Tennessee Moonshine

Tennessee Moonshine: A History & List of Options to Stock Your Shelves With

Ah, moonshine, the once illicitly distilled spirit of the Appalachian backwoods! Luckily, it has evolved into a celebrated part of Tennessee’s craft beverage scene. Today, we’re going to learn more about moonshine, specifically Tennessee moonshine, its association with Prohibition-era bootleggers, and its new legal status and immense popularity. Finally, we’ll end with a list of some of the best Tennessee moonshine options that you have at your disposal to stock your bar shelves! Let’s jump right in.

What Is Tennessee Moonshine?

Moonshine has its roots deeply embedded in the tradition of American distilling, often characterized by its clear appearance and potent kick. This spirit is essentially unaged whiskey, made primarily from corn mash, which gives it a distinct, powerful flavor. 

Where Did the Name Moonshine Come From?

The name “moonshine” itself stems from the practice of distilling the spirit under the cover of night to avoid detection by authorities. This sneaky approach was a direct response to government regulations and taxes on liquor production, which many rural distillers sought to evade. 

How Was Tennessee Moonshine Made?

Traditionally, moonshine was distilled in homemade stills, which were ingeniously crafted from copper for its excellent heat conductivity and resistance to corrosion, ensuring the purity and quality of the spirit.

The Versatility of Moonshine

The allure of moonshine isn’t just in its potent punch but also in its versatility. Throughout its history, moonshiners have experimented with various ingredients, adding fruits, grains, and even sugar to the mash to create unique flavors. This innovation has carried over to modern moonshine, which can range from the traditional clear, corn-based whiskey to flavored varieties infused with everything from apple pie to peppermint. 

Tennessee Moonshine Today

Despite its evolution and increasing legitimacy, moonshine retains its reputation as a symbol of rebellion and resourcefulness, embodying the rugged independence of the American spirit. Today, legal distilleries produce moonshine with a nod to its illicit past, combining traditional methods with modern safety standards to create a product that’s both authentic and enjoyable.

The History of Distilling Moonshine in Tennessee

As we mentioned above, moonshine, or “white lightning,” is a potent, clear spirit typically made from corn mash. It became a staple of Tennessee’s Appalachian region, reflecting the area’s agricultural specialty. But… what prompted the secret distillation of Tennessee moonshine?

Early Influence & the Whiskey Rebellion

The roots of moonshine in Tennessee can be traced back to the Scots-Irish settlers who brought their whiskey-making skills from Europe. Initially, whiskey production in America was small-scale, with rum being the preferred spirit. However, the imposition of an excise tax on whiskey by the federal government in 1791 sparked significant unrest, leading to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in western Pennsylvania. This event highlighted the settlers’ willingness to resist federal mandates and paved the way for the moonshining tradition to flourish in Tennessee.

Reinstatement of the Spirits Tax, Revival of Illicit Production

Tennessee’s moonshine history took a notable turn in 1862 when the federal government reinstated the excise tax on spirits, which had been lifted in 1817. This move prompted many local distillers to operate clandestinely, leading to a surge in illegal moonshine production. The landscape of the Appalachian region, with its dense forests and secluded hollows, provided the perfect cover for distillers to evade the “revenuers” – federal agents tasked with enforcing the liquor laws. 

Further Fuel for the Moonshine Fire

The era of Prohibition (1920-1933) further fueled the moonshine trade, as the demand for alcohol outstripped the legal supply, making Tennessee a key player in the moonshine market.

Several counties in Tennessee, including Cades Cove, Blount, Carter, Fentress, Hancock, Henry, Polk, and Scott, became notorious for their moonshine production. 

Women in Tennessee Moonshine Production

The trade was not only a male-dominated field; notable female moonshiners also made their mark, such as Mollie Miller of Polk County and a formidable woman in Hancock County, known for running a “bloody family business” and her physical size, which allegedly deterred law enforcement from arresting her.

Impact of Moonshine’s History on Today’s Tennessee Moonshine

The rich history of moonshine in Tennessee has directly influenced the modern moonshine industry, transforming it from a symbol of rebellion to a celebrated part of the state’s cultural heritage. Today’s legal distilleries embrace the spirit’s outlaw past, marrying traditional methods with contemporary flavors and safety standards, thereby honoring the ingenuity and resilience of early moonshiners while contributing to Tennessee’s identity and economy.

8 Tennessee Moonshine Distilleries and Brands You Have to Try

Now, let’s experience Tennessee’s moonshine culture with a look at some of the state’s most notable distilleries and brands. Each brings its unique take on this traditional spirit, along with stories and flavors that capture the essence of Tennessee.

1. Ole Smoky Moonshine

Ole Smoky’s Original Moonshine offers a smooth, clean taste that’s just the right balance of sweet corn and powerful punch.

As one of Tennessee’s first legal moonshine distilleries, Ole Smoky has played a pivotal role in bringing moonshine from the hills to the masses. Their Original Moonshine is a must-try. They also are constantly coming out with new flavors and experiences to try. They even have moonshine pickles!

2. Sugarlands Distilling Co.

Nestled in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, Sugarlands partners with local distillers to craft award-winning moonshine. Their Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey is acclaimed for its complexity and richness.

3. Tennessee Legend Distillery

The Salted Caramel Moonshine is a game-changer, offering a deliciously smooth drink that’s both indulgent and comforting.

With a wide range of flavors, Tennessee Legend is known for its innovation in moonshine production. Their Salted Caramel Whiskey Moonshine is a standout for its perfect balance of sweet and savory.

4. Short Mountain Distillery

Short Mountain’s Prohibition Tea is a delightful blend of moonshine and tea flavors, making for a refreshing and historically rich experience.

Embracing the heritage of Tennessee moonshining, Short Mountain offers a connection to the past with their carefully crafted spirits. Their Prohibition Tea is a nod to the creative concoctions of yesteryear. 

5. Smith Creek Distillery

Located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, this distillery is a destination for both locals and tourists. Smith Creek has a wide variety of moonshine flavors, from classic to unique. Some of their popular flavors include Apple Pie, Peach, and Salted Caramel. For those looking for something out of the ordinary, Smith Creek also offers flavors like Chocolate Silk and Honey Habanero, blending sweet and spicy notes.

6. Old Tennessee Distilling Co.

Old Tennessee Distilling Co., based in Kodak, TN, is a distillery with deep roots in the moonshine tradition, blending heritage with modern craft. They pride themselves on a simple yet profound moonshine recipe that includes corn, sugar, yeast, and water, emphasizing the pride in their time-honored craft. Their product range showcases innovative flavors like Creme Brûlée, Butterscotch, Blueberry, Lemon Ice Cookie, and more, representing a bridge between traditional moonshining and contemporary spirit production. This distillery embodies Tennessee’s spirit of independence, creativity, and ingenuity.

7. Old Forge Distillery

Old Forge Distillery in Pigeon Forge, TN, is renowned for its extensive range of moonshine, offering flavors that span the entire spectrum. From traditional high-proof clear spirits made with Tennessee grain to unique 60-proof options like Chocolate, Bananas Foster, French Toast, and Coffee, there’s something for every palate. This distillery prides itself on handcrafted moonshine, promising an authentic Smoky Mountain experience with every sip. 

8. Junction 35 Spirits

Junction 35 Spirits, located in Pigeon Forge, TN, offers a diverse selection of high-quality spirits, including moonshine, with a commitment to craftsmanship and innovation. Their moonshine flavors, such as Apple Pie, Sweet Tea, Watermelon, and Original, cater to a variety of tastes, showcasing the distillery’s dedication to both tradition and creativity.

Find More Amazing Tennessee Moonshine Distilleries at Distillery Nearby

This list only scratches the surface of Tennessee’s vibrant moonshine (and overall distilling) scene. Each distillery has its story, traditions, and flavors that contribute to the state’s rich tapestry of spirit production. Curious what else Tennessee has to offer? Browse our Tennessee distillery directory today!

Browse the Tennessee Directory →

Browse Moonshine Distilleries →

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