Visitors to Ole Smoky Moonshine in Gatlinburg are eager to get a free taste of the company's main product.
Photo: Courtesy of Gatlinburg CVB
Photo: Courtesy of Gatlinburg CVB

Moonshine, whiskey and bootleggers: The Gatlinburg you don't know

Gatlinburg has long been known as a great family-oriented vacation haven in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains. It's home to eight (!) Ripley's-associated attractions including the acclaimed Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies and Ripley's Believe or Not! Odditorium, along with a multitude of other tourist tantalizers like Gatlinburg's Mysterious Mansion, kid-friendly theater productions, and much more. What you might not know about Gatlinburg is that in recent years it's added a decidedly adult twist to its offerings – no less than nine distilleries and wineries.

And why not? Historically and culturally, Gatlinburg sits in the heart of Appalachian moonshine territory, a fact known full well by Judy Garrison, author of "North Georgia Moonshine: A History of the Lovells & Other Liquor Makers."

"The distillers in the Southern Appalachians have succeeded in bottling history along with spirits," Garrison notes. "With every run comes a story, a name and a legend that had to have been lived and passed down, from generation to generation, and distillers in Gatlinburg are anxious to tell their story. It's amazing to gather on that main strip in Gatlinburg; people are six-deep, waiting for a taste of shine mixed with fruit or syrup. If you're game, they'll pour the clear stuff. Taste that; that's a true taste of mountain shine, but if it's your first sip, take it easy! It will curl your toes."

I had my toes curled one sunny day last spring with a straight shot of Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery's White Lightnin' turned straight up (I don't know how to sip). Whoo! I believe several things besides my toes curled in the process, including my tongue and all the hair above my waist. It was a truly a curly, hurly-burly of a bodily experience – one that I enjoyed immensely.

Check out Gatlinburg's distilleries and wineries while you're visiting. All of them are on the Parkway, all offer free tastings, most offer tours, and most offer T-shirts, sweatshirts, bar paraphernalia and all sorts of memento gift items.

Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery

They say it's "Tennessee's first legal moonshine distillery" and claim to be using a family recipe that dates to the late 1800s for the straight stuff. It's called colloquially "The Holler" and indeed, its rustic mountain-style building of rough timber and unfinished wood might make you feel like you are way back up in a mountain holler (that's a "hollow," a flat area or small valley between mountain ridges, for you city folk). Its offerings include everything from Original Unaged Corn Whiskey to Lemon Drop moonshine, Moonshine Cherries to "Apple Pie" moonshine, and more. The 128 proof Ole Smoky Blue Flame Moonshine will take your breath away in a most agreeable fashion. The Holler also has an often-used musical performance stage and rows of rockin' chairs for enjoying the music.

Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler, 903 Parkway, Unit 128, Gatlinburg, Tenn., 865-436-6995, olesmoky.com

Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery

The brown-bodied, green-roofed building at 519 Parkway is set up inside with brick and wood to look like the mercantile store where its historical namesake sold moonshine back in the day. Doc Collier sells a real heavyweight in its 125 proof moonshine, as well as flavored varieties like peach moonshine and sweet tea moonshine. Promised to be coming soon are new flavors mountain blossom, Greenbrier apple and Grape Yard Ridge cranberry. Doc also has a moonshine brandy and distills a vodka, which the purveyors say is really just a "form of European moonshine."

Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery, 519 Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn., 1-800-398-5132, doccollier.co

Sugarlands Distilling Company

Sugarlands Distilling Company is in a striking building made with salvaged and repurposed red, white and blue barn wood, along with brown and gray boards. Sugarlands produces craft quality moonshine and whiskey in a multitude of varieties. Moonshine flavors include blackberry, blueberry muffin, peppermint, butterscotch and (I'm not making this up) peanut butter and jelly. The whiskey is aged in new, charged oak barrels. There's Silver Cloud Tennessee Sour Mash 100 proof and Jim Tom Hedrick's Unaged Rye 100 proof, and experimental small-batch whiskeys are "coming soon." Sugarlands has three octagon-shaped "Sippin' Posts" for sampling the spirits. Visitors to Sugarlands Distilling may also find live music and Appalachian storytelling on its Back Porch, an outdoor pine pavilion with a performance stage. Sugarlands offers free tours, a paid private tour and tasting, Distiller Workshops, and a more involved Distiller for the Day Workshop.

Sugarlands Distilling Company, 805 Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn., 865-325-1355, www.sugarlandsdistilling.com

Ole Smoky Barrelhouse

Moonshine worked so well for them, the Ole Smoky folks decided to fire up a genuine Tennessee whiskey distillery, too. Ole Smoky Barrelhouse whiskey is white oak, four years-aged whiskey that is mellowed through sugar maple charcoal. Products include Straight Tennessee Whiskey, Blended Whiskey, Salty Caramel Whiskey, Cinnamon, Pecan, Cookies & Cream and Tennessee Mud, a 35 proof creamy, toasted caramel liqueur with just a bit of chocolate taste to it. Free tours and tastings, along with lots of Barrelhouse merch is available, as well.

Ole Smoky Barrelhouse, 650 Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn., olesmoky.com/about/barrelhouse

Bootleggers Homemade Wine

If you've had about all the 'shine and whiskey you can handle during your Gatlinburg visit, but you'd still like to keep that non-pretentious homemade bootlegger vibe going on, then ease up a little at Bootleggers Homemade Wine. The alcohol levels will be lower and you'll still be in a relaxed non-pretentious atmosphere. This is not some delicate wineglass stem-holding, snooty tooty sniff sniff kind of winery. Au contraire, y'all. This is the kind of place you can just turn up a glass of Redneck Reserve Dessert wine or Muscadine Blush and drink it down before buying a "High Class, My Ass!" T-shirt.

Bootleggers Homemade Wine, 903 Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn., 865-221-1589, www.bootleggerswine.com

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