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The squeal of spinning tires and the wail of police sirens fading away in the distance as moonshine runners raced along back roads is a scene woven into North Carolina’s

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The squeal of spinning tires and the wail of police sirens fading away in the distance as moonshine runners raced along back roads is a scene woven into North Carolina’s

3 Moonshine Cocktails Perfect for Fall

The squeal of spinning tires and the wail of police sirens fading away in the distance as moonshine runners raced along back roads is a scene woven into North Carolina’s history: The term “moonshine” originated here, a reference to the folks who operated their secret stills under the cover of darkness.

Distilling and distributing moonshine began not for the thrill of the chase, but because economic opportunities were slim in rural North Carolina. The rise of Prohibition didn’t deter liquor consumption — it just upped the stakes for individuals racing (often literally) to provide for their families. You can ask the folks helming legal moonshine distilleries today — or even the right Wilkes County local — and many will regale you with tales of their father, grandfather, or great-grandfather tending to the still behind the family barn or mercantile. For many operating at the commercial scale today, their moonshine recipes are heirlooms, passed down over generations, that act as a conduit for sharing their family’s — and North Carolina’s — history.

This fall, discover three delicious ways to pay tribute to that history using North Carolina-made moonshine.

photograph by HUNTER BRADDY

First in Flight

The name for this riff on the Paper Plane cocktail, First in Flight, not only nods to North Carolina’s aviatory accomplishments but also acknowledges trailblazer Troy Ball, the first woman to own a moonshine distillery. After researching moonshine recipes in the North Carolina State Archives and learning tips of the trade (plus some family secrets) from locals in Madison and McDowell counties, Ball founded Troy & Sons in Asheville. The distillery makes premium, small-batch moonshine using Crooked Creek corn, an heirloom variety that’s been grown on John McIntire’s family farm in Old Fort for seven generations. Unlike many commercial varieties of corn, this rare heirloom grain produces a small yield, but once distilled, its robust and concentrated sweet flavor translates into a silky texture with notes of oak and vanilla.

Yield: 1 serving

¾ ounces Troy & Sons Platinum Moonshine
¾ ounces Aperol
¾ ounces Amaro Nonino
¾ ounces lemon juice
Lemon twist or miniature paper airplane (optional), for garnish

In a cocktail tin filled with ice, add moonshine, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice and shake vigorously until outside of tin is very cold, about 10-20 seconds. Strain into a martini glass, and garnish with lemon twist or paper airplane.

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photograph by HUNTER BRADDY

Buncombe County Mule

Based in Asheville, Howling Moon Distillery makes its award-winning moonshine using a 150-year-old family recipe that captures the rebellious spirit of western North Carolina’s moonshine culture. For founder Cody Bradford, distilling and bottling his family’s small-batch liquor, made exclusively from local corn, keeps his family history — including generations of moonshiners — alive. Howling Moon’s apple pie moonshine, used in this riff on the Moscow mule, earned accolades, including the North Carolina Liquor Award in 2015 and, in 2019, the silver medal at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. Its juicy apple elements combined with the subtle sweetness from the corn capture fall flavors reminiscent of the harvest season.

Yield: 1 serving.

Crushed ice
2 ounces Howling Moon Apple Pie Moonshine
½ ounce lemon juice
Ginger beer
Lemon wheel, to garnish

In a copper mug, add fresh ice, Howling Moon Apple Pie Moonshine, lemon juice, and top with ginger beer. Stir to combine and garnish with lime wheel.

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photograph by HUNTER BRADDY

Halloween Full Moon Punch

With the rev of an engine and the cops in the rearview, Robert Glen “Junior” Johnson made a name for himself running moonshine at famously high speeds in the North Carolina foothills. Johnson’s knack at the wheel later led to his better-known (and legal) NASCAR career, but he remained a fixture in moonshining culture. Piedmont Distillers, the makers of Midnight Moon Moonshine, crafted their recipe with Johnson’s legacy in mind. Legend has it that they took Johnson their first perfected batch, and asked him to taste-test the product. It earned two thumbs up. For a cocktail that channels warming flavors of fall baking spices, spike a spiced apple cider punch with Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine and spicy-sweet ginger beer.

Yield: 20 to 30 servings.

Cinnamon-Honey Syrup:
1 cup honey
1 cup water
4 to 5 cinnamon sticks

1 (750-milliliter) jar Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine
64 ounces spiced apple cider
½ cup cinnamon-honey syrup
¼ cup lemon juice, about 2 lemons
6 cups (48 ounces) ginger beer
Apple slices and lemon slices, for garnish
Ice, for serving

For the cinnamon-honey syrup: Combine honey and water in a small pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Once a foam starts to form at the surface, remove from heat and add cinnamon sticks. Let steep for 1 hour before straining into an air-tight container or squeeze bottle. Syrup will keep up to 2 weeks in refrigerator.

For the punch: Combine Moonshine, cider, cinnamon-honey syrup, lemon juice, and ginger beer in a large punch bowl and stir. Garnish bowl with apples and lemon slices, and ladle punch over ice to serve.

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This story was published on Oct 16, 2023

Hannah Lee Leidy

Hannah Lee is a born-and-raised North Carolinian and the digital editor for Our State magazine. Her contributions have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Culture, and the Local Palate. When not parenting her Bernese mountain pup named Ava, she's visiting the nearest cheese counter.

Mark Weddle

Mark Weddle began his bartending career in 1994 in Greensboro and is widely regarded as one of North Carolina’s top mixologists. His passion for classic cocktails, local ingredients, and exceptional guest service is matched by his energy, enthusiasm, and love of collaboration. He currently continues to hone his skills at 1618 West Seafood Grille in Greensboro.