On Tuesday night, Sparky and I finally made the cut for a bottling party at Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock. I first became interested in the distillery last fall, when they put out their Apple Pie Lightning – a 40 proof moonshine flavored to taste like, well, apple pie. I’ve long had a taste for flavored moonshine, but generally could only get a hold of it once a year at my family’s now-famous annual Halloween party. Folks bring us peach and pear and plain old straight up lightning made in stills hidden somewhere in the backwoods of the Ozarks. I’m actually not much of a drinker, but there’s something about flavored moonshine that brings out all the hillbilly in my DNA. I can’t resist it.
So when Rock Town put out its Apple Pie, I had to try it. It was my first foray into commercially available moonshine, which is increasingly more and more common. The Village Voice has a great little “primer” to the stuff you can generally find at your local liquor store here. I have tried Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon Apple Pie, and it doesn’t even come close to the smooth, spicy tang of Rock Town’s version. Midnight Moon is also quite a bit stronger, and perhaps not a good starting place for anyone who is new to the stuff. I would also avoid the cherry flavor of Midnight Moon – it is more cough syrup than cherry pie.
Rock Town’s Apple Pie was a huge hit last year at the Halloween party, where many of us found ourselves sitting around the fire doing a moonshine taste-off. It took a full hour before someone pointed out that we sounded like a bunch of west-coast sommeliers, arguing about the delicate hint of nutmeg in a merlot.
Rock Town is a tiny operation, with less than ten employees. To make up the difference, they host bottling parties every so often. These parties include a drink (or two), some pizza, and when the work is done, a bottle of that night’s spirit to take home. It isn’t easy to get in on these parties, though. Their mailing list is long, and once a notification goes out, you have five minutes to respond. If you don’t respond in that time, or if too many people have responded first, then there’s no party for you.
We picked a busy night to go – overall we (and about eight other people) bottled over 2100 bottles of Apple Pie. We got to see the first version of a smaller bottle of the stuff that is just shipping out, ask questions about the bottling process, and make lots of jokes about bowling with the owner of the place. (I was in charge of handing off those smaller plastic bottles to the “filler.” They didn’t want to stay upright on the line).
The experience was worth the three hours, although both Sparky and I were worn out when it was over. We got a first-hand look at how these small batches of spirits are made, and spent a lot of time asking the distiller Adam Lewis about the science of the operation. It was educational, a decent mild workout, and we went home with two bottles.