O’Dammit looked at the crowd and with a big smile on his bearded face shouted “Bottoms up!” A moment later that familiar burn of a good moonshine slid down my throat and filled my mouth with that airy after effect. Our entertaining and enlightening host grinned from ear to ear as he watched our reactions to the flavored moonshine and immediately grabbed another bottle to pour some more. This tasting experience would last over half an hour. It was gonna be a good night.
Just ten minutes earlier I had been walking along Parkway through the heart of Gatlinburg when I heard shouts of joy and laughter. It didn’t take long to find the gleeful noises coming from the cavernous space of Sugarlands Distillery. I watched from the sidewalk through the large doors as people smiled and laughed while sipping moonshine. They were having fun and I wanted to be a part of it!
I stepped inside and was almost immediately greeted by a smiling employee asking if I wanted to enjoy a tasting experience. I quickly forked over five dollars and couldn’t have been happier to do it. But then I learned my ticket included a five dollar off coupon for the store once the tasting was done. So essentially a free moonshine tasting? Oh yeah!
I joined a group of people around a Sippin’ Post, a circular bar used for the tasting experiences. A young bearded man (all the guys had beards that fit perfectly with the moonshine theme) and I noticed his laminated name tag read “O’Dammit”. I tried to be crafty and asked what his mother called him. He grinned as he replied, “My momma calls me O’Dammit!” Fair enough. But that moment perfectly described the locally owned distillery: professional and fun.
O’Dammit began the tasting experience with one of their flavored moonshines. They have twenty altogether but we don’t get to sample quite that many. I think we ended up with about eight which was plenty good enough for me. Flavors like Electric Orange, Dynamite Cinnamon, Hazelnut Rum, Mint Condition Peppermint were among some of the most unique flavors I’d ever seen for a moonshine.
O’Dammit’s actual job title was Tastemaker, but I preferred to think of him as bartender entertainer as he filled the tasting glasses with moonshine while regaling us with interesting stories and facts. Each jar of moonshine came with an origin story and ideas for cocktails to entertain friends and family. He sternly required that everyone wait until all the glasses had been filled before shouting “Bottoms up” and watching our reactions to the ‘shine.
As soon as the tasting was over I realized that five dollar off coupon had been burning a hole in my pocket while the moonshine was burning down my throat. It was time to shop! Sugarlands had so much more than just moonshine to purchase. They also had t-shirts, hats, nice flasks with a leather wrap, and all kinds of knick knacks and gift ideas. I filled my little basket with a few jars of moonshine (some of it will last long enough to be gifted), a couple ceramic mugs, and a nice hat for myself.
Nearly an hour after walking through the large entryway I finally said goodbye to the friendly staff and jovial atmosphere of Sugarlands Distillery. As I stepped outside to the sidewalk along Parkway I realized all these people buzzing about on foot and by car had no idea what was happening on the other side of this wall. I thought maybe I should write about it and maybe someone will read it and just maybe someone will visit and maybe they’ll have as much fun as I did.
Maybe they’ll have even more fun. That would be nice.
Disclosure: This story was written after a weekend media tour hosted by Sugarlands Distilling Company. But I’m too stubborn to allow anyone to edit or sensor my writing. For better or worse everything written here is very much my own opinion and experience.