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Moonshine: The Next Generation, Short Mountain Distillery Creating Legal Beverage

Billy Kaufman discusses his 300-acre organic farm, and getting moonshine legalized in Cannon County. Photos by Bracken Mayo

Well, dear Pulse readers, I got some big news for ya! They-a selling moonshine on Short Mountain! Now for those of you who have lived in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 minutes, your response to that information might be, “Well, duh, they’ve been doing that since the Indians taught ’em how to make corn.” And you’d be right, but now there is a slight difference. They’re doing it legally.

Short Mountain Distillery is the first legal distillery in Cannon County since prohibition. That is no small feat considering that Cannon County is a “dry” county and a card-carrying member on the Southern end of the Bible Belt. Nevertheless, brothers Billy, David and Ben Kaufman along with the political and legal expertise of Christian Grantham, sought to change the law and the minds of the good people of Cannon County. After garnering enough support for their cause, it was brought to a referendum, voted on and now they legally make moonshine. As it turns out, the citizens of Cannon County did support their efforts; one can only guess at the reasons for their support.

“Most people here either know or have moonshiners in their linage and most we met were in favor of the idea,” Billy said. “Christian has a good knowledge of the law and how to work to change it. So, we sat in front of the courthouse with our petition, the people signed it, and then they voted for it.”

So now, Short Mountain Distillery is Tennessee’s sixth distillery and it makes a 105-proof moonshine.

The corn liquor it produces is not just any moonshine, but the moonshine your grandparents may have drunk. This is because Short Mountain employs three of the best moonshiners this area has to offer: Ricky Estes, Jimmy Simpson and Ronald Lawson. The three of them have given up their days of illegal wildcatting. Judging by the smile on Lawson’s face (who was on the property the day of our visit), it seems to be working out well for them. Along with head distiller Josh Smotherman, they make a quality product that meets all legal requirements. Now that’s a brand new angle; the revenuers like the moonshiners.

Short Mountain Distillery is located on a 300-acre working organic farm. The corn is raised and milled on the farm, the water comes from natural springs located on the farm, and after the alcohol is distilled out of the mash, it is fed to an eager group of cows, goats, sheep and chickens.

“Mash stripped of alcohol is full of protein, vitamins and fiber. All the livestock here are happy and waiting on feeding time,” Billy said.

Ben added, “Well-fed livestock creates fertilizer for the farm, and if we didn’t feed the mash to the livestock, we would have to find a way to get rid of it.”

The cows immediately gather around moonshiner Ronald Lawson as he brings mash to feed them.

It's Alive!

It’s easy to see that the brothers are proud of their efforts to be organic.

“Organic farming is the pinnacle of the agricultural framework. Corn and fruit can’t be saved all year; you have to feed it to an animal or sell it before it goes bad. But if you make alcohol out of it, you can send it all the way to China. You can store it as long as you want or ship it as far as you want. It makes such a value out of it that it makes farming make sense again,” Billy said.

The Kaufman brothers came here from California and have been farming in Cannon County for about 10 years. But the legacy of the family goes back much further than that. Their great-grandfather, Jesse Shwayder, founded The Samsonite Company in 1910. A Samsonite factory in Rutherford County employed many of the people and parents of the people that voted in favor of their distillery. The Kaufmans pay homage to their great-grandfather by carrying on his ethic in business: The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It was with this motto the Jesse Shwayder ran Samsonite and the way the Kaufmans run their distillery. So much so, that they embed a coin with that saying on every bottle. That also makes each bottle a collector’s item.

Distillery and farm tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Short Mountain Distillery offers a firsthand look at handcrafted processes handed down for generations on Short Mountain. The tour explains the step-by-step process of making moonshine and includes a visit to the spring where they get their water. You can purchase a bottle of their product at the distillery, but be warned, each batch usually sells out quickly.

Short Mountain Distillery is also a place for the whole family.

The company car

“We have only been open a short time, and already people come out here and spend the day. They come out here to picnic. Some bring musical instruments. We provide them with water and soft drinks. We have a BBQ vender that comes out, and we have merchandise for sale,” Billy said.

Short Mountain Distillery hosts the Middle Tennessee Mule Skinners. The owners deal with local business as much as possible. They are Cannon County’s first organic farm, and they provide several jobs and a learning environment for interns. They pay taxes, bring tourism to area and the Cannon County Playhouse uses their moonshine to make cookies. That makes Short Mountain Distillery a real asset to the community, and who knew you could make cookies with moonshine?

Short Mountain Distillery is located at 119 Mountain Spirits Lane, Woodbury, Tenn. For more information, visit shortmountaindistillery.com or call (615) 216-0830.

Brothers and moonshiners Ben and Billy Kaufman

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