Do we really need another moonshine, you might ask? It does seem like a crowded segment in the liquor industry, but Koffel and Dillingham don't see it as jumping in on the moonshine boom at all. "Corn whiskey has been a part of American culture since Jamestown," says Koffel. "We wanted to make sure that we produce a moonshine that authentically represents the history of the product. It's been around for generations; it's just that now we're paying taxes on it."
Part of that authenticity is evident in the recipe that features the three historical ingredients of fine 'shine: corn, sugar and water. American Born is not a white whiskey by the modern definition. The addition of cane sugar adds nuances of flavor to the corn, which can taste kind of flabby and well, corny, without something to smooth out the finish of the drink. The resulting "cane and grain" spirit is called American Born Moonshine Original, a 103 proof product that can be sipped directly from the jar if you're brave, or mixed with soda and/or lemonade or grapefruit juice if you're not.
Koffel and Dillingham have been telling their story to liquor store owners and bartenders around Middle Tennessee for quite a while, even though the product won't officially hit the shelves until Oct. 17. Koffel states, "Our goal is to eventually become a national brand, but we always want to be Middle Tennessee's Moonshine." They are proud of the fact that every element of their product is made in the U.S., down to the unique patented lid they designed that allows bartenders or home drinkers to remove a cork in the middle of the top to pour individual drinks or use a regulated pour spout. You can, of course, still unscrew the whole top and pass the jar around a tailgate.
The second iteration of American Born is Apple Pie. During the five years that Koffel and Dillingham spent cruising around the country visiting their friends from the South and tasting innumerable examples of small-batch moonshine, they discovered that just about every old-school moonshiner made an apple pie version of their hooch. Unlike some other flavored moonshines, American Born is still whiskey proof at 83. This contributes a much better mouth feel than some of the syrupy competitors out there. Flavored with natural apple and cinnamon, this would actually make a nice after-dinner drink on the rocks, like a German schnapps. (Not the Jäger kind.)
The final expression of American Born is called Dixie, and it is a dangerously delicious sweet-tea flavor. Mixed with some lemonade in an alcoholic Arnold Palmer (which I guess could be called a "John Daly"), this stuff goes down w-a-a-a-y too smoothly. Drink with caution, because it is also an 83 proof shine, which makes it about 10 percent stronger than the ubiquitous Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka. If you want to taste even more of the tea, mix it with soda water instead. Since Dixie is meant to be cut or mixed, the consistency is a little thicker than Apple Pie, and the darker color differentiates it in the bottle, er ... jar.
American Born takes their moonshine heritage seriously; they refer to their release of the product as "a run," as in the whiskey runners of old. The launch events have collectively been called "The Nashville Run;" they call their salespeople "bootleggers," and their employees "moonshiners." After a huge launch event last month where they introduced their product to several hundred industry professionals and whiskey enthusiasts, they have conducted a series of small popup events around town since then.
Their official kickoff event will be on Oct. 17 at Paradise Park starting at 7 p.m., and you are invited! The Scene is a sponsor of the event, and you can register here. The party is free, but you must preregister to get on the guest list. It is a capacity-dependent event, so get there early for free samples of each of the three American Born moonshine products as well as musical entertainment and free food from the kitchen of Paradise Park.
I expect you'll soon see American Born and their rebellious Gadsden flag all over town, if you haven't already. The "Don't Tread on Me" snake is an apt symbol for the ethos of moonshiners past who didn't necessarily want to fight the government, but just wanted to be left alone to practice their craft. Tread on down to Paradise Park on Oct. 17 to try out what might be the next big thing to come out of Music City. I wouldn't bet against these guys.