Moonshine spends his day in the sun.
Once a cousin of the countryside, he takes on a new life as a city dweller. And now that he’s out of the barn and into the bar, mixologists at Tony’s bars are experimenting with moonlight, and spirits lovers – always on the lookout for the latest kick – are eagerly responding.
Think of it as a light whiskey. Made from grains such as corn, wheat, rye, or barley, moonlight never rests inside a wooden barrel, which is why it stays clear, rough, and ready. The wood is what gives Pure Bourbon its rich dark color and most of its caramel-vanilla flavor.
That’s why moonlight is special, say artisanal distillers. Not embraced by wood, moonlight retains the purity of its nature and drinkers have the chance to experience whiskey in its raw form – to taste its raw, mellow edges.
In addition, it is pretty. “LA is very look-oriented and people are extremely aware of what they’re drinking – what they’re holding in their hand,” says Shannon Beattie, director of beverages at Cecconi’s, a posh Italian restaurant in West Hollywood that serves a wide variety of moonlight cocktails alongside its menu of goat cheese and summer truffle pizza and Dungeness crab ravioli. “And it really sells because it gets people talking. It looks unique – how the light shines through the glass, and you can see the cherry in a white Manhattan.
Others appreciate it because it is a bit of the border in a bottle and drinking it is drinking in the history of American whiskey.
“During the colonial period, aging was circumstantial, it was not intentional,” says Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council in the United States. “If you happened to leave a spirit in a barrel, aging would take place.” When settlers moved up the Mississippi River to the Ohio Valley, barrels were valuable commodities, so if a barrel contained a ripe item like salt cod, the inside of the barrel would be burnt to get rid of the flavor of the fish. If the whiskey, which was clear at the time, was put in such a barrel and left there long enough, it would age and take on both a dark color and a caramel flavor. Eventually, the law required bourbon to age in wood for a period of time.
Traditionally, moonlight was called moonlight because it was illegal – made in dark circumstances by moonlight, and therefore untaxed. This new legal breed of clear whiskey, also known as “white dog” (the one eaten with truffle pizza in fancy restaurants) is more like the sun. And if the outlawed Appalachian moonlight met a blazing sun in a dark alley, there’s no doubt which one would be down for the count. The cousin of the countryside is much tougher than the city dweller.
Yet the end product that many licensed distilleries today produce is made using much the same process used by Prohibition Era smugglers. For example, the Original Moonshine – a clear corn whiskey made by the Stillhouse Distillery in Culpeper, Va. – owes its earthy, corn-laden bite to the skills of a third-generation distiller named Chuck Miller, who uses a similar recipe. and vintage copper. stills his grandfather used to make illicit moonlight in the 1930s.
“He had 11 children and the only job he ever had was making whiskey,” says Miller, adding that there was a trap door in the floor of the family farm that led to a basement filled with clear. moon. Her grandmother kept her rocking chair on it. “Every time they came to raid, she would run over to that rocking chair and crochet.”
Stillhouse is one of the most visible spirits distillers. It has bottles in over 70 bars and restaurants around LA, including Cecconi’s, Hungry Cat, Roger Room, Hemingway’s, and Copa d’Oro. And in a particularly sunny marketing move, the brand was launched by CEO and co-founder Brad Beckerman during New York Fashion Week at the 10th anniversary party for designer John Varvatos. No, it was not the moonlight that the dueling banjo players were drinking backstage in the movie “Deliverance”.
With its reputation as a freshly minted designer, this new wave of clear whiskey owes its popularity the proliferation of small artisanal distilleries in recent years. In February 2010, the Distilled Spirits Council created an Affiliation of Craft Distillers, in recognition of the growing number nationwide. They estimate that there are more than 200 distilleries currently in operation, up from around 24 in 2001.
“Spirits have been on the rise over the past decade,” says Coleman of the board. “More people are drinking spirits – and better spirits.” And thanks in part to the recession, many states have relaxed their restrictions on licensing in order to generate revenue quickly. More distilleries means more tax dollars straight to the state coffers.
Additionally, the distillers themselves – often small businesses with large loans – also need to make a quick buck, which is why they tend to produce clear whiskey right off the bat. While traditional American whiskeys can take four to eight years to fully mature, moonlight can be reversed quite quickly.
“It’s kind of chicken before the egg,” says Gable Erenzo, the distiller of Tuthilltown Spirits, who makes Hudson New York Corn Whiskey one of the most respected brands on the market. “When you start making whiskey, you take out a white whiskey while you age your other whiskey. “
This gives you immediate cash flow to really get things done in your distillery, says Brian Ellison, president of Death’s Door Spirits in Wisconsin, which produces Death’s Door cereal-based white whiskey that includes wheat and barley. .
But there’s another plus, says Ellison. Making clear whiskey gives artisanal distillers the opportunity to show off what they do best: to create unique, very flavorful spirits that you won’t find anywhere else.
“It’s a bit like seeing distillers in their underwear,” he says. “You can taste what happens with this distillate before it hits the oak and changes character. He adds that there are people who drink whiskey and then there are whiskey drinkers. People who drink whiskey tend to dabble and are not die-hard spirits fans. So they usually only look for a traditional brown liqueur. Whiskey drinkers are spirits enthusiasts who are obsessed with all aspects of the alcohol making process. In fact, they will often visit their favorite distilleries to taste the raw product. So, Death’s Door takes what the “geeky little group” of whiskey drinkers love and bottles it to share with a larger group.
In Los Angeles, this larger group tastes it at bars with respected mixology programs such as Hemingway’s in Hollywood, where bartender Alex Straus uses Original Moonshine for a drink called Lazy Day, mixing it with lemon, syrup. maple and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram liqueur. , as well as in a drink called Blue Man – a flirtation game on a Prohibition cocktail called Blue Lady. Made with lemon juice and Pages Parfait Amour Crème de Violette liqueur, the drink, joking Straus, tastes a bit like Sour Patch Kids candy, which it does, but a delicious nutty taste that will keep you going. vibrate.
“With moonlight, I’d say you want to treat it like gin,” he says, explaining the ingredient choices in his drinks. In his opinion, alcohol has nothing to do with vodka – clear but quite tasteless. And he doesn’t think it lends itself particularly well to typical whiskey creations like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, as it doesn’t have the usual oakiness of whiskey. Like gin, moonlight is clear but full of raspy flavor.
At the Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, star bartender Vincenzo Marianella says he uses moonlight primarily to make sour cocktails like whiskey sour and margaritas. “It’s not aged, so it’s quite aggressive,” he says, which is why the acidic ingredients complement and tame it.
“But it’s cool that he’s still available. That’s what they drank in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s made for the direction the country’s cocktail scene is taking. People bring back old spirits and look at their story.