“This place has quite the decor,” my friend told me, as we walked into the restaurant. “I thought you’d appreciate it. It covers three things that are most important to the people here: NASCAR, Merlefest, and moonshine.”
My friend filled me in on what Merlefest was – a music festival whose greatness was up for debate since Lowes took it over. Then he told me an interesting little tidbit about NASCAR: it started with moonshiners who tricked out their cars to get away from the feds. Then they decided to start racing these cars, and thus the birth of NASCAR. Wow. I’m in the South.
My friend pointed to what looked like one of those outdoor chimeas in the corner of the restaurant. “Know what that is?” he asked.
“That chimney thing? No idea.”
“That’s a still,” he told me.
Despite my northern upbringing, I have learned what a still is – but had never seen one. Considering this part of my southern education, I went over to check it out. Well, I tried, but got distracted first by the pictures on the wall. Prints of moonshiners packing up a car’s trunk. Of moonshiners with their stills out in the woods. Of moonshiners bringing boxes into the back door of a place marked, “Members only.”
But there weren’t just prints. They actually had a couple old black and white photographs of moonshine operations. My friend joined me and explained a little of what I was seeing.
I made my way over to the still. “Now the funny thing is,” my friend said to me, “that it’s illegal to have one of those. But here it is. In a restaurant.” The still had a sign on it with the NASCAR story and that it was a gift or on loan from some folks. It was obviously not being used to make moonshine, and that, from what I am told, is the bigger crime.
“Boils down to money. If you’re making it, they want to tax it.”
I’d had a few tastes of moonshine in my travels in this part of the country over the last year. Not my drink of choice, but I’ve learned to handle a few swigs when it’s offered to me – usually from a mason jar from which everyone sips.
Knowing all the secrecy around moonshine, I was pretty surprised to see it as part of a cocktails competition at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival a few months ago. Turns out there are some ways now to make it legally – so local distillers Troy and Sons have done just that. I might have to visit their distillery one day soon, in the name of furthering my moonshine education.