In a barely marked, relatively charmless building right off of I-26 in Woodfin, a sweet corn mash bubbles languidly in oak whiskey barrels that have been scraped clean of their charred interior. That helps the moonshine, made from a 150-year-old recipe, run clean and clear, says Howling Moon Distillery's CEO Cody Bradford.
"We do almost everything exactly how it was done 150 years ago," says Bradford, pointing out how the pipes that run between the barrels of the hand-crafted still are held together with rye paste. "That's just rye flour and water," he says, tapping at the joints. "You've got to get it just right, and it will harden like cement."
Chivous Downey, Howling Moon's president, offers a taste of the moonshine, cool and clean in the distillery's nearly oppressively humid, ferment-scented air. The corn whiskey is 100-proof, and tastes exactly like moonshine should taste if you've ever sipped it out of a mason jar next to a bonfire. If you have, then you know.
Except there's this: the moonshine leaves a trail of heat in its wake and, beyond that, there's a distinct flavor of the sweetest corn that hits the palate as the warmth subsides. The North Carolina-grown white corn that makes this moonshine is processed at a historic grist mill in Cane Creek. Built in 1867, it's the last water-powered mill of its kind left in the state. Howling Moon's Appalachian heritage can practically be tasted.
Howling Moon only turns out 80 cases a month, with more on the way. The moonshine comes in a large mason jar that costs a reasonable $23.95. "It's good, authentic, traditional moonshine at a good, authentic price," says Downey.
The distillery doesn't have a great PR machine, a tourist-appropriate tasting area or slick branding. It's just good moonshine that packs a hefty wallop, with 150 years of history standing behind it.
The distillery will host a “Howling Moon goes legal party” at Wild Wings on April 14 beginning at 6 p.m. Tim Smith from the Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners will be on hand, as will Raymond Fairchild, the banjo player who gave the distillery the recipe for its ‘shine. Fairchild, Steve Brown and the Maggie Valley Boys will perform.
For more information, visit http://www.howlingmoonshine.com.