A dark night, deep in the Virginia woods. Thick old growth trees rustle in a crisp evening breeze. There’s a crackle from the wood fire a shining red glow hot under the copper. Penetrating the hollow is just a thin sliver of moonbeam. This, perhaps, is what you picture when you think of moonshine. If that’s what you’re a goddamn poet, and a tad bit quixotic. That’s not exactly what moonshine means nowadays. Nowadays moonshine is a TV show, a Hollywood movie, and a multi-million dollar spirits company that has a lot of leeway, a bit of redneck cache and a mythology for a sales pitch. Sure, some people are still making raw booze and dodging a tax. Most of these people are making easy money on a moment. But nothing I can say is going to burst that bubble.
The thing about the moonshine you’ll go buy in the average liquor store—whether they call it moonshine or more appropriately “white whiskey,” is that essentially you’re paying for an unfinished product. Some moonshine products are basically corn vodka that’s had a couple less runs on the still. Some are just the unaged version of our favorite whiskies, that you’re more than likely paying more for. Either way, that’s a genius business model. Hell, the moonshine of old was white lightning, hot, high proof and unfiltered liquor. Today’s moonshines are largely watered to 80 proof for the soft palate public. Basically, it’s an easy to make product that you could spend more time and money making into something else, but that fetches more when you don’t. No wonder so many people are jumping to make one. You don’t have to meet the strict definitions you do with bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, etc., you just have to make a slightly less than neutral spirit, that doesn’t taste like crap. You have to turn grain sugary water into tasty booze. Maybe that’s harder than it sounds, but it’s a lot easier than waiting 4+ years to have your liquor age, and very possibly come out like crap. The funny thing is, there are a few people within this booming segment, who are deciding to put a bit more effort into their product, and I’m not referring to those who bottle it with fruit or spice—I’m talking about those who age something that is, more often than not, unaged. Platte Valley Moonshine is doing just that.
Platte Valley Moonshine, unlike most of its competitors, spends 3 years in a barrel before being filled into its very distinct, pretty old school, ceramic jug. Slap XXX’s on that thing, or maybe just one, it’s only 80 proof. Interestingly enough, all this extra effort, and damned good packaging, doesn’t come at a higher cost. In fact, Platte Valley’s product set me back a cool $16, while any of the Midnight Moon types will run $20+ to come in a standard mason jar. To be fair, you’ll probably keep the packaging in either case. All this extra effort means Platte Valley also earns the right to slap another title on their logo, straight corn whiskey. See, by definition straight corn whiskey has to be at least 80% corn and 2 years in a barrel—which the 100% corn 3 year old Platte Valley easily meets. In fact, I’d say that sets it ahead above all those moonshines with no age or real legal definition (aside from being illegal, which they aren’t…) But rather than continuing to sit here on my pedestal pontificating and turning my nose down on your beloved plebian (*ack* overpriced, overhyped *gahrumf*) moonshine, I believe it is time I have a drink.
Platte valley pours a light lemongrass yellow, barely noticeable in some light—more or less the color your doctor told you your piss should be. Bud Light yellow, that’s the Crayola name. The nose is very light, with a fair share of sweet corn, and a bit of a lactose or condensed milk note. After all those years of bourbon sniffing it’s somehow foreign to me that corn based liquor actually smell like corn. A light sip reveals this to be very gentle stuff, sweet with a bit of an almost agave note and a based something like kettle corn, which makes for quite easy drinking, if not mental taxing to interpret. The finish hangs on a bit longer than you’d expect for something with such soft flavors to begin with, and almost takes on a slightly darker hue—not quite caramel, but something close. There’s basically no burn (to my admittedly fire-tempered constitution,) college girls rejoice.
The moonshine and white whiskey market shows no signs of slacking, at least in 2015, and probably not while camo, country music and Nascar continue to present a significant consumer sector. While I’ll admit, for the most part, I’m rather dismissive of this market as a whole, I think that Platte Valley is on the right track here. For $16 you can have a few drinks, that have even met a barrel, and get to keep a cool ceramic jug afterwords. My advice, I think Platte Valley would do better off to ditch the moonshine label and keep it what it is, straight corn whiskey, which is a market I would like to see some growth and development in. With the right amount of interest, and some solid effort, I could see there being some real breakout “straight corn whiskey” in our future.