Since the state of Tennessee significantly changed its laws and licensing requirements for distilleries in 2009, a handful of new, legal, moonshiners have joined the legendary Tennessee Whiskey producers Jack Daniels and George Dickel, as well as Pritchard’s (a little jewel near the Alabama line that puts out a variety of rums and whiskeys) as legit distillers of spirits in the Volunteer State.
The next three distilleries that soon opened for business in the state began mass producing a product known by generations of Southerners as moonshine, but now sometimes known by the (perhaps more politically correct) name Tennessee White Whiskey. These distilleries are Ole Smoky, Short Mountain and Popcorn Sutton.
The three varieties of the clear but powerful output from these organizations were provided to the Pulse for comparing, contrasting and consuming. Upon sampling them, the general consensus was that any one of them could probably run a jet airliner; and generally the first one sampled would burn the worst, while the final sample, once the individual’s tongue had warmed up from the previous shine a bit, burned the least. However, here are some comments and feedback from the team who so diligently sampled them in the name of research and the interest of our readership.
Ole Smoky has quite a bite to it, at 100 proof, and descriptors of flavors, though subtle, ranged from “sweet and bready” to “mild” to “wood fire.”
Interestingly, multiple tasters described Popcorn Sutton’s nectar, listed as 93 proof, as having a buttery flavor or aroma. Perhaps the rich buttery taste, along with the corniness of the mash, led to the mountain man’s name Popcorn. The consensus was that it had the least bite out of the three, but one tasting team member said the taste had somewhat of a rubbing alcohol element to it.
But ultimately, the taste preference among our group turned out to actually be the variety with the highest alcohol content, Short Mountain Shine. At 105 proof, multiple samplers described Short Mountain Shine as having the best flavor. One called it “crisp, with no real aftertaste. Another was of the opinion that not only the look, but the taste, of Popcorn and Ole Smoky were pretty similar, but Short Mountain had a more distinct, though just slightly metallic, taste.
As far as packaging and presentation, both Popcorn and Smoky use the traditional Mason jar to transport their likker, while Short Mountain’s bottle has a unique elegant curved neck (better for pouring) and a collectible coin that can be popped off each bottle.
A quick look at other products the brands offer reveals that Popcorn Sutton produces only one product, the moonshine, reportedly, very similar to the man’s personally perfected recipe; Ole Smoky has, in addition to its clear moonshine, blackberry, peach and apple flavored products, a more heavily-distilled White Lightening, plus a jar of ‘shine-soaked cherries; while Short Mountain offers its flagship product along with an Apple Pie variety.
So for a little taste of Tennessee, try out one, or more, of these varieties. Make yourself a little mountain lemonade, mix it with some juice from fresh berries, perhaps, or another of the cocktails suggested on any of the three websites below, but remember, the authentic, proper experience is sippin’ straight from the jar.