CHUCK MILLER FOLLOWS IN HIS GRANDFATHER’S FOOTSTEPS WITH THE
The Original MOONSHINE founder Chuck Miller on the front porch in Culpeper, VA.
I’ve interviewed a lot of whiskey founders in my career, but none with quite the fashion sense of Chuck Miller, founder and Master Distiller of Culpeper, VA–based The Original MOONSHINE.
Miller is straight out of an old Hollywood western, with his crooked, beat-up and sweat-stained straw cowboy hat, his long salt-and-pepper (mostly salt) sideburns and a red handkerchief covering his neck. He talks slow and fast at the same time in a Jimmy Stewart style that is lost on today’s culture. But Miller ain’t no saint like the characters Stewart played. Miller is a moonshiner, just like his grandpa.
“Yessir, my granddad made a lot of whiskey during Prohibition,” Miller says of his grandfather, Theodore George Miller. “He never had a real job—just made a lot of money making ’shine.”
Once, Miller’s granddad was making a run to Washington, D.C., and federal agents were waiting for him at the Fourteenth Street Bridge. They shot up the truck, putting bullet holes in the windows, but his granddad escaped and returned to the farm later that night.
“Grandpa never got caught,” Miller says.
The Start of a Still
Bullet holes still riddle the truck Chuck Miller’s grandfather drove while making moonshine runs.
Miller has always been a farmer. In the 1980s, his farm was facing hard times and he was sitting on a lot of corn. Instead of selling it for less than its value or letting it rot, Miller decided to start making whiskey.
“I knew there were a whole lot of moonshiners making that illegal stuff in the woods,” he says. “But the law was catching them all the time. I figured I could do alright if I tried to introduce people to real moonshine that was legitimate, because a lot of people never had it before.”
It wasn’t until 1980 that a regular Joe could afford to even consider opening a still. After Prohibition, the ATF required a federal worker open all locks to the distillery; the fed was paid by the distillery. Shortly after this law was revoked, Miller began the proper yet complex process of starting a distilling operation. “Heck, I couldn’t get the paperwork right,” he says. “They kept sending it back to me. I felt like I was in the second grade.”
In Miller’s defense, it was one of the first applications for a still outside of the large distilleries. But he managed to work through the details, and the Stillhouse Distillery at Belmont Farm became legal in February 1987. This year marks its 25th anniversary.
He used his grandpa’s recipe, and before he knew it, Miller had cranked out enough moonshine from his old 1933 copper still to fill 90 cases. That first run sold out within a week, Miller says.
Today, Miller’s spirit, now called The Original MOONSHINE, is produced using that same copper pot still, and Miller has eyes on expanding to all 50 states.
Smooth ’Shine, Smooth Sales
Miller is no longer the sole owner of the brand, thanks to a partnership with W. J. Deutsch & Sons and several other investors, including celebrity chef Adam Perry Lang. Under the new partnership, Miller worked with Lang to create a new recipe. The Original MOONSHINE is still 100-percent corn, but now it’s four-times-distilled, charcoal-filtered and bottled at 80 proof. Every kernel of corn still comes from Miller’s estate, giving the whiskey a low-impact on the environment.
“Today, people like moonshine a whole lot smoother than they did back in Grandpa’s time,” he says. “This is some smooth moonshine now.” And there’s one other difference between The Original MOONSHINE and his grandpa’s hooch, quips Miller: “Grandpa had to pay off the sheriff to stay in business.”
The Original MOONSHINE is available from W. J. Deutsch & Sons.
The problem many bartenders have with mixing with moonshine is that they try to make it a vodka replacement. It’s not going to work. Think whiskey when mixing with moonshine. I like to use anise and subtle sweet flavors to complement ’shine’s grainy notes, which stand out too strongly when it’s a vodka replacement. Here’s one of my own concoctions. —Fred Minnick
◗ 1½ oz. The Original MOONSHINE
◗ ¾ oz. Green Chartreuse
◗ 10 succulent blueberries
◗ ¼ oz. fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
◗ Muddle blueberries in cocktail shaker until the skins are separated and the berries and well mashed. Pour in The Original MOONSHINE and stir. Let it sit for a minute, giving the moonshine a quick infusion. Add ice, Green Chartreuse and grapefruit juice. Hard-shake and double-strain the pink-colored drink into a Martini glass. Garnish with a single blueberry in the middle.
The corn used to make The Original MOONSHINE is grown on Miller’s farm.
Moonshine isn’t just for hillbillies anymore! Here’s a short list of swank, citified spots that serve up The Original MOONSHINE:
Standard Hotel, NYC
Viceroy Hotel, Santa Monica
Craft, Los Angeles
Elixir, San Francisco
Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
New York, New York, Las Vegas
Prime 112, Miami
W Hotel, Miami