Southern U.S. distillery to legally sell moonshine
Unidentified moonshiners are pictured near Glassy Mountain Township in the Dark Corner of South Carolina, in this photograph taken in the mid-1920s and released on July 28, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Courtesy of Dean Campbell
By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina | Fri Jul 29, 2011 12:46pm EDT
(Reuters) – Two entrepreneurs are taking advantage of new micro-distillery laws in South Carolina to make moonshine whiskey legally for the first time in the southern state.
The Dark Corner Distillery will open next month in Greenville, where engineer Joe Fenten, 27, and longtime home beer brewer Richard Wenger will produce and sell small batches of 100-proof moonshine from a custom-made copper still.
The distillery, housed in a 1925 building, will also include a tasting bar and a museum dedicated to the history of the Dark Corner, the local mountains that were once full of moonshiners, feud and mayhem, Fenten told Reuters.
The area was settled, along with the nearby Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Scots, Irish and Welsh who migrated down through the Appalachian mountain chain from Pennsylvania in the 1700s.
“They thought it was their inalienable, God-given right to make whiskey,” said Fenten, a Dark Corner native. “It was a hard life. If you could make an extra 10 cents more for a gallon of whiskey than you could for a bushel of corn, then why not?”
Moonshine traditionally was the term used to describe illegally distilled corn whiskey often made covertly by the light of the moon. The product made at the new distillery will be un-aged corn whiskey, but will be taxed and regulated.
The area came to be called the Dark Corner in 1832 by South Carolina politicians seeking to nullify federal law and who cursed the people of the mountains as Unionists, said Dean Campbell, a Dark Corner native who is the distillery’s official historian.
Whiskey taxes after the Civil War and then Prohibition in the 20th century made the place more lawless, Campbell said.
News accounts in the 1920s called the Dark Corner “a little Chicago” because of federal agents’ raids on stills, killings, and gun and knife fights that broke out after church, he said.
Illegal moonshine is still being made there, Campbell said. In June, sheriff’s deputies busted a still in Landrum, South Carolina, and confiscated 2,000 gallons of illegal white liquor along with $150,000 in cash.
State lawmakers in 2009 altered existing liquor laws in a way that lessened the financial burden on small distilleries, paving the way for the Dark Corner Distillery to set up shop.
Despite the drink’s reputation, legal moonshine makers also have popped up in other states, including Oregon, Wisconsin, Montana, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, New York and North Carolina.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)
Remember the biggest hazard when distilling at home is fire. Here are a few tips to think about before you begin.
Basic Safety Guidelines when Distilling
- Don’t distill in a closed room. Try and keep some through-draught (eg both a window and door open)
- If your home still leaks (liquid or steam) – fix it instead of using it
- Collect the alcohol securely – don’t put yourself in a position where its easy to knock over the collection vessel etc, or bump the tube out of it. This means having enough space to work in, well lit, tidy.
- Keep a fire extinguisher with you (and on your side of whatever is going to catch fire)
- If using electrical heating, have an RCD on the line (residual current device – a fancy circuit breaker)
- Check your still with water-only the first time you use it, to make sure your condenser is up to the job. You don’t want vapor coming out of the collection tube.
- Be sober – making moonshine is not the time for drunken mistakes.
- Pay attention to the still – check it regularly (cooling water still flowing, no leaks, collecting nicely, all temperatures OK)
- Do the maths – don’t boil the still dry
- Make sure the outlet tube is free flowing – not crimped or blocked in any way.
- Make sure the still design is such that you can’t pressurize the still – it should always be able to vent somehow to atmosphere. There shouldn’t be valves such that you can fully close the distillation column off
- Don’t smoke – you don’t want ignition sources around a liquid as flammable as gasoline
Stainless Steel Vs. Copper Moonshine Stills
One of the first issues many people who are new to home distilling struggle with is what type of material should their still be constructed with. Moonshine stills are only safely constructed with one of two materials, copper or stainless steel, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages.Stainless steel has the advantage of being extremely strong and durable as well as being relatively easy to clean (especially when polished). It is less expensive than copper and because it’s considerably stronger, a thinner gauge can be used thereby resulting in a significantly lower overall cost.
The problem with stainless is that it’s a poor conductor of heat. This is not so much of a problem when heat is applied directly to the distillation boiler, but presents problems in any still where you are looking for naturally generated reflux as the steam vapors rise through the distillation column. Stainless also contributes nothing to the breakdown of esters and sulfuric compounds which is essential when producing high quality spirits.
There are several manufacturers who build all stainless steel small scale stills, but they typically concentrate their efforts on forced reflux designs that produce high proof tasteless alcohol. This is the only way they can avoid most of the foul tastes resulting from the absence of any chemical catalysis during the distillation process.
Copper is the traditional material used in both commercial and home stills and for good reason:
It would seem that copper would be the ideal material for the entire still and that would be true if cost were not a concern. The problem with copper is that it must be rather thick and therefore costs are driven up beyond the budgets of most hobby distillers. We would not use a copper dome less than 16 gauge or a copper pot less than 12 gauge on home stills up to 15 gallons (60 quarts) in useable capacity. Larger stills would require even thicker copper.
There are a couple of manufacturers who produce small scale all copper stills. One down in Arkansas literally builds artwork but his prices are very high and the gauge of material is thinner than we would use on comparable sized stills. There is another in Indiana who builds stills of material so thin we wonder how they can even get them shipped to a destination without damage. Material costs simply prevent a good option for an all copper hobby sized still.
We therefore have combined the use of these two materials to produce moonshine stills that are the best combination of functionality, durability and cost. Our stainless pots are durable, easy to clean and economical. Our still designs incorporate an all copper construction to maximize steam vapor contact in order to achieve the full chemical reaction that copper provides. We think you will agree that our moonshine stills for sale are the best option available for the home distiller.