Call it “finding my roots” or a bit of “genealogical research”, but I would argue that I can’t understand where I come from without partaking of a little white lightning, a swig of hillbilly pop at least once in my life. And, that’s what brought me and Victoria to Belmont Farms in Culpeper, VA, the home of the Stillhouse Distillers, the producer of The Original Moonshine Clear Corn Whiskey, which had been gaining a bit of nostalgic steam lately.
Moonshine, by definition, is any distilled spirit made in an unlicensed still, often collected at night under the shine of the moon – thus the name. These clandestine stills gained popularity during prohibition, and while fewer exist today, they are still somewhat prominent in the Appalachian Mountain range.
Due to the crude methods of distillation and aging, true “white lightning” often contains impurities that can cause a number of side effects including blindness and death. With this in mind, I thought it best to try a less “kicky” version of mule kick.
Today as we rolled down the dirt road to the farm for a tour of one of the country’s only moonshine distillers, I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather Oscar. I didn’t know him well since his relationship with my father deteriorated when my dad was very young. I met him only once, but I remember him being small and frail – he was in his 80s by the time I met him – and he was living with my father’s uncle Bev in a small old house in the mountains of Kentucky.
But, he’s always been a legendary figure in my mind. I’d heard so many stories about his bootlegging and moonshining days that I’m not sure what’s real and what’s myth. I know he was not the best father, spent some time in jail and treated my grandmother terribly (even by 1930s standards), but everyone likes to see their ancestors romantically, and that’s exactly how I still see grandpa.
I heard he made some of the finest moonshine in the hills, and ruthlessly protected his territory. He supposedly spent some time in jail for shooting at a couple of police officers he’d mistaken for hijackers trailing him on that night’s bootlegging run to Canada. Beyond these few stories I have no connection to my Grandpa Oscar, or much of my Kentucky roots, though I wish I did.
Stillhouse was co-founded by Adam Perry, a world-renowned chef from New York City, and Chuck Miller a third generation master moonshine distiller from the backwoods of Virginia. Chuck’s technical skills combined with Adam’s highly-trained palette to create a marketable brand known as The Original MOONSHINE. It’s crafted on-site from 100 percent estate-grown corn and distilled four times in an original prohibition-era copper pot still, and it’s surprisingly smooth.
We bought a bottle of their pure 100-proof corn whiskey for just under $20. With each sip, and every gulp, I will think of Grandpa Oscar and maybe make up a few stories of my own to share the next time I get together with the family.