Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was a famous third generation moonshiner in the mountains of east Tennessee. He had a reputation for making “the best damn likker” out there. He was also a character writ large. Stories about him abound on the Internet.
We recently tasted his recipe, now in the capable hands of Master Distiller Jamey Grosser. Although this was the first white whiskey we’d tasted, we can tell you that this is one whiskey you won’t soon forget. The first sip was “Whoa! What the heck is this?” Think of a mouthful of fire and you’ll be pretty close. But a couple of ice cubes changed everything. We could taste sweetness and vanilla and while still a fiery brew, it was surprisingly smooth. It is 93 proof with 46.5% ABV and retails for $24.99. Jamie Grosser says it is a great product for mixing in cocktails, and we believe him.
Popcorn Sutton was always in trouble with the law for not paying his taxes. Distilling whiskey was illegal if the taxman didn’t get his share. And it wasn’t always made out in the woods, by the light of the moon. Prior to Prohibition, about 80 per cent of American farms had an operating still on their property. Moonshine had value and provided extra income as well as insurance against a poor crop.
Jamey Grosser met Popcorn around 2007 and they got along fine. Popcorn taught him all his tricks and trained him in his artful distillation process. They formed a company and became legitimate, distilling just 1500 cases a month, not enough to satisfy demand.
Popcorn died in 2009 but with a change in the law of Cocke County, Tennessee where he lived and distilled his whiskey, a new distillery is being built that will be capable of producing 20,000 cases a month. Currently it is available in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina and soon in Indiana. Popcorn would be proud that eventually the rest of the country will be able to try the only truly authentically American white spirit our country makes. Like he said, it’s also the best damn likker out there.