The Man About TOWN returns to his roots
For your Man About TOWN, the prospect of spending an afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame has about as much appeal as undergoing a colonoscopy while being audited. It’s not that I look down on the sport, it’s just despite a backwoods Southern upbringing I’ve always gravitated toward the kitchen rather than the garage and am much more comfortable with a whisk or cocktail shaker than a wrench or pair of channel locks. So, not surprisingly, I greeted the idea of shuffling around a museum full of engines, tires, and oil cans with a world-class yawn. That was until I heard about “The Still.”
Realizing it’s better to embrace your roots than blindly drive over them, NASCAR has devoted a small corner of its Hall of Fame to a full-sized moonshine still. Built and installed by racing legend and convicted bootlegger Junior Johnson, the still is authentic, albeit non-working—which is sort of like watching an orchestra not play. The knowledge that Johnson, among many other early stock-car racers, honed their racing skills “running shine” fills me with a new appreciation and enthusiasm for the sport.
Up until recently, I had tried moonshine a grand total of once. I was at a “dry county” party in the mountains of North Carolina when someone began passing around a Mountain Dew bottle, the irony seemingly lost on everyone but myself, filled with a clear liquid that tasted like lighter fluid. I was not impressed.
Today’s legal moonshine is much more subtle and drinkable than the pot-still white lightning of the early days. The three Xs on the old clay jugs meant the contents had passed through the still three times rendering it nearly pure alcohol. Modern moonshine sits at around 100-proof or 50-percent alcohol—enough to replace the Sterno under your chafing dish but far from jet fuel.
We’re fortunate to have several small-batch distilleries right here in the Upstate producing varieties of straight and flavored moonshine as well as whiskey, gin, rum, and brandy. All offer sample tastings and tours and, unlike the moonshiners of yesterday, these passionate distillers are eager to discuss their craft.
This spring I purchased my first bottle of moonshine at a local distillery just a few miles from home. Stopped at a traffic light and with the bottle tucked securely in the trunk, my thoughts drifted to a young Junior Johnson behind the wheel of a souped-up car loaded down with hooch. I thought of what it must have felt like to know that skill and speed were the only things separating you and your cargo from the hands of greedy revenuers. I glanced in the rearview mirror, gripped the wheel tight and wished, just for a second, someone would chase me.
Copperhead Mountain Distillery
14 S Main St, Travelers Rest. (864) 610-2228,
Dark Corner Distillery
241-B N Main St, Greenville. (864) 631-1144,
200 W Benson St, Anderson. (864) 226-9917,
Six & Twenty Distillery
3109 Hwy 153, Piedmont. (864) 263-8312,