Recently, the Liquor Fairy appeared at my door with a box containing three bottles of liquor from Piedmont Distillers. I was at first puzzled that he was driving a black 1940 Ford, and more puzzled still when he hopped back in and departed at a pretty ridiculous clip, pursued by the local sheriff…. All became quite clear, when I opened the box to find the three bottles nestled within.
Piedmont Distillers, Inc. makes moonshine, folks. And they have sent me a bottle of each of their products: Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine, Midnight Moon Lightning Lemonade, and Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine.
Moonshine in general and Piedmont Distillers in particular both have fascinating stories, and their products are both interesting and fun to play with. I’m going to do three posts in all, one for each bottle. This first will be the longest, and focus on the base brand, Midnight Moon, and the history of moonshine.
Most Americans know of moonshine, but not much about it, beyond what we learned from a certain 1980’s documentary series, and my foreign readers may not have heard of it at all. The important thing to understand is that moonshine has both a political and a manufacturing identity.
The most important factor in the history of moonshine is that for various reasons and various times, the Federal government did not want you making it. The name itself comes from the idea that making it is an activity which is safest to carry out by the light of the moon. Moonshine enjoyed its first major wave of expansion due to Prohibition. Since moonshine operations were difficult for the government to find and stop, moonshine became a popular fuel for the era’s drinkers. After Prohibition ended, the Feds shifted to wanting to tax liquor. The moonshiners, however, had an operation already well-suited to avoiding government involvement. These considerate folk continued as before to go to great lengths to not trouble the poor, over-worked staff at the IRS with any inconvenient paperwork or payments.
It took about fifty years for industrial progress to make the production of other liquors efficient enough to make moonshining not worth the risk as a commercial concern.
From a manufacturing standpoint, classic moonshine was a high-proof corn liquor, run in small (easily hidden) stills, and unaged. It was too risky to distill moonshine repeatedly, so it was pretty raw stuff. I imagine that is the origin of its other name: White Lighting. Old time moonshine was harsh, crude, illegal, and occasionally dangerous. It’s not a wonder it essentially died in a commercial sense.
All this brings us to Piedmont Distillers, who had the radical idea of paying taxes, and seeing what kind of liquor they could produce when they could work in the open with modern methods and equipment. Mixing heritage, lore, and marketing in the manner at which southerners excel, they teamed with this guy:
Who’s he? One of the better stories you’ll ever hear, that’s who.
An integral part of moonshining was distribution. The young sons of the shiners would deliver the liquor in the trunks of their souped up cars. If the Law were to show up along the way, they had better be able to out-drive them. One of the best at getting product to the customers and keeping it out of the hands of the revenuers was this man, Junior Johnson.
Johnson is actually better known for his hobby than his job. When he wasn’t out-running the police with a trunk full of product, he liked to keep his skills sharp with a little racing. He was one of the early icons of NASCAR, and an inaugural member of the sport’s Hall of Fame. As a driver, he never won a Cup. Why? Because despite being the best driver of his day, he couldn’t enter enough races. Why? Because he was still making more money at his day (night?) job, running moonshine. The guy is a trip, folks. Check out some of the videos they have on the website to get a feel for the stones you needed to live this guy’s life.
UPDATE: How about this: One of the readers of this here bog is the son of one of the rare revenuers who actually laid a set of cuff on Junior! Sounds like quite a feat….
Midnight Moon is Piedmont’s take on classic moonshine. It is a clear, un-aged spirit, made from corn. To start with, I tried it neat. It is quite smooth and light, with a faint sweetness about it. If you expect to take a swig from this vaguely jug-shaped bottle and gasp in cross-eyed fashion like a hillbilly in old movies, you will be disappointed. Or not disappointed. This is, before anything else, a well manufactured product. Since the product is so similar in many ways to vodka, I next tried a standard
Vodka Moonshine Martini, with about a 4 to one ratio of Midnight Moon to vermouth. Interestingly, here the slightly different taste profile of the moonshine suffers. I don’t think the herbal qualities of the vermouth mesh as well with the Midnight Moon as I’d like. If you like Mongtomerys, with little or no vermouth, instead of a proper Martini, the Midnight Moon works like a charm, delivering the smooth, clean jolt most Vodka Martini lovers are looking for.
I had a chance to ask Joe Michalek, the president of Piedmont, a few questions about his products. Since Midnight Moon is made of corn, rather than rye or potatoes like vodkas, I asked if it was more akin to a good, young whiskey, before it went into the barrel. “You are correct in that Midnight Moon could be described as a very good whiskey prior to aging,” he replied “In fact, moonshiners in the region usually refer to their spirits as ‘whiskey.'”
In a nod to the realities of modern marketing, Piedmont positions themselves in the premium vodka market. “In most of our communications, we tend to compare Midnight Moon to ultra-premium vodkas,” he told me, as “most people are familiar with them and are unfamiliar with how an un-aged whiskey would taste.”
Joe added that they are considering taking a shot at aging their moonshine in the future, since they feel they have the makings of a fine whiskey. I’d be fascinated by this. I’d love to be able to try a company’s new and aged liquors side-by-side and be able to taste, as a consumer, the differences. Heck, I’d love it if Makers Mark would do the same thing.
But for now, we have no aged Midnight Moon, only the pure moonshine. While I found it a poor fit with the aromatic vermouth, I suspected it would do better in some of my other vodka favorites. When matched up in sweeter or fruitier drinks, the Midnight Moon does very well. I’ve got a favorite out of the bunch, both from the way the Midnight Moon makes a slight improvement, and from a means to ending this review with some fun.
- 3 parts Midnight Moon
- 1 part Cointreau
- 1 part Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail
- 1/2 part RealLime lime juice
Combine in a shaker with cracked ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a piece of lime.
Yes, it’s a Cosmopolitan made with moonshine. But just as the slightly different flavor wasn’t working for me with vermouth, I think it works very well, here and in other drinks, with ingredients like Cointreau and juices. And besides, if you are a bar manager looking for a new hook, or a cocktailian looking for some conversation, moonshine is a lot more interesting ingredient than leventy-six varieties of vodka.
Finally, the Arcadia wins on the poster girl front.
Guys, who would you rather be hang out with? And women, who’d you really rather be? (characters here, not the actresses)
Carrie Bradshaw: The Cosmo girl; shopoholic, neurotic, fashion victim, who spends her life being walked on by Big…
Or Daisy Duke: Unofficial poster girl for The Acadian; good-time, simple, tough, bohemian who would have shot a couple of well-deserved arrows holding dynamite into Big’s car years ago.
Get off your high horses, people! And give regular life a little try. The same goes for Grey Goose Aficionados. You might find Midnight Moon is a lot of fun.
The following product, Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine, was recently provided to me as promotional consideration to encourage me to discuss it.
For a complete disclosure of my policies regarding promotional items and all other financial interests, please click this link, or follow the
Liquor Fairylink in the header of this page.