Joseph McElroy’s guest today is Dave Angel, his cousin through marriage and the owner of Elevated Mountain Distillery. The Scottish Gaeilic call it “Uisce Beatha,” which translates to “Water of Life.” When the Scottish arrived at the Smokies they didn’t just bring their musical influence, they also contributed the practices of distilleries. To this day some believe that the medicine of the mountains only works with the help of moonshine. Throughout the 20th century, moonshine had its place within the local economy. Dave made his first moonshine when he was 14 years old. It was his goal to learn and pass on the tradition. Moonshine is alcohol that is not made legally. People often think of moonshine as a knock off but the only difference is the legality. Moonshine can be made from many things, including fruit. In the 1930s people used to distil grains and apples to make an Apple Brandy.
Whiskey is alcohol distilled from grain so it starts with beer, also known as mash. Whiskey boils at 174 degrees. After separating it from the water, you get the whiskey. When it comes down to making good whiskey you need to understand what the head and the heart are. The head is the toxic chemicals that are extracted. Ethanol in bad moonshine can make a person go blind. Once the head is gone you get the whiskey. This is normally a 20 hour process. As the ethanol comes out you start to get a lot of interesting flavor. That is when you get the tails, and depending on when you make certain cuts the flavor can change dramatically. A good distillery know how to make sure your whiskey has a long enough tail. Soft water with a good mineral base is also key. Dave believes that the water in the Smokie is great for moonshine, people come to Maggie Valley looking for moonshine because of it. It is part of the reason that he has his distillery where it is, the purity of the water. Maggie Valley has a long history of moonshine and David’s business was welcomed with open arms.
Guests at the Elevated Mountain Distillery can enjoy their wide range of drinks, see how it’s made, and even enjoy live music. Dave talks about the differences in how whiskeys are made. Tennessee whiskey is bourbon that goes through a charred mapple filter. Shotish whiskey and Irish whiskey are distilled in bourbon barrels. In his distillery they use this method and many more. According to Dave one of the most popular Distilleries in Tennessee is Ole Smoky Moonshine in Gatlin, TN. The water of the Smoky Mountains has allowed so many distilleries and wineries to produce incredible wine, beers, and whiskeys. The most visited winery in America is in Asheville, North Carolina.
The talk about Popcorn Sutton, an American Appalachian moonshiner and bootlegger who gained popularity when he appeared in the Neal Hutcheson documentary, “Mountain Talk.” People were so excited when his truck pulled up that they would rush to buy his moonshine. Moonshiners in the past cared more about making money over quality but there is a renewed interest, in part due to the popularity of shows such as “Moonshiner.”