The new directions in which baby boomers sometimes go never cease to amaze us at BoomerCafé. Like Troy and Charlie Ball, who make moonshine! Legally, of course. Freelance writer and fellow boomer Carol Viau, who with her husband Paul moved a few years ago from big-city Miami to rural Waynesville, North Carolina, writes for BoomerCafé about this mountain staple… and the resurgence of interest in it. She calls her story, The Times Certainly Are ‘A-Changing’.
For better or worse (depending on your point of view), baby boomers never thought the day would come but we’ve now seen the amazing legalization of marijuana in several states. But that’s hardly the only change in our lives when it comes to outlawed substances. There is also a fascinating story about another one — moonshine — and the resurgence of interest inthe white whiskey. Legal moonshine has become big business.
“It’s the classic American spirit,” says Troy Ball, co-owner of Troy & Sons distillery in Asheville, North Carolina. “White whiskey has been here since the beginning — George Washington had a still.”
We Boomers have the image of moonshine as the burning white lightning of folklore. Did you know NASCAR got its beginnings with bootleggers in souped-up cars running illegal whiskey, racing to outrun federal tax agents?
Even in our time, the image of ‘shine was perpetuated by characters like Western North Carolina’s Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, with his long mountain beard and overalls, running moonshine in his Ford truck. It’s hard to believe, but Popcorn was a Baby Boomer.
Today’s white whiskey distillers have found an audience in Boomers. After all, this isn’t your granddaddy’s moonshine— quite the opposite. Distillers today have produced smooth-tasting legal moonshine.
Ball has discovered the secret to that smoothness— using only the “hearts” of the runs, not the bitter “head” or “tails” of the distillation process. The old-time moonshiners kept the middle part of the run for themselves (the “keeper” portion), and sold the rest down the road. It was illegal because they avoided paying tax on their creations.
So how did people like Troy and Charlie Ball get into the business? Well, when they and their three sons moved to Asheville from Austin, Texas, neighbors gave them mason jars of ‘shine as a welcome. Troy was fascinated with this truly American spirit, and began to learn how to make high-quality moonshine herself. She worked with the “old timers,” studying the process from the ground up. Troy, who is a Baby Boomer herself, is the first female distillery owner in the U.S. to make moonshine.
The Balls were ahead of the curve, starting their company before the death of Popcorn Sutton and the TV Moonshiners show. Their whiskey is distilled using a non-GMO open-pollinated heirloom blend of white Crooked Creek Corn from North Carolina. It’s dangerously delicious, with a smooth taste, no acetone notes, and a fruit-forward flavor.
Flavored moonshine is the rage in the tourist areas of Tennessee. People line up three-deep at the Ole Smoky tasting room in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to try the various flavors of ‘shine. Even Jack Daniels has ventured into white whiskey.
Boomers will find legal ‘shine in liquor stores throughout the country. Even at pool bars at Disney Resorts. If you’re in Asheville, it’s fun to visit Troy & Sons distillery for a tour and tasting. It’s proof that Boomers can make a spirited splash in business.