North Carolina moonshine makes its way from the mountains to restaurant tables

By Vanessa Orr

People in western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains have been making moonshine since well before Prohibition. More recently, however, this potent mix has been making its way out of the hills to the tables of some of the region’s tonier restaurants and bars.

I was a little surprised – and delighted – to be sitting in the Over Yonder Restaurant in Valle Cruces, NC, sipping on a Shinerita, made with Paw Paw Murphy’s Shine, orange liqueur, Meyer lemon, key lime sour and pickled okra. It was a hard choice, considering that I could also have chosen drinks made from strawberry, blueberry and Catdaddy Spiced Moonshine, as well as a Blue Ridge Breeze featuring JJ Apple Pie Shine.

Legal moonshine is now a hot commodity in North Carolina, with those who have been making it for years now becoming “legitimate” businessmen. Tim Smith, who stars on the Discovery show Moonshiners, sells his Climax brand throughout the state. Other popular brands include Howling Moon, produced by Cody Bradford, and Catdaddy and Midnight Moon Moonshine, made by Piedmont Distillers, which is part-owned by former NASCAR driver Junior Johnson.

Bradford, who still lives on the land that his family has owned since the 1700s, learned the craft from his father and grandfather; in fact, he still uses the same equipment that his great-great-grandfather used. The recipes he uses have been passed down for generations, including one documented to 1866.

“It’s kind of funny because we started small, and I did it because my family had done it, but we didn’t expect to get so much attention,” said Bradford of the growing interest in his products. His offerings include Mountain Moonshine, Apple Pie Moonshine, and strawberry and peach. “People found out about us and the next thing you know, we’re in magazines and on television – and it’s literally just me and my brother making it.

“We’ve been doing it for 200 years, so we do it pretty well,” Bradford said of the product carried in the Asheville Grove Park Inn as well as a number of downtown Asheville bars. “The biggest reason that people like us is the taste; they also appreciate the quality and authenticity. What some national products call moonshine is actually cheap vodka, and people are getting pickier about finding an actual craft product.”

Tim Smith has been in business 40 years, though only making “legal” moonshine for the past four. Originally from Climax, VA, he produces his Original brand and Fire No. 32 Cinnamon Spice at Belmont Farms Distillery in Culpepper, VA and at Asheville Distilling Co. in Asheville, NC.

“I think one of the reasons that our moonshine is so popular is because we take the time to make it right,” he said of the pot-distilled, column-fired mix. “We grow our own grains, so we know what goes in and what comes out.”

He also credits his appearance on Moonshiners, the Discovery network show now in its seventh year, to the growing popularity of the craft. “In the last five years, we’ve seen 300 percent growth in the moonshine category,” he explained. “I think a lot of that is because of the popularity of the show. I was born into the occupation and have been doing it all of my life, but Moonshiners brought what we do to light.”

It seems there’s no end to this growing trend as restaurants continue to cater to customers looking for authentic North Carolina shine.

“We’ve won some awards, but to me personally, medals don’t mean anything,” Smith said. “It’s about what it tastes like, and getting to hear from the people who enjoy it.”

Photo by Renato Roto.

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