Archive for September, 2010

Legal moonshine celebrates our agricultural heritage

September 13th, 2010 1 comment

The Tennessee Municipal League’s bi-monthly magazine Tennessee Town & City had a nice article in today’s edition featuring Billy Kaufman.

The article by Victoria South highlights Cannon County’s cultural heritage and legacy we hope to share with the world through Short Mountain Distillery.

“This is about jobs,” said Kaufman, who is the great grandson of iconic Samsonite Luggage founder Jesse Shwayder. “It’s also about tourism, revenue, and the kind of sustainability we need to preserve our way of life. We want to share our local history with the world, and we want tourism to bring new opportunities for local businesses.”

With Cannon County’s rich agricultural heritage, Short Mountain Farm is revered by old-timers for the quality of its moonshine, made from ice cold spring water, which still flows from three springs on the property. Kaufman is hoping to tap this renewable energy source for the distillery’s operations.

“I had been looking for a way to make farming profitable,” he said. “One of my strongest drives is making farming sustainable, having it make sense again. It’s the best way of life there is, but that doesn’t mean it makes financial sense, as it’s structured now. You have to be incredibly skilled and lucky to make a living.”

Heavy regulations and substantial start up costs of several hundred thousand dollars or more could be a formidable obstacle for legal moonshine distillers. “Just getting through all the red tape and hurdles makes it a community endeavor,” Kaufman explains. “It’s also my commitment to my community.”

As part of that commitment, Kaufman plans to hire locally and use locally grown agricultural products.

“Cannon County is full of qualified hard working farmers, factory workers, industrious people, who are already telling me what they can do,” he said. “It’s a great time to harness this tremendous energy of a community doing something that relates to their values close to where they live.”

An increased interest in Tennessee culture and heritage prompted the state Department of Tourism to launch a tourist attraction dubbed “White Lightning Trail,” where drivers traverse a network of roadways spanning hundreds of miles across nine counties in northeast Tennessee. Along the trail, visitors can travel the same routes where bootleggers in hopped up cars, transported illegal moonshine whiskey, rumored to be the inspiration for NASCAR. As tourists visit the various sites, neighbors along the way might be more than willing to swap a moonshining tale or two.

“If people would be willing to drive a little farther, they could come to the place where the history of moonshine is rich and the living history of moonshine, the people, are still alive,” said Kaufman. “Let me tell you, the stories here are rich. Almost everyone in Cannon County can tell you a great story about the moonshine in this area, whether it be the law enforcement against it, or their family struggle to make a living at a time when there was really no other way to make a living. It’s part of this area’s heritage and goes back much further than you think.”

In this weekend’s Murfreesboro Post, Mike Vinson speaks from personal experience on the rich cultural heritage Short Mountain Distillery celebrates.

Indeed, Short Mountain has a long, rich history for producing moonshine.

Having grown up in the Centertown-Blues Hill area of Warren County, about a 20-minute drive from Short Mountain, I, personally, can attest to the “lore” that connects Short Mountain to the craft of whiskey making.

Without going into needless detail and giving up any names, I’ll just say that clear, homemade, high-proof liquor could be purchased at any of several Short Mountain locations back in the day.

The role of distilleries in our rural way of life

September 3rd, 2010 No comments

Gabby's apple press

The Sanbourns told us we were welcome to pick as many apples as we wanted from their small Short Mountain orchard.

Like most homeowners, the Sanbourns grow them organically and couldn’t possibly eat everything their orchard produces. Mrs. Sanbourn told us about the only thing appreciating them lately were the deer, so she was happy to see us put them to use.

After a couple of hours of picking we ended up with about seven bushels of apples. They were a mix of Yellow Delicious and a hybrid they called “Johnny” Delicious. If we had time, we probably would have gotten more, but we had to meet up with Gabby by 2 p.m. if we wanted to use his apple press.

In the old days, this is how cider and distilled brandy was made. The process was often a collective effort by locals that extended the life of fruit well into the winter, warming the farmer, making holiday cheer and soothing mild winter ailments.

In the late 1800s, residents throughout Cannon County would bring their apples to Jim Jamerson who ran a legal distillery near Burt. “Jimerson” would then turn the collected apples into brandy. Jamerson was just one of several enterprising distillers in Cannon County who created sustaining value for the community’s rural way of life. It was an American way of life that made friends out of neighbors and let nothing go to waste.

Distilleries have always been a part of American culture. Nearly every single one of our founding fathers distilled spirits, and one of the first taxes they levied on the American people to pay for war and to build our nation was the Whiskey Tax.

You don’t have to look too far back into Tennessee’s history to understand the role distilleries played in making farms successful and building our great state.

In 1840 the U.S. Census reported that Cannon County alone had 18 distilleries. Distilling spirits was a necessary way to turn grain into a medicinal and dietary staple of rural family life.

In an 1874 letter to Tennessee’s Secretary of Agriculture J.B. Killebrew, Robertson County attorney William Moore described how distilleries in his county kept local farms profitable.

The immense amount of grain required in the manufacture of the article has stimulated the farming community to produce more corn, there being an active and steady demand for it at the highest and most remunerative prices. Seven hundred and fifty bushels of grain are being daily consumed, (which would be forty-five thousand barrels annually). This will give some idea of the immense business. The increasing demands for grain have absorbed the entire surplus of corn in the county, and have compelled our distillers to rely in a great degree upon the St. Louis and other foreign markets, including the productions of the rich Wabash Valley.

Since 1900, Cannon County’s population has gained just a few hundred people. In many ways, we still embrace an agrarian lifestyle. In his 1874 report The Resources of Tennesseee, Sec. Killebrew had this general observation of the people of Cannon County.

The citizens are industrious and energetic, but not enterprising. They prefer the old way because they believe it to be the sure way. They are greatly attached to the county, and emigration to other states is very rare. They would like to have additions to their population, though labor is sufficiently abundant and cheap. The county is free from debt, and jury tickets are at par. Infractions of the law are not common. Ease, peace and plenty characterize the county. Economy is the ruling trait of the citizens, and they mingle with their labors many of the pleasures of life.

Life in Cannon County has strayed little from that quaint description from 136 years ago. About the only noticeable exceptions are jobs, revenue and the quality of life both sustain.

The opportunity we have to preserve our way of life is tucked between our rolling hills and pages of history’s wisdom. It comes in bushels of corn, rye, sorghum, and maybe even apples, all grown here for over 100 years. And with your support in November, our values and our heritage can be our most treasured export to the world.