“Well I asked my old pappy why he called his brew,
White lightning ‘stead of mountain dew,
I took a little sip and right away I knew,
As my eyes bugged out and my face turned blue
Lightnin’ started flashin’ and thunder started crashin’
Shhhoooh . . . white lightning” —George “No Show” Jones
In fact, Smooth Ambler Spirits’ white whiskey isn’t really moonshine at all, mainly because it’s perfectly legal. In a nutshell, the kind of eye-blinding, Mason jar swill most of us attach to the term “white lightening” (a.k.a. hooch, Mountain Dew or panther piss) is 100 percent illegal to produce. (For more on moonshine, bootlegging and the nouveau appeal of unaged whiskey, check out Food Republic’s own Dan Dunn’s insightful article exploration of the subject.)
For the record, I’ve tasted real moonshine. Back in my Virginia college days, it wasn’t uncommon to hit a Friday night party where, as if right on cue, that formidable jar of clear liquid would eventually get passed around, and one by one any of us kids who were dumb enough to sample it would end up vomiting, passed out or both. Sadly, I was one of those kids, but only once, even though the stuff was readily available thanks to my boyfriend at the time hailing from Franklin, Virginia (a.k.a. “The Moonshine Capital of the World”).
The best way to describe what it feels like to take a sip of illegal mountain hooch is as if you opened up your mouth, poured in gasoline, and proceeded to light it on fire. It’s not fun, but just like Samuel L. Jackson’s beer, “It’ll get your drunk.”
Smooth Ambler Spirits in West Virginia makes a 100-proof, small-batch white whiskey, which while higher in alcohol content like the illegal stuff, in few other ways resembles any John Barleycorn. Instead, Smooth Ambler’s whiskey is at its best when incorporated into cocktail versus tipping it back from a jar while holding your nose. Distilled at 160 Proof and then cut to 100 Proof, this product definitely has that upfront, warm-your-soul whiskey bite but follows with a smooth almost sweet, creamy, nutty finish, making it an excellent addition to cocktail classics such as a Manhattan or Whiskey Collins.