Incorrigible whiskey fiend that I am, a light bulb switched on in my bourbon-addled brain the second I came across Shine’s operation. It’s not my barrel-aged baby, but neither is it a million miles away; these chaps are on a mission to bring moonshine – the clear, fresh-from-the-still, Mason jarred corn cousin of other American whiskeys – to tastebuds on this side of the Atlantic, where most people probably still think about Prohibition at the mention of the ‘shine.
I got my hands on some of their spirit as soon as I could. Having discovered the tipple on an East Coast road trip, Matt and Steve are partnering with the South Carolina Palmetto Distillery, and their partners in Scotland Moonshine Traders, to bring the taste of Southern sippin’ to London, and offer a range of choices, from the unadulterated liquor through a range of flavours – and they are getting involved with bars and pop-ups here in the capital to produce cocktails with their booze.
It’s no secret that I’m a sceptic when it comes to fruity, flavoured variations. I like to let the pure stuff speak for itself – there’s no hiding behind softer, sweeter tastes with this palate. The plain moonshine was thus naturally first under the microscope. It clocks in at a robust 52.5% ABV. In that range, there really is no room for error. Starting with a generous splash on its own, I was delighted to find it both delicious and devilishly drinkable. It slipped down silkily, belying its potency and putting to shame some of its brown-coloured brethren. I’ve tasted a lot of American whiskey, pursued criminally-priced Pappy. The Shine boys had proved themselves – decades evaporating through wood in a warehouse is not the be all and end all of well-rounded flavour. While the 105-proof slid past the tonsils without complaint, it wasn’t polite or pedestrian, glowing up from an ember to fill the mouth with a complex and warm finish.
With the most crucial test passed, I turned my attention to the infused offerings. Just under half the strength of the original ‘shine, I had some Apple Pie, Blackberry, and Peach blends to work with. I’ve been surprised before by the introduction of the latter into a drink I once thought unassailable – the Mint Julep – when the guest cocktail at my old watering hole in Oxford channelled the Georgia vibe. Blackberry piqued my interest – potentially a rather Special Relationship with the childhood memory of British summers. The all-American pie option drew my most critical suspicions.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s a damned admirable feat that they’ve managed to make me, of all people, drink a dram of something packed with the aromas and flavour of both crust and filling and deeply, truly enjoy it. Buoyed by this, I thought it appropriate to give in and try the boys’ signature cocktail concoction, the “Triple Moon”. It demands equal parts Original Shine, Apple Pie, and Peach, tempered by lime and lemon with a little gentle coaxing from sugar syrup. Served over ice, it was a very solid drink. The citrus cut through the sweetness nicely, and there was space for the spicing of the Apple Pie to show itself.
I cleansed my palate before sipping the Blackberry and Peach each on their own. The first was well-balanced, and despite my general objection to berry-blasted booze, impressed me. In a surprise upset, it was the Peach which I liked least. It’s an idea which I’m now open to, but it came across as a little bizarre and saccharine. It had worked well in the cocktail, but now, exposed, it lacked the counterpoint I need to enjoy drinks of that persuasion.
That being the only slip-up detected by my tastebuds, I think the guys at Shine are onto a winner with the American whiskey from Palmetto Distillery. The plain moonshine is a bloody tasty beverage, and their incorporation of it into cocktails should work very well. The Deep South is quite a hot theme in the food and drink scene in London right now. As a devotee of that down home drinking and dining I have little doubt I’ll be seeing a lot more of these guys and their contribution to our intoxication – I dare say you will too.
Check out Shine London here.