True, by God, moonshine, needs to be made from sugar. This is for several reasons. First of all, when you have to do your brewing and distilling in the woods, you don't have access to all the fancy chemical engineering equipment that modern distilleries have to maximize their production and maintain quality control. There's no more certain way to make alky-hol than to feed straight sugar to yeast and let those wonderful little devils belch CO2 and pee C2H5OH. Sugar also provides for the smoothest finish attainable for homemade alcohol. Moonshiners traditionally add some corn and some wheat to their mash to help with the process and make the taste a little more complex, but it is much easier to lug sacks of sugar down the holler than it is to haul bushels of corn. Plus, there are no husks and cobs left behind as evidence that way.
Cannon County had been a traditional hot bed of moonshining for generations until marijuana and meth production lured the less law-abiding residents into other pursuits. For years, just about everyone in the county either made moonshine or was related to someone who did. There isn't much in the way of manufacturing in the county, so outside of farming, working-age residents had to look for some way to make a living.
Some of them were lucky enough to commute to Murfreesboro to work at the Samsonite factory, but those jobs were few and far between. Now the great-grandchildren of the original founder of Samsonite have decided to create a new venture to help employ the citizens of Cannon County and take advantage of the products grown by local farmers.Short Mountain Distillery. The draw of the family legacy drew these native Californians to move back to where their ancestors had founded the luggage giant, despite the fact that none of them had ever lived near Short Mountain. Billy is the CEO of the company and the owner of a 300-acre farm located on one of the highest points of Middle Tennessee.
On this farm, Billy raises cows, chickens, goats and sheep and farms 20 acres of organic corn using rotational permacultural methods. But most importantly to this readership, they also make some of the finest sippin' moonshine you'll ever taste. This is not the risky high-proof mountain shine that you need to take a match to first to determine whether it burns clean, so as not to blind yourself.
Short Mountain is a fully inspected distilling facility that employs modern methods to produce their shine out of a 250-gallon copper still made by Kentucky's Vendome Copper & Brass. The beautiful still looks like a steam-punker's fantasy and has all the bells and whistles necessary to make some great brown liquor in the future if Short Mountain chooses to. But the real secret weapons are located in a smaller distilling room that looks like a horse stable.
Kaufman says, "When we opened, we already had 150 years of distilling experience thanks to these three guys." Where Smotherman has access to all the technology that he needs for large-batch production, the moonshiners track the progress of the steam through the pipes as the alcohol boils off and then condenses by feeling the temperature of the copper pipes, listening to the hiss of the vortex in the pot still and watching the bubbles in the Carlo Rossi jugs they use to trap their lovely corn likker as it drips out of the outlet of the still.
Short Mountain Distillery offers tours from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In the first six weeks they have been open, they've sold out of all their inventory frequently just to visitors to the facility, many of whom share stories of moonshiners in their own family history. Fortunately, since this is an intentionally unaged product, they can always just make some more for tomorrow's tour.
Tourists can picnic under a pavilion while they enjoy the bucolic views of the farm, and tours include one of the three natural springs on the property and a visit with the moonshiners. They are happy to demonstrate the process and to regale visitors with stories, now that they've gone legit. On my visit I could have listened to them all afternoon long.
It wasn't easy to draw these fellows out of the woods and make their wares legal in the county. Even though the laws were changed a few years back to allow for new distilleries that weren't named after guys named Jack or George, a provision of the legislation required a separate referendum if the county did not have package liquor sales. Cannon County was and still is dry.
Billy Kaufman teamed with Christian Grantham, a name that some Sim-Nashville folks might recognize from his term as the head blogger/aggregator at WKRN's "Nashville is Talking." Grantham left Channel 2 to pursue a dream of finding Tennessee's craftspeople and telling their stories. When he visited some of the many artists and artisans of Cannon County, they all pointed him to Kaufman.
In a county that might be considered one of the buckles on the Bible Belt, Kaufman and Grantham sought grassroots support for their dream of a distillery. Past referendums had failed by focusing on opening up the sales of beer and liquor, and were not well-received by the residents of the county. Instead, the Short Mountain crew emphasized that this was an agricultural venture that would benefit the county's farmer. They also reminded voters of the history of the county and promised the opportunity to develop Short Mountain as a tourist destination.
In the end, the referendum passed, with many of the signatories being ex-moonshiners themselves or relatives of shiners. They recognized the certain nobility of the profession that created a product people wanted out of raw materials that the depressed county had access to. In fact, almost all the moonshine made in the county in the past was for export, since as Simpson shared, "Drunks can't make good shine."
Luckily, the 10 employees of Short Mountain Distillery are clear-eyed and talented. If you'd like to visit the facility and try a taste of an authentic regional specialty, head to Woodbury and follow Highway 146 to 119 Mountain Spirits Lane. It's less than a 90-minute drive, but it will take you a hundred years back in time once you get there.
Short Mountain Distillery
119 Mountain Spirits Lane