Moonshine is legal, taxed, regulated and out in the light of day.
Guest post by J Palm, co-editor BIDC
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A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of imbibing with the co-founders of Richmond-based Belle Isle Craft Spirits and creators of Belle Isle Premium Moonshine. What the heck is premium moonshine? According to the trio of founders: Brian Marks, Alex Wotring, and Vincent Riggi, it’s an elevation of the stuff brewed in the backwoods of the Appalachians: smoother, more versatile, perfectly sippable on its own and surprisingly blendable with a multitude of mixers. In my own words—it’s nothing like that hard, hair-on-your-chest growing concoction in the Mason jar that your grandpappy and co used to make under the light of the moon.
At a media-only cocktail hour at Dupont’s Circa sponsored by Belle Isle Craft Spirits and their PR agency showcasing the well-distilled moonshine, I partook of 3 out of 4 featured specialty cocktails and was pleasantly surprised to find how smooth, versatile and, at first, virtually undetectable, the spirit is.
My passage through Belle Isle commenced at the lighter end of the spectrum—a peach-basil iced tea that I couldn’t stop drinking, as the marriage of basil to sweet summer peach continually evolved as the red tea-based drink settled. I really had no intention of completing 3 drinks at 4 pm on a Wednesday, but ehh—stuff happens! My surprise at how drinkable this cocktail was (as compared to traditional moonshine) compelled me to ask Alex for a pour of the spirit straight up so I could understand where the liquor was in the mix (so, I guess I actually had 4, after all).
Afterwards, I was ready to move to the middle of the scale. The Lunar Eclipse, a take on a classic Negroni, made me wanna call back home and tell my family down on the Bayou I knew something they didn’t know (moonshine and Campari) even if that wasn’t true, so you know, you gotta try it. The pièce de résistance was the Monk on Moonshine, a barrel aged cocktail (usually for five weeks, I was told, but on this day for one week) of moonshine, sweet vermouth, maraschino liquor, and Green Chartreuse (get the cocktail name now??) that I was happy I waited and primed my palate for as it was a deliciously heavy-handed end to my journey along the Belle Isle spectrum. Manhattan-ish, but different—deeper.
My first bottle of Belle Isle was gifted, but I can restock and you can pick yours up at ABC stores throughout NoVA from Arlington (Ballston, Clarendon) to Springfield. And, of course, Circa (Dupont, Foggy Bottom, and Clarendon) is stocking the spirit and mixing these great cocktails. Some other restaurants currently serving Belle Isle include: Central-Michel Richard (DC); Lyon Hall, Liberty Tavern (Arlington); PX/Restaurant Eve (Alexandria). For a complete list and to keep up with the growing availability, visit http://www.belleislecraftspirits.com/where-to-buy/ early and often.
I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the Belle Isle distillery in Richmond and can’t wait for a tour. The owners were open about the disappointment of the delays caused by jumping through multiple federal government hoops—not a surprise to us Washingtonians. But until that day, I’ll be referring to my copy of The Moonshine Book, a thorough compilation of cocktail recipes and moonshine history, complete with excellent photographs published by the Belle Isle team, frequently and meandering my way through the summer accompanied by nostalgic memories of the good ol’ days.
As a southern girl, I grew up sneaking sips of the harsh liquor out of Mason jars and milk jugs. Now, a towering bottle of Belle Isle sits in prime real estate in my tiny Dupont Circle kitchen’s makeshift “bar”. Before the recent rebirth of the moonshine craze, it seems fair to propose that we all used to look down on the unrefined home-brewed spirit, but not anymore. I noted to the founders of Belle Isle, thinking this was so obvious that I only said it after several cocktails, that the nearly 15” tall vessel is now the spirit looking down on all its competitors, an observation they surprisingly accepted as astute. Cheers, guys!