Mention the word “moonshine,” or any of its aliases (hooch, white lightning, mountain dew), and an image may come to mind of a shifty-eyed bootlegger brewing questionable booze in a mountain cabin to avoid the long arm of the law.Prohibition encouraged bootlegging, leading to some public health consequences like paralysis and blindness from contaminated alcohol, but it turns out moonshine is perfectly safe and legal, as long as it’s made in a licensed distillery. Idaho now has its first legal moonshine, Teton Moonshine, created by Grand Teton Distillery, one of the state’s first craft distilleries.
Beyond the colorful name, moonshine is essentially unaged whiskey, says James Morrison, co-owner of the Driggs, Idaho, business. Whiskey gets its color from being aged in a barrel. Moonshine is colorless, like moonlight.
Teton Moonshine comes in three flavors — Huckleberry, Spiced Apple Pie (70 proof) and straight (80 proof).
“That’s for grandpa. It’s straight moonshine,” Morrison says of the last one.
The distillery decided to make moonshine after much success with vodkas it began making in 2012.
Mention Idaho, and inevitably someone says “potatoes.” Now the famous tubers are making a name for themselves in booze. The distillery’s Grand Teton Vodka is ranked No. 1 in the world among potato vodkas and No. 3 internationally when compared to all vodkas, according to Proof66.com, a website that aggregates ratings from around the world, including the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the Beverage Testing Institute and Wine Enthusiasts Magazine.
“We use water from the Grand Teton aquifer at the foothills of the Tetons. It’s pristine. The mineral content is very similar to what you find in Scotland. We think that’s part of why we’re doing so well in all the competitions,” says Morrison.
Potatoes are the other key ingredient. Potato vodka is considered a higher-end vodka because the yield is not as high, meaning it’s more expensive to make, Morrison explains. Most large distilleries use a cheaper base of materials, like corn or wheat.
“Corn-based vodka leaves more of a burn at the back of your throat. That’s absent in potato vodka. It’s a smoother vodka overall,” he says.
Teton Moonshine also uses potatoes in its mash bill, which is 60 percent corn and 40 percent potato.
The trend toward buying local is a buoy to the craft distillery market, which opened up when states began dropping licensing fees to help small businesses enter the market, Morrison says.
Other craft distilleries in the state include Koenig Distillery and Winery in Caldwell and Bardenay, a restaurant and distillery in Boise, Eagle and Coeur d’Alene.
A large commercial distillery, Distilled Resources Inc. (DRinc), is located in Rigby, Idaho, and produces vodkas like 44 North, Blue Ice, Square One and Teton Glacier. It also produces She’s Wild Vodka, a label created by Brian and Sue Hoffman of Asotin, who plan to donate a portion of the proceeds to the Lewiston Roundup.
Liquor made in Idaho easily finds its way onto shelves in Idaho State Liquor Stores, Morrison says.
“Being a distillery based in Idaho you’re automatically given a small amount of shelf space. … It’s a nice little advantage Idaho gives to craft distillers.”
Idaho-made products might not be available in smaller towns with contract liquor stores in gas stations and grocery stores because distillery owners have to reach out to those owners individually, Morrison notes.
Teton Moonshine taste test
Inland 360 staff taste tested the three flavors of Teton Moonshine, Idaho’s first legal moonshine. Here are some of the comments.
l “Not harsh at all, but it’s like a creeper burn.”
l “Straight tequila taste, but it’s smooth, not a choking kind of thing.”
l “It’ll get the job done but I’m not going to run out to the store and buy it.”
l “Smells like witch hazel, you know, mostly alcohol, you put it on sore bodies. It’s mellow. That’s not bad.” (Launches into a story about the last still on the road to Anatone where the bottle was labeled “May Cause Pregnancy.”)
l “Nice, smooth, fruity. I don’t know if I can identify the huckleberry.”
l “Very subtle huckleberry.”
l “Definitely has a berry aftertaste.”
l “Drinking huckleberry moonshine is a hell of a lot easier than wpicking huckleberries.”
Spiced Apple Pie
l “I can taste the apple, fruity.”
l “That’s my kind of apple pie.”
l “They say when you’re making apple pie you should use alcohol instead of water.”
l “The stuff I had that was not in the legal category was not that easy to drink.”