If “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is good advice, then I say “When in Appalachia, drink the moonshine” is also sound advice. So, the other day on the way to the grocery store when we saw a sign that said “Moonshine Tasting” next to a rutted dirt road we, of course, made the turn. As known connoisseurs of taking the road less traveled (both literally and figuratively), we’ve elevated getting sidetracked on the way to the store to an artform, but neither of us had ever been to a moonshine tasting before. We didn’t really know what we were getting into but there was nothing else to do but park the car, squelch our way through the mud and head inside.
I’ve seen lots of TV shows about moonshine (Dukes of Hazzard is still the best) and I’ve drank moonshine on a few occasions (always with questionable results) but I’d never seen where it was made. Isn’t that supposed to be a secret? Aren’t there ATF agents with axes running around trying to smash all the stills and take everyone to jail?
Turns out, we’d happened upon the newly opened Five Mile Mountain Distillery , the first legal distillery in this area since Prohibition. So, far from being a backwoods operation with buckets for seats and G-Men breathing down our necks, we found ourselves in a cozy, well-appointed bar staffed by good old Pat and his humongous dog.
Pat’s been making liquor as long as he can remember and has made perfecting it his life’s goal – but I was still leery. Taking a shot of moonshine while standing across the bar from its maker is a dicey proposition. What if I didn’t like it? What if flames shot out my nose and burnt off Pat’s beard? In short, I was a bit nervous. But I’ve heard that taking shots can calm some people’s nerves so I picked up the proffered shot glass and downed it. And waited for the inevitable searing burn to come.
And I waited. And I waited some more. I looked at Deidre, she didn’t have tears streaming down her face and her vocal chords still seemed to be working fine. I looked at Pat, his beard was still there. I cleared my throat, blinked my eyes a couple of times and took a deep breath, everything still seemed functional. Hmm, that wasn’t so bad at all. Sure I was feeling a bit warm inside but it was a pleasant feeling and I didn’t feel like I’d just drank 1/2 oz of gasoline like every other time I’d tried moonshine. I began to think that Pat was on to something.
We’d just taken a shot of 100 proof booze without a chaser and neither of us spontaneously combusted or had to run outside. Then Pat told us the kicker, we had just tasted the “white” moonshine and he doesn’t recommend drinking it straight, he likes it with OJ or another mixer. He just gave it to us that way so we could taste the raw spirits. The white moonshine is your basic, traditional moonshine that people think of. Only at Five Mile Mountain, it’s much, much better than you’re imagining.
I’m not sure if was Pat’s welcoming nature, his fantastic dog and obvious love for his craft, or if it was the shots, but all nervousness was gone now and at least one of us was really enjoying hearing about the ins and outs of making liquor and the history of moonshining in the area. At this point, Pat grabbed another bottle from the shelf and started pouring. Now, the first shot wasn’t bad but I didn’t really need another, we still had groceries to buy after all. Then I noticed something – the color. While the white moonshine is well, white, this had a darker color to it. The groceries could wait, I was intrigued.
This was sipping moonshine infused with vanilla beans and plum extract, and man was it smooth. Let me tell you, that may sound weird (and it definitely is) but it’s delicious. Not like “oh it’s pretty good for moonshine” good, it’s just plain freaking good.
Pat and the gang at Five Mile might have strayed a little bit from tradition with some of their flavors but they certainly haven’t strayed in their production methods. All of their moonshine is made in small batches on site in one small still and carefully monitored for quality.
All of that quality monitoring has sure paid off and Five Mile Mountain Distillery certainly has the best moonshine I’ve ever had. I’m no expert but I do know that if you can drink some straight 100 proof booze and still have all your nose hairs and be able to talk – that’s some smooth stuff. It’s probably not the best idea to try just any old moonshine you run across in Appalachia but if you wander through Floyd County, Virginia I highly recommend you stop by and say hello to Pat. Just make sure you do it AFTER you go to the grocery store.