Six years ago, Daisy May’s BBQ founder Adam Perry Lang fell for moonshine at first sip during his appearance at a barbecue competition. The bolt of (white) lighting inspired him to team with Brad Beckerman and third generation distiller Chuck Miller on The Original Moonshine, an 80 proof clear corn whiskey that’s distilled four times in a Prohibition-era copper pot still at Stillhouse Distillery in Culpeper, Virginia. On February 24, Miller and Perry Lang called from the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival to discuss their background and approach.
Josh Lurie: How did your partnership come about?
Adam Perry Lang: It all started at a barbecue competition, I got to taste what corn whiskey was. A guy tapped me on the shoulder, we stood in a circle and we tasted some amazing moonshine from a mason jar. It was really more of a personal quest…a lot of businesses start that way. In my research and homework, I reached out and started looking at people doing authentic things. I called him on the phone and drove down 10-12 hours to visit his place. We tasted some things and traded ideas.
JL: Chuck, considering your grandfather distilled moonshine, was it a given that you’d do the same?
Chuck Miller: I worked with him and learned how to make the shine and all, but back in those days, you didn’t get a license. I got married and got into farming, there wasn’t a lot of money in farming, and I remembered all the money my grandpa made. So we got legal…we continue the tradition, making the traditional American whiskey…Of course we do everything on the farm. We’re the only distillery that grows its own corn and distills it in a 2000 gallon copper pot still…We’re proud of the fact that we have the only estate grown corn whiskey in the United States.
JL: If other distilleries aren’t making clear corn whiskey, what are they making?
CM: They’re getting grain neutral spirits, like a vodka, and flavoring it. It’s basically flavored vodka. There are a lot of good flavored vodkas on the shelf, but they’re not clear corn whiskey.
JL:What’s the ideal barbecue pairing for moonshine?
APL: The Japanese have been doing it for so long with their bars at yakitori and grilled type items. Whiskey really pairs well with grilled foods and things that have deep flavors. It also cuts into things that are fatty or collagen rich…I liken it to freshly snapped corn husk…I try to keep it simple as possible, try to keep it away from acidic sauces. do things with more honesty with the smoke. I like it with pork and chicken.
JL: Do you have a first moonshine memory?
CM: When we first started making it on the farm, my son was working with me…We were checking the quality every five minutes…after about an hour, he was passed out on one side of the still, and I was passed out on the other side. It comes out of that still high proof, about 150.
JL: Who are some other distillers you respect and why?
CM: There are a lot of nice distillers our there doing a great job, but it’s very hard to compete with someone like Jack Daniel’s.
APL: I have a lot of respect for Jack Daniel’s. They have a great story, but I think there’s room for two of us.
JL: What will it take for you to consider Moonshine a success?
CM: Basically what we are in the process of doing is introducing fresh clear corn whiskey to the rest of the United States…it’s time the rest of the world knows. People are wanting to go back to original, authentic drinks, preserving our culture, and moonshine does that. It’s an early American tradition, it’s a third generation product and I think the United States is going to love it.
JL: What’s a great simple moonshine cocktail for people to make at home, and what’s the recipe?
CM: For me, I like it drinking it straight, but if you’re drinking in the summertime, it’s 1/3 sweet tea, 1/3 lemonade and 1/3 Moonshine. You can also add fresh fruit like cherries, blueberries or peaches. I think peach is my favorite.
APL: I like it just bruised with ice. It rounds out the taste. I don’t like to mix it with anything…It’s all great, but I just appreciate the product.