Ellison, Jesse, Newsweek
Byline: Jesse Ellison
"It's organic!" is usually a selling point at the upscale Astor Wines and Spirits in Manhattan. When Colin Spoelman says it, hawking a table of small bottles featuring vintage--chic labels from his Kings County Distillery, he gets mostly laughs. Maybe that's because he's selling organic moonshine.
An oxymoron, for sure, as is the notion of hooch selling for $20 a bottle made by a guy with artfully rumpled (not to mention clean) hair. In fact, modern moonshiners hail not from Appalachia but from the home-brewed-beer, rooftop-chicken-coop, at-home-pickling world of artisanal foodies. Because moonshine, by definition, is cooked up in an unlicensed still, what these folks are selling is technically just unaged corn whisky, the same stuff that goes into barrels and comes out as bourbon months later. But the business is booming: some 200 small-scale distilleries have sprung up around the country--not only making whisky, but also turning honey into vodka and apples into applejack. Some copper suppliers say they can't keep up with the demand.
Part of moonshine's new appeal is that it evokes an American ideal perfect for our antigovernment times: the bootlegger as the lone frontiersman, the rebel outlaw, the Marlboro Man. …