With apologies to the Florida Orange Growers, I humbly suggest the slogan, “Moonshine. It’s not just for getting tore up anymore.”
I’m addressing the Ole Smoky Distillery, Tennessee’s first legal moonshine producer. Not that they’re really going to need a lot of catchy advertising—I predict their moonshine-added products are going to fly off the shelves at the flagship store at Traffic Light #8 in Gatlinburg, and out of the online shop (link from olesmokymoonshine.com).
Because they’re really good—which surprises me. When I went to this bash Ole Smoky had at the Square Room this past week I was expecting pedestrian, kind of gimmicky, stuff, like the cakes with Coca-Cola or the vodka-spaghetti sauce sold at the grocery.
But this, wow. Just an example: the mustard moonshine barbecue sauce, sampled on a pretzel. Somehow the liquor makes the flavor rush right up at you—deeper, bolder. And the pumpkin moonshine butter, dipped onto a ’Nilla wafer. It has ketchup consistency and is wholesome, not rich, with a liquor essence that wraps itself right around the pie spices, then plays them twice on your tongue.
Now, I wasn’t swayed because I was swaying—these jellies and such have little alcohol: Only 3 percent of a pint jar of, say, pickles, is the 100-proof moonshine. Though what’s there is real Ole Smoky white lightning, distilled six times for a raucous, fiery taste; or the distillery’s signature corn whiskey, a bit smoother but the same potency. “We get the corn from Joe’s dad in Jefferson County, it’s milled there, and it tastes like fields,” enthuses Jessi Baker, who is the Sevier County high school sweetheart and now wife of Joseph Baker. He co-owns the distillery with operations manager Cory Cottongim, who grew up there, too, and Tony Breeden, a fellow from Dandridge who now lives mostly in California.
Moonshiners abound in Joseph’s Tennessee family tree, from whence came the Ole Smoky recipe.
Which makes it odd to think of cooking with it. I can only imagine that the corn liquor of years past went into wildcat partiers’ stomachs, or that runners needed every penny made to pay the bills for their oversized Appalachian families. I can’t envision some Loretta Lynn lookalike adding a splash to the red-eye gravy, or simmering spices in it before peeling apples for a perfectly crimped pie.
But Jessi had no such reservations. She threw moonshine in all manner of up-to-date dishes in the menu she developed (and Cafe 4 prepared) for the event, including a pork loin baked in moonshine salsa and chicken barbecue in the mustard sauce that were tender, piquant, roiling with flavor. And another country baker with panache, Angel Adkins of Kodak, applied moonshine to some of her favorite recipes for the event and the results were just wonderful. One such: corn whiskey cupcakes with the liquor in the batter, and more cooked down to a sort of glaze with brown sugar for a thin layer between cake and buttercream/corn whiskey frosting, with a caramel-y candy corn piece on top.
I would like to make a prediction. I think this moonshine-as-ingredient is going to join biscuits and Benton’s bacon in putting our area on the culinary map. The cake flavoring and marinade ability alone indicate one day we might all associate moonshine with the kitchen the same way we think of wine in coq au vin, or Madagascar vanilla in confections.
White lightning and corn liquor, as interpreted exclusively by Ole Smoky, will catch on with top chefs and home cooks, soon I’m guessing, even if they’re sniggling about hillbillies and possums while they simmer their moonshine cassoulets or whip meringues for Moonshine Silk Pie.
You read it here first. And if they use my slogan, I expect royalties.