Bartenders Are Elevating Moonshine on Cocktail Menus

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Moonshine cocktails are making their way mainstream, with bartenders elevating the once historic spirit into craft cocktails. Many bars across the country are using white whiskey and/or moonshine on their menus and customers are responding positively to remakes on classics and modern concoctions. Atlanta, New York City, and Dallas are heating up this trend with a variety of different moonshine cocktails for customers to enjoy. 

History of Moonshine

For starters, moonshine got its name from English settlers as a broad-spectrum category describing nefarious activities being carried out at night. This happened around the same time it was being introduced to the Appalachian area around the late 18th century when settlers from Northern Ireland showed others how to distill their uisce beatha “water of life.” 

Moonshine primarily built its infamous reputation after the Revolutionary War when the government decided to put an exorbitant tax on spirits. From this, the illicit production and distribution of unaged whiskey mixed with years of gun skirmishes and high-speed bootlegging.

White Whiskey vs. Moonshine: What's the Difference?

Although the distillation process between the two may be the same in most circumstances, moonshine is potted directly from the still at 150-170 proof after its third cycle through the pot still. Its legally distributed counterpart, white whiskey, can be found ranging anywhere from 80-125 proof with the majority being below 100 proof. To the educated consumer who has been raised appreciating traditional whiskies, the new White Dog category is thought simply to be unfinished whiskey. Traditionally, whiskies on the market are aged and have softer, more balanced flavor profiles.

 White Whiskey in the Present

You may see white whiskies on the shelf going for the same value as traditional whiskey. You may find this to be especially odd due to the fact that traditional whiskies are substantially more expensive to produce. The process may begin exactly the same, but when the spirit is removed from the pot still, it’s then taken to be aged in new charred oak barrels. The longer it’s aged, the more the raw spirit is lost through saturation and evaporation, therefore increasing the price of the final product. 

Now as to why you are seeing white dog for the same price as a product that obviously is worth more, is because of its limited availability. However, as more brands join in on this profitable trade of white whiskey, the price will begin to decrease.

Now, for the fun part! In 2009, during the recession, the American government was looking for new avenues to provide work for its citizens without losing out on tax revenue. One of the simplest ways to accomplish this was to expand the counties where it was legal to distill and produce whiskey. This opened the floodgates to many entrepreneurs who already had the equipment and knowledge, as they’d already been distilling moonshine for decades.

The most widely known of these may be Ole Smoky Moonshine, which opened its doors in 2010 after being the first federally licensed distillery in the history of east Tennessee. Retaining their traditional distillation method, they are proud of the illegal foundation on which they have been able to build upon. Building their reputation on the original unaged corn whiskey, they have now diversified with a range of flavored whiskey, which was then followed by an ever-changing range of seasonal flavors.

Russian Hillbilly cocktail at Mash'd in Dallas | Credit: Mash'd

Russian Hillbilly cocktail at Mash'd in Dallas | Credit: Mash'd

Where to Find Moonshine and White Whiskey Cocktails

Atlanta | Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint 
Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint has an entire section of the menu dedicated to moonshine cocktails. You’ll find variations on classics amongst a range of unique libations using all manners of moonshine from different distilleries and flavor infusions. Some offerings include:

  • Backyard Orchard:  Dawsonville Apple Pie Moonshine, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, lemon, and sprite
  • Moonshine Mule: Dawsonville Original, ginger beer, lemon juice, and simple syrup
  • Cosmo to the Moon: Troy & Sons Platinum Moonshine, cranberry juice, and triple sec

New York City | Distilled NY 
Distilled NY is a public house that specializes in regional cuisine paired with approachable craft cocktails. Visit this venue for Country Fried Duck and Waffles paired with a moonshine cocktail. Some of the cocktail menu highlights include:

  • Sparkle & Shine: Cherry Moonshine, champagne, vanilla bean, rhubarb shrub
  • Moon & Backs: White Lightning and house-made pickle juice 

Dallas | Mash’d 
Mash’d in Dallas is all about food, moonshine, and life. This venue has a cocktail menu named “Hillbilly Mixology,” which features moonshine cocktails featuring house-infused moonshine, moonshine flights, and frozen moonshine cocktails. In addition, Mash’d has an extensive moonshine list that features over 10 different brands of moonshine. Cocktail menu highlights include:

  • White Lightning Flight featuring American Born Original, Fitch’s Goat, Whitmeyer, and Firefly White Lightning
  • Moonshine Mash: fresh lemon, moonshine, Sauza Blue, organic agave, cayenne, swirled with moonshine sangria
  • Russian Hillbilly: caramel moonshine, Kahlua, pearl vodka, and half and half

Moonshine and white whiskies are showing up on cocktail menus all over the United States. Do you have a favorite moonshine cocktail?