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Copper Run Distillery is the first legal distillery in the Ozark Mountains since the prohibition ended in 1933

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Distillery Continues Ozarks Tradition

WALNUT SHADE — Just off the beaten path in northern Taney County, one man is continuing one of the area’s oldest and richest traditions — legally.

“We’re the first legal distillery in the Ozarks since Prohibition ended,” said Jim Blansit, owner of Copper Run Distillery, sitting at the bar in his tasting room last week. “There are plenty of illegal stills in the area, but we’ve got no legal competition.”

And Blansit may have all the required legal documents in place, but he still doesn’t shy away from calling his signature product — corn whiskey — “moonshine,” a term primarily associated with any kind of illicitly brewed alcoholic drink.

He said moonshine has long been a part of Taney County’s history.

“During the Great Depression and Prohibition, many families in this area opened small stills just to have a little extra income,” he said.

That includes Blansit’s own family. He said two of his great-uncles, who were also from Walnut Shade, brewed corn whiskey moonshine for decades, using the same techniques he still uses today, though he never got the opportunity to try their recipe.

“They were early moonshiners,” he said. “Unfortunately, they were old men and I was a young man back when we were hanging out together, so I didn’t get to learn from them.”

Blansit said that he has been interested in brewing alcohol since long before he could legally drink it, which really should come as no surprise, considering that both of his grandfathers were also in the business. They were both winemakers, which inspired his first foray into brewing when he was 13.

“My brother, John, and I grabbed a gallon of Mom’s grape juice and some of Mom’s bread yeast and put it under our bunk bed to try to make wine,” Blansit said with a laugh. “We really didn’t know what we doing, but it tasted good to us. We didn’t know any better.”

Blansit grew up on the family farm where he now lives, and where Copper Run Distillery was built. The land has been in his family since his great-grandparents, he said.

“We were fortunate to leave the city life and live off the land. We didn’t go to the store for ketchup, we made ketchup,” he said. “My parents taught me at a young age that quality products come from making them yourself.”

He’s incorporated a lot of those lessons into his distillery, which opened to the public in 2009. His products, which include corn whiskey, corn vodka, rum made from blackstrap molasses and an as-yet-unreleased bourbon, are made in small batches over a process that can take a couple of weeks — not counting the aging process some spirits require.

Blansit may use some new equipment, but his techniques are centuries old. He said he considers it a privilege to continue to educate the public about the skill and ingenuity of the men who comprise a significant part of the heritage of the Ozarks.

“The old-timers really knew what they were doing,” he said. “The techniques they used make a really clean, smooth whiskey.”

The process involves making a mash by grinding corn, mixing it with water and allowing fermentation to break down the existing starch into sugar. The mash is then double-distilled in a 150-gallon copper pot to produce a clear whiskey, which Blansit dilutes with water and bottles at 80 proof.

The grains, water and oak barrels Copper Run uses are all sourced locally, and for good reason, he said.

“The oak trees we have here in the Ozarks are famous for making the best whiskey barrels,” he said.

The limestone-infused water that can be found here, too, is “perfect” for making spirits, according to Blansit. He said that’s because it’s high in calcium and magnesium content, and doesn’t contain any iron.

“For some reason, iron is known to react with alcohol to make a terrible taste,” he said. “And it’s really rare to find limestone water with no iron.”

Despite Blansit’s fascination with brewing alcohol, he readily admits that he also saw Copper Run as a promising financial opportunity. After spending more than a decade in the microbrewery industry—mostly in California—he got into the real estate market just before it crashed in the recession.

“I noticed that looking through history, alcohol was something that seemed to be recession-proof,” he said. “People drink when times are good, and they drink when times are bad.”

The Copper Run tasting room offers a menu of $5 cocktails, including a moonshine margarita and “moontini,” as well as more traditional drinks. Also featured on alternating Sundays is live music, courtesy of talented local musicians Mark Bilyeu, a founding member of bluegrass band Big Smith, and Cindy Woolf.

In addition, Blansit plans to begin hosting music festivals at the distillery next summer. Copper Run is open daily from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., after which it can be reserved for private parties.

Branson Tri-Lakes News (link)


One Response to Distillery Continues Ozarks Tradition

  1. Michael Brown

    Thanks for finally bringing this art to Missourians. I have been tasting each small still corn whiskey I found as I traveled the country from North Carolina to Florida and your Moonshine is the superior one to my taste. I intended to gift one of my Copper Run Moonshines purchased this weekend. After tasting it I decided to keep them both for myself and gift my bottle of North Carolina Midnight Moonshine instead. I’ll be back for more and good luck with your business.

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