Unless your grandpa is fermenting batches of white lightning in his backyard, you're going to be hard pressed to find authentic moonshine in this neck of the woods. The moonshining, bootlegging culture of Appalachia and the South has been the subject of many documentaries, so we won't rehash the details about Prohibition and the Dukes of Hazzard characters that ran their homemade whiskey along clandestine routes.
One of the most famous bootleggers was Junior Johnson, son of moonshiner Robert Johnson Sr. The younger Johnson grew up racing a stock car filled with the family's product to buyers with a taste for the pungent liquor. Johnson was quite the driver, inventing the "bootleg turn," a sharp and speedy maneuver that he often used to outrun the feds, and in the 1950's he became one of the first stars of NASCAR. Dubbed the "Last Great American Hero" by author Tom Wolfe, Johnson retired in 1966 with 50 NASCAR wins under his belt.
In 2007, Junior Johnson went back to his moonshine roots, partnering with Piedmont Distillers of Madison, North Carolina, to bring his family's recipe to modern moonshine quaffers. Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon is made using the Johnson family recipe by fermenting small batches of corn, sugar and yeast and water in a copper still, but unlike authentic moonshine, this modern variation is distilled multiple times before bottling.
You can find Midnight Moon at Goody Goody, but we discovered a fruit-infused variety online and ordered a jar of the apple pie variation to sample for ourselves. The moonshine arrived in a cutesy mason jar with a small cinnamon stick hovering at the bottom of the syrupy liquor. Moonshiners often flavored their recipes with apples and other fruit to mask the harshness of the alcohol, so this was as close to authentic moonshine as we could get.
The smell is overwhelming -- a heady aroma of alcohol cut by the sweetness of apple and cinnamon -- but it was the end of a long work day and we need a stiff drink to make it through rush hour. After a round of shots, we were divided over the taste, with half of us -- including Hanna Raskin -- comparing the medicinal flavor to Robitussin. Others thought the moonshine was like a smooth whiskey, while our art director Alex Flores declared that it tasted like Christmas. We're all spending Christmas with him this year, which some of us won't remember after a few sips of Midnight Moon.