Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ole Smoky Addresses Proposed Tennessee Moonshine Law with Clever Smokescreen

What follows is a press release from Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine about the new proposed Tennessee law that will require all products identified as 'Tennessee Moonshine' to be distilled in Tennessee. As you read it, see if you can find the words "All Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine products are distilled entirely in Tennessee."

Gatlinburg, TN (April 22, 2015) – Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, the leading distiller of premium moonshine in the U.S., welcomes the news of the Tennessee General Assembly’s efforts to protect the integrity of its moonshine heritage by creating guidelines on what can bear the name “Tennessee Moonshine.” The great history of making smooth spirits is what makes Tennessee Moonshine widely loved in the South, around the country and now the world.

“For many generations our families have distilled moonshine in the hills of East Tennessee, and Ole Smoky is proud to use those same techniques and recipes in the products we share with our customers today,” said Joe Baker, co-founder of Ole Smoky Moonshine. “This is a significant move toward preserving the historic value of Tennessee Moonshine, and as the state’s first legal moonshine distillery, we know how important it is to maintain authenticity in this fast-growing category."

Ole Smoky launched in 2010, after the state of Tennessee changed its distilling laws and a group of local families saw an opportunity to showcase authentic, high-quality, mountain-made moonshine. Originally sold only to visitors at its distillery, known as The Holler, Ole Smoky is now the most widely distributed moonshine brand in the world. Fueled by rising consumer interest in Americana, the broader un-aged whiskey category and craft spirits, Ole Smoky is now available in all 50 states and every continent except Antarctica.

"We’re proud to share our products with folks around the world. Tennessee enjoys a special place in the lore and history of making moonshine and we applaud our state legislators for working hard to protect one of our state’s most famous exports,” said Baker. “Tennessee is part of our brand name. You can make spirits anywhere, but Tennessee Moonshine only comes from the Volunteer State.”

About Ole Smoky® Tennessee Moonshine:

Currently, Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine nationally retails twelve flavors of moonshine made using authentic East Tennessee recipes. Folks from around the world come and experience the moonshining process at the company’s famed Gatlinburg distillery, The Holler (America’s most visited distillery) and new location, the Ole Smoky Barn at The Island in Pigeon Forge. Original Moonshine (100 proof), White Lightnin’ (100 proof), Moonshine Cherries (jarred at 100 proof), Lightnin’ Line (80 proof): Strawberry Lightnin’, Lemon Drop Lightnin’ and Hunch Punch Lightnin‘, the 40 proof line including, Peach Moonshine, Apple Pie Moonshine, Blackberry Moonshine, Pineapple Moonshine, Sweet Tea Moonshine and the most recently added, Harley Davidson’s Road House Customs Charred Moonshine (103 proof) are available selectively in all 50 states and Canada.

Did you find the magic words "All Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine products are distilled in Tennessee"? No? That's because they aren't there. Nor does the release express the proposed law's very simple requirement that 'Tennessee Moonshine' must be distilled in Tennessee. Instead it uses words like "authentic East Tennessee recipes." Perhaps they hope to have the law gutted before it passes. You can read more about Ole Smoky here.

Moonshine is not now and nor has it ever been a type of distilled spirit. It is simply any distilled spirit made illegally. Obviously, Ole Smoky and the other modern moonshiners operate legally, so what's in that jar? In most cases it is grain neutral spirit (GNS), i.e., vodka, which is typically made from corn. In a few it is corn whiskey. Most authentic are the ones distilled from a sugar mash -- technically making them rum -- which are usually classified as a 'Distilled Spirits Specialty,' a regulatory catch-all term. Many sugar shines are half sugar and half GNS.

Most of the Ole Smoky products are either GNS or corn whiskey. It has long been an open secret that Ole Smoky makes only a fraction of the products it sells and very likely makes no GNS. If Ole Smoky does or plans to make GNS, it won't be in those cute copper pot stills. It will be in a big, modern column still which they surely won't show to the tourists.

They could produce their own GNS but it's much more profitable to just buy it from a big GNS producer such as ADM, GPC, or MGPI, like everybody else does. Unfortunately, none of those companies have a distillery in Tennessee.

So what's the difference between Ole Smoky's cherry-flavored GNS and any of a dozen cherry-flavored vodkas? Maybe that's where those 'East Tennessee recipes' come in, or maybe it's just a clever image, 'blowing smoke' as it were. The Ole Smoky products aren't much more expensive than most flavored vodkas, so if you like your flavored vodka from a mason jar, Ole Smoky is right there for you.

In addition to Ole Smoky, the 'moonshine' from Junior Johnson, Popcorn Sutton, and Full Throttle Saloon is GNS as well. There is, furthermore, no commercial GNS producer in Tennessee, although one expects there will be by the time this new law takes effect.


Anonymous said...

Hey Chuck,

Not sure if Popcorn uses GNS (how do you tell?) but I believe they have a distillery in TN, DSP-TN-15011

Chuck Cowdery said...

Their label, as shown on their website, calls it "Unaged whiskey distilled from a mash of grain and sugar." It's unlikely that's an approved label. The TTB considers "Unaged Whiskey" impossible, since whiskey by definition must be aged.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Products that contain GNS must say so on the label.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck - You mentioned that products that contain GNS must say so on the label. Not doubting you, since you always seem to know your stuff, but can you kindly direct me to the citation for that?


Chuck Cowdery said...

Whenever I say something is required I almost always mean according to the U.S. Government's "Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits." There is no rule written exactly as I stated it, but in every beverage type that permits or is based on GNS (see "vodka") the labeling requirement appears.

Erik Fish said...

I sure hope Dickel's White Corn Whisky, which happens to be the only white stuff I've ever liked enough to buy a second bottle of, is the real stuff. Of course it says "Distilled in Tullahoma" right on their bottle; they've always been refreshingly honest, including putting on their rye bottle that it comes from Lawrenceburg IN, not TN. Most other MGP customers put that in the fine print, if at all.

Anonymous said...

I think you are "mixing" up some of the terminology. First off I see that ole tenn has a "corn whiskey" moonshine. It can be found in the public COLA registry with a code 143, and is considered a "whiskey". Many other companies like kings county make like corn whiskeys that they market as moonshine.
But this is totally unlike all of the other ole tenn products that are "other specialties" which have formulas that are obviously on file with the TTB.

Meanwhile, corn whiskey is whiskey that may or may not be aged.

Further, companies like mgp produce products below the proof of GNS that many companies use as base, which does not require label notification because they are lower than GNS. They are produced in column stills at volume, shipped to companies like ole tenn, etc and then just bottled.

Keep in mind hat the difference between labeling with GNS or not, hinges on 1 degree of proof at distillation.

You can tell if a company actually distills what's in the bottle, if it says Distilled, and if not it typically just says "bottled by".

Chuck Cowdery said...

Just to clarify, although I thought this was pretty clear in the original post, both corn whiskey and sugar shine are more-or-less 'authentic.' Corn whiskey is what moonshine used to be. From Prohibition up through today, 'real' moonshine is almost always made from table sugar. Most so-called 'legal moonshine' is GNS and that definitely is not authentic, since it is almost impossible to make GNS in the simple stills moonshiners use.

brian said...

hi chuck, unrelated to ole smokey, but i have a question. i was under the assumption that to be labeled "tequila" a spirit had to be distilled in mexcio? this new tequila


is labeled both as a tequila and made in america. wondering what your thoughts are on how this is possible?

brian said...

further to my last post, it looks like that tequila is distilled at:


per the online cola registry. doesn't see how it can be labeled as a tequila?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Protection of the name 'Tequila' was part of NAFTA, so this shouldn't be possible, if it means distilled in the USA, but it probably does not. In regulatory parlance, 'made' can just mean 'bottled' and that is possible. Mixto tequila may be bottled in the U.S.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Terressentia is a processor, not a distiller. But you're right, the whole thing sounds fishy.

Erik Fish said...

Coming back to the TTB and "unaged whiskey", the following is a partial quote from a distillery here in Oregon about one of their products:
"We bottle it right out of the still to preserve the fresh aromas of wheat (72.22%) and barley (27.77%) malts. Unaltered by aging in wooden barrels, ..XXX.. Whiskey retains a crystal clarity...."
Taking them by their word, are they in violation of TTB regs labeling and selling their product, which isn't bad-tasting btw., as whiskey?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Letting the distillate touch wood for even 30 seconds satisfies the aging requirement, while leaving the spirit essentially 'unaltered.' Tricky, eh?

brian said...

thanks for the info, chuck. love your blog.

Anonymous said...

if it is 30 second whiskey. It must say 30 second whiskey on the label. Unless it is flavored

Chuck Cowdery said...

A blend would be another exception, but you are correct.

Terry Jackson said...

Hi Chuck

Great informative article for people that are new to the moonshine category and slowly giving it a chance. Still not a huge fan but I'm trying to acquire a taste. I recently purchased a jar of Popcorn Sutton white whiskey and I can't find GNS anywhere on the label. After reading your article I find myself looking at all the labels in liquor stores as to not buy a lesser product. The Popcorn is actually worth sipping in my opinion, any others you'd recommend? Would love your opinion as you seem quite knowledgeable about the moonshine product.

Unknown said...

Try Appalachian Moonshine out of WV. Closest thing you will find taste wise and no gns