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An Outlaw Spirit, Tamed

Shana Novak

Candy is dandy (except when it’s moonshine).

Photography by Shana Novak

Anyone who's experienced the misfortune of living in a dry town will be familiar with moonshine, typically a term for any high-proof spirit made illegally (and by moonlight). Properly aged, it becomes whiskey or rum, but moonshine, by definition, was never meant to be aged, or for that matter to be sold in your liquor store in fancy bottles. Calling any liquor that's legally distilled and legally sold (not to mention pricey) "moonshine" is a specious marketing gimmick. Worse, to make it more palatable, those driving the rise of this faux-outlaw firewater are flavoring it with all manner of syrupy things that conjure a runaway candy store. Take, for example, Ole Smoky, a corn whiskey available in 100-proof varieties and many, many flavors, including, Apple Pie, Butterscotch, and Blackberry. It's basically hardcore Snapple. In fact, Stillhouse, one of the pioneers of the moonshine trend, has its own Peach Tea flavor, which essentially tastes like Snapple and rubbing alcohol. That's a shame, because the unadulterated versions of Ole Smoky and Stillhouse are not bad, with fresh corn notes and a touch of sweetness. Either would work in a cocktail that requires a clean, subtle spirit, but adding saccharine flavorings is the industry's patronizing idea of conquering female drinkers: Make it sweet, make it pretty, and they will come. They might, but don't count on it. For anyone else who likes a sweeter cocktail, here's a better idea: Pass over Ole Smoky's Hunch Punch Lightnin' and Stillhouse's Apple Crisp moonshine, and opt for the "original" flavor as a base for your own favorite cocktail. Use it in place of vodka in a Cosmopolitan, or try one of the recipes here, from Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, which produces as true a moonshine as any, without feeling the need to turn it into a sundae.

Shine On
In their recent book, The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining: How to Make and Drink Whiskey, the duo behind the company, Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, list several cocktails that include moonshine. Although these picks are designed with Kings County moonshine in mind, any unflavored moonshine should work.

1 1/2 oz. moonshine
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/4 oz. Cocchi Americano
6 dashes Luxardo Maraschino
8 drops Bittermens Xocolatl
Mole Bitters

Serve in a coupe with no garnish.
--Created by Tristan Willey

8 leaves fresh cilantro
4 halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. moonshine
Seltzer (optional)

Muddle the cilantro and tomatoes. Add the other ingredients. Shake vigorously. Pour in a 6- to 8-ounce glass, and enjoy. If feeling adventurous, serve in a tall glass and top with seltzer.
--Created by Brianna Halstead

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