In past generations, moonshiners set up shop in the Ozark Mountains, cooking batches of corn-based mash, which eventually became whiskey. They tried to stay one step ahead of the law.
These days, you can still find a moonshiner, but it’s all legal. AgDay’s National Reporter Tyne Morgan takes us to southern Missouri, where the corn is cookin’, and introduces us to a professional moonshiner who is still perfecting his skills while helping to revive a tradition rooted deep in the Ozarks.
Off the beaten path, nestled between overgrown oak trees in the Ozarks of Missouri, sits a business building its own roots.
Jim Blansit owns Copper Run Distillery. His canvas: a still where he’s trying to perfect an art that’s been around for years.
"To make alcohol is easy," Blansit said. "To make it taste good is where the art really takes over."
Blansit makes corn whiskey. Vodka, whiskey, you name it. He makes it all. But the crowd favorite is a type that’s had many names over the years—most commonly, moonshine.
"The hydrometer measures the alcohol," Blansit said as he pointed to the meter. "You can see it's at 80%."
In just three years, business has been booming and people continue to venture back for more. In the beginning, however, some people had their doubts.
"My poor parents," said Blansit while trying to hold back his laughter. "When I told them I was going to build a distillery in the backyard...I'm so fortunate they were very supportive. But I know a lot of people were scratching their heads thinking, 'Is this real? Can this really be happening?' And it was a risk, just like with any small business. And it's worked out really well for us."
Making alcohol is nothing new to Blansit. He brewed beer professionally for 10 years, then decided to take that profession one step further and make whiskey. It’s a craft that depends on your sense of taste and smell to get the flavor just right.
"The art is deciding the difference between the heads and the tails that contribute to the heart for the flavor and the aroma," Blansit explained.
He says his recipe is simple—80% corn and 20% wheat, both of which are supplied by local farmers.
"We use the whole corn," Blansit said. "We grind it up into cornmeal, so it's very fine, so we can then process the cornstarch into corn sugar, and then fermentation into corn alcohol. So it's all about the corn."
Blansit said it’s the natural resources in the Ozarks that makes it a prime location for moonshiners.
"The water we have is so important with the hardness," he said.
It takes about nine days to produce corn whiskey. The moonshine is bottled immediately. The whiskey and bourbon are aged. The quality and flavor only get better with time.
"The barrels are charred, and that carmelizes the sugar in the sap, the barrel itself. So, the carmel color the whiskey has, comes from the carmelized process and the heating the barrel has," Blansit said. "It gives an aroma that adds flavor like vanilla and burnt marshmallow. And over time, it mellows the flavor so it's very tasty."
Becoming a legal moonshine maker and distributer isn’t as risky as some TV shows lead you to believe. All it took for Blansit was acquiring a permit and paying taxes on each drop of alcohol produced.
And there’s no shortage of people willing to pay for their moonshine. Blansit said he has to expand his production just to keep up with the growing demand.
Moonshine is the key ingredient to a lot of what Blansit sells, including moonshine margaritas. But he says it’s the story of an Ozark tradition that sells the most.
Blansit shares his story and the art of moonshine during tours at Copper Run Distillery. He says those run daily every half hour. But he says if you plan to stop by, be sure your tastebuds are ready and save time at the end for a taste test and a homemade moonshine margarita. You can learn more by visiting the website: www.copperrundistillery.com.