Who’d ‘a ever thunk it? Brown moonshine, of all things, especially coming from the likes of Popcorn Sutton himself. The literature says that Popcorn would occasionally take some of his white lightning and barrel age it and share it at special occasions or with favored friends. I have a hard time imagining that the staunchest moonshiner who ever lived, and who committed suicide rather than give in to those damn revenooers, would barrel age his shine, but if they say he did, then by golly he must have.
Today his company, Popcorn Sutton Distilling, must be doing a pretty fine job of it since they won the Gold Medal at the 2015 Global American Whiskey Masters competition. This barrel finished moonshine goes into American oak casks that have a hearty #3 char for just over three years. However, they seem to be at a loss as to what to call this stuff. On the bottle, it simply states Popcorn Sutton Barrel finished but doesn’t go on to call it whiskey or bourbon or anything else. On their site, they call this a brown spirit, an oak barrel finished liquid, and even a craft-distilled brown spirit. Sounds to me like they’re trying to get away from calling it moonshine, which is what it really is; after all, it’s just aged. Good old Popcorn might be rolling around in his grave over all this, but then again, he might have taken a “shine” to all this controversy.
Let’s see what the fuss is all about. The bottle is tall with clean lines and the label has Popcorn’s picture on the front and back and the typestyle and coloring give it that old timey, old world kind of feel. It’s 92 proof, so it should be fairly potent. The color is that of a fine looking light amber colored bourbon or scotch or cognac. The nose is fairly subtle but does have that bright edge of alcohol and then corn and sugar followed by oak, vanilla, and a very faint clover honey. On the palate, all those delightful aromas co-mingle into a sharp and distinct set of flavors starting with the tingle of the alcohol, followed by sweet corn, oak and honey and ending with a bit of pepper. Even though all of these flavors are contained in one spirit, they are very distinct and more layered one on top of one another rather than being melded into one more complex and more integrated flavor. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I like the distinctions and different tastes I get with every sip. I also like the way they come together in my mouth yet stay sharp and focused. The finish is a bit peppery and lasts a medium amount of time letting me re-taste all those wonderful flavors.
After tasting this barrel finished, whatever you want to call it, I‘d call it pretty damn tasty. I think old Popcorn can rest quietly in his grave because his legacy is being carefully and tastefully maintained.
If you can find it at your local liquor store, expect to pay around $50.00 per 750ML bottle, but good luck trying to find it on the shelf under whiskey or bourbon or rye or scotch. Maybe they should start a new category called aged brown stuff; I think Popcorn would get a kick out of that.
By George Brozowski