole Smoky's line of 'shines. To the uninitiated (read: Yankees who have no roots in Appalachia), apple pie moonshine may look like a modern creation simply designed to further the spirit's presence beyond the South. Yet Apple Pie exists in part to shine a light on the fact that this special form of flavored moonshine is not a Johnny Cash–come–lately. "If you aren't from the mountains, then you probably don't know about the tradition of apple pie moonshine," King explains. "But it's been around for a long time, and it's part of the Americana around here. To us, it represents a place and time where you'd gather around with family and friends, take the lid off a jar and pass it around. Really, that's the kind of legacy we're trying to uphold and preserve with Apple Pie, along with our other moonshines." In order to achieve that space and time, Ole Smoky blends Apple Pie with ingredients practically culled from your Aunt Bea's cupboard. We're talking pure apple juice, ground cinnamon, a few other choice spices and the kind of love that naturally emanates from any baked good left to cool on a windowsill. The result of this handcrafted care is an easy-drinking beverage that replicates the flavors and satisfaction that a slice of fresh homemade pie routinely brings. The 'shine's inherent warmth and spiciness also makes it an ideal base for mixed drinks to imbibe on cold winter days or cool summer nights. According to Baker, this type of versatility amazes those that come to the counter with the assumption that moonshine is exclusively designed to live up to its reputation as White Lightning. "A lot of people think that moonshine is just this harsh, unap- proachable spirit," he states. "But once people try our creations like Apple Pie, they are surprised by how much character a jar of 'shine can have." These days, Ole Smoky Moonshine is in a prime position to share that character with the masses in a massive way. With Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge being huge regional tourist destina- tions—the former is adjacent to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and the latter is home to Dollywood—taking a trip to Ole Smoky's dual distilleries for a sip of 'shine has turned into an essential part of many visitors' itinerary—not that Baker is too surprised. "If you're coming through Eastern Tennessee, you have to try moonshine," he says. "It's really no different from having to visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame if you're in Los Angeles. It's such a natural fit, and it's great that we have the ability to offer moonshine to those that come through here. We see it as the celebration of history for a colorful practice." As Ole Smoky continues to grow— and partnerships with groups like Dierks Bentley, Harley-Davidson and veteran assistance program The Boot Campaign help foster further flourish- ing—Baker and King remain fiercely committed to making sure that bever- ages like Apple Pie come from a place of regional authenticity. This is largely because they are about as authentic as you can get. "We are proud to be Southern people from the mountains," King states, "and at its heart, Apple Pie is simply a demonstration of Southern people doing what we do." It Feels Good to be Bad There's a good reason why MC Liquor proprietor Chester Crowley stocks the shelves of his Knoxville, TN shop with over 100 flavors of moonshine—or maybe it's a bad reason. "There's a little part of us all that wants to be bad," he says. "Drinking a little moonshine still makes us feel bad to the bone." While Crowley enjoys fueling such rebellious emotions through Ole Smoky Moonshine's exquisite products, including Ole Smoky Apple Pie, his fandom stems from a space that seems rather sensibly established. "It's just good busi- ness sense for me to carry Ole Smoky," he says. "People won't return to your store if they know you're not selling the best stuff." General Manager Ben Crowley (left) and proprietor Chester Crowley of MC Liquor, located in Knoxville, TN. PHOTO: TYLER OXENDINE

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