More TN distilleries could mean tarnished state brand - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

More TN distilleries could mean tarnished state brand

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

With a boom in the number of distilleries across Tennessee, some say that could actually hurt the distinguished reputation of Tennessee whiskey and moonshine.

"Tennessee has always been a moonshine state. It will always be a moonshine state," said Billy Kaufman, with Short Mountain Distillery.

Short Mountain Distillery opened two years ago in Cannon County to help preserve that history.

After prohibition, Jack Daniel and George Dickel were the only distilleries in the state, but there are now almost 20 distilleries following a change in state law back in 2009 to increase revenue.

"Just post-prohibition time, Tennessee only allowed three counties to make spirits. They opened it up and said you could do it in any county in the state," said John Whittemore, with Short Mountain Distillery.

So what used to be a means to earn a living in isolated mountain regions is now big business, as the distilleries give a boost to local farming and employment and pay hefty taxes.

Ronald Lawson says he has been a moonshiner since he was 16 years old.

"We grind our own corn and put it in there with sugar and the other stuff," Lawson said. "We've got great water, and that is the main source of making moonshine. There's springs all over Tennessee."

And there's the catch. The brand "Tennessee moonshine" is not regulated, so some of the distilleries may not actually be using Tennessee spring water or corn. Instead, they may just be bottling in the state of Tennessee with ingredients from elsewhere, and that could hurt Tennessee's good name.

"If we just go down the road of trying to make a buck on the good name of Tennessee, it's all going to come to an end in 10 years," Kaufman said.

The group at Short Mountain Distillery is trying to get some quality standards in place, but in the meantime, they say they will still use their slow-cooking, 100-year-old method to make great Tennessee moonshine.

"If it burns blue, you've got good stuff. If it doesn't, you better throw that stuff out," Whittemore said.

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