It all started in the 1930’s when gear heads got together amping up stock cars into speed demons. Sure it was all for the thrills but the motivating factor was pot distilled hootch. Don’t forget this was during Prohibition and enjoying alcohol went hand-in-hand with its viability. If you wanted a couple pulls, you had to do more than hit the corner liquor store. Anyone caught carrying liquor in those days was automatically a criminal facing jail time.
The only way to get around the strong arm of the law was fast cars and quick minds…in the days before chop shops, aftermarket parts, and a customized modification at your finger tips. Average jalopies were streamlined, fenders chopped off, and engines pumped way up with tons more horsepower.
One place to put these modified stock cars to the test was North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountain roads full of white knuckle corners and jagged cliffs below assuring gulped-air vigilance from countless kids tall enough to touch the gas pedal. Now there was moonshine upping the ante! Suddenly all this adrenaline and teen angst was the driving force behind spreading what for generations had been a carefully crafted tradition suddenly declared enemy of the State.
Jazzing up the atmosphere an extra notch was a hungry market, not only for locals but for the newly urbanized who suddenly had a bit extra to spend and nary a safe outlet nearby to purchase it. To feed the market and grab some handsome profits, these kids had to be certain they could evade the law. Fast cars were their ticket and those who mastered the smart moves became champions. Junior Johnson was one such whipper snapper to take up the challenge achieving glory beyond his wildest dreams. His initial driving expertise and “outlaw” image anointed him as creator of the “bootleg turn”, where a driver escapes a pursuer by sharply putting a speeding car into a 180-degree turn on the highway and then zooming off in the opposite direction. Johnson was also known to buy and use police lights and sirens to fool officers who set up roadblocks.
Johnson gave up couriering moonshine in 1955 for the increasingly lucrative and legal career of being a NASCAR driver. He was easily able to translate his moonshiner driving skills to the highly-pitched professional race tracks. He won five races in his first season finishing sixth in the 1955 NASCAR Grand National.
Enter Joe Michalek in 1995, a big city east coast marketing manager who is now founder of Piedmont Distillers. At the time, his job
gave him the opportunity to travel throughout the South checking out music festivals and NASCAR races. One evening, Joe found himself in a cabin in the woods listening to a jam session by local blues legends, when someone handed him a jar of peach moonshine. At first, Joe was thinking twice about taking a sip. After all, he didn’t know where it came from or who made it but he did not hesitate long. He took a sip of that cup and was surprised that it was so flavorful and smooth.
Over the next several years, moonshine became Joe’s passion. He read books, tasted all sorts of recipes, watched documentaries and eventually earned the trust of local moonshiners. These old-timers shared their recipes, distilling techniques and general tricks of the trade. Once he had learned as much as he could, Joe decided it was time to share North Carolina moonshine with the rest of the world. Piedmont Distillers opened their doors in 2005 featuring Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine.
Through a meeting of the minds, Michalek and racing legend Junior Johnson became co-owners of Piedmont Distillers in May 2007 putting Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon on the market. Based on the original generations-old Johnson family moonshine recipe, this liquor is made in a copper still from corn crafted in small triple distilled batches. Sipping it is a little sweet with a hint of spice but otherwise purer tasting than many premium vodkas.
With summer’s sultry temperatures upon us, Lightning Lemonade which is essentially Midnight Moon infused with lemon tasting just like lemonade is a popular twist on the old classic. Best enjoyed over ice with a splash of water or tonic, it can also be mixed with sweet tea or lemon-lime soda.
photos courtesy of Piedmont Distillers