Three longtime Cannon County moonshiners have decided to officially “go legal” by signing contracts with the Short Mountain Distillery.
Jimmy Simpson and Short Mountain Distillery CEO Billy Kaufman (right) show off a column-and-kettle still, made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works Inc. in Louisville, Ky.
Jimmy Simpson, Ricky Estes and Ronald Lawson, all natives of Cannon County, became employees of the distillery Monday during a signing ceremony, which marked the beginning of a legal moonshining career.
The contracts were necessary because the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission sought legal assurance that the three moonshiners would no longer participate in “illicit moonshining activities” while employees of the distillery, Chief Financial Officer Christian Grantham said.
“We wanted to bring these three experts out of the shadows and allow them to share their art of moonshining with the general public,” he said.
Billy Kaufman, chief executive officer for Short Mountain Distillery, said a 47-year-old still found in the area had been reverse-engineered in order to recreate it under strict safety guidelines for alcohol production.
The still will be used to produce recipes for various liquors, including traditional “white lightnin’,” developed for over a century and passed down through families of moonshiners in the Short Mountain area.
All three, who will be known as distillers rather than moonshiners from now on, trace their roots in moonshining to family and friends who passed their recipes down through word of mouth and demonstration instead of written recipes or documented methods.
“Oh, my family goes way back in Cannon County … I guess we were fightin’ Indians here at some point,” Estes said. “I learned how to moonshine from my father when I was a boy, and I’ve been doing it off and on all my life.”
He said the decision to practice his trade in the sunshine of legality will be much less stressful.
“I’ve been dodgin’ revenuers for the better part of my life and even run the ‘shine myself, and I won’t have to do that no more,” Estes said. “I got caught when I was 18, so I’ve paid my dues.”
Estes was born on Big Hill and “moved down the road a piece” to Highway 53 soon after.
He said he is the last of his family to have carried on moonshining, and his son was on hand shooting video of the historic moment.
“I didn’t teach my son because I didn’t want him to get in trouble like I did,” Estes said.
Simpson said he has been living in the Bradyville community his entire life.
“I helped my Grandaddy fill up the barrels when I was 8 or 9 years old,” he said. “I decided to go legal with Billy (Kaufman) today because we’re gonna’ be producing an all-natural, quality product, no preservatives.”
The decision to go legal was an easy one, Lawson said.
“I’m getting too old to carry all that stuff in and out of the woods,” he said. “I guess it’s my arthritis.”
Josh Smotherman, whose family has deep roots in the Midland community of southern Rutherford County, has been hired by Short Mountain Distillery as head distiller.
He will be in charge of monitoring and documenting all aspects on the process, including temperature readings, pH levels, specific gravity testing, daily logs and equipment audits.
When this reporter asked whether the three would actually be involved in day-to-day operations or just providing demonstrations to visitors and tourists, the answer came emphatically.
“This ain’t no demonstration,” Lawson said. “This is the real stuff.”