Moonshine distillery best-kept travel secret in the Ozarks, so ’shine on.
It is 10 o’clock on a cold Saturday morning, and I’ve bellied up to the bar, ready to taste a shot of Copper Run’s signature product – moonshine. Legal moonshine.
Madison Vodicka, who is working the bar and guiding free tours, pours me a taste and I ready myself. True confession: I’ve had run-ins with bootleg ‘shine before, and was not impressed. Oh, yeah, white lightnin’ could give you a badass backwoods buzz in short order, but while the alcohol might set you on fire, the taste did not.
Moonshine Madness: An unique Ozarks experience
So why try it again? The truth is, I was drawn to Copper Run because I’d encountered a Moonshine Margarita at Gilley’s in Branson and found it to be outstanding.
When I learned that Gilley’s made its featured drink with moonshine from a legal local distillery, I decided that I needed to learn more. So, I made the short drive north of Branson on US 65, then cut off into the hills on Hwy 176 to the community of Walnut Shade to locate the source of this superior ‘shine.
Rise and ‘shine for a memorable vacation
What I was expecting was a glorified hillbilly hideout, but what I discovered was a delightful bucolic boutique micro-distillery that favors quality over quantity and refines the age-old craft of moonshining to a drink-worthy art form.
And so, even though it’s early-thirty for drinking booze, the time has come for me to rise and ‘shine. So after giving the elixir a sniff, I slide the liquid past my lips and await the burn. Instead I enjoy a warm, smooth ride that immediately makes me understand the powerful devotion to moonshine. Damn, that stuff is good!
“That’s an 80 proof ‘shine,” Vodicka says. “That’s all were licensed for right now, but we’ve applied for a permit to put out a stronger product.”
After the moonshine tasting, Vodicka offers up Copper Run’s whiskey, which also surprises in its smoothness. Then it’s time for the Golden Rum, which offers up a gentle sugary sweetness.
“We had a run of rum made from Blackstrap molasses,” said owner and artisan bootlegger Jim Blansit. “It was surprisingly good, but we ran out of stock very quickly. So we started experimenting with brown sugar, and we loved the way it turned out.”
‘Shine sidetrip not for teetotaling tourists
Evidently so does the rum-drinking public, which keeps Copper Run production humming. In fact, during my visit, a local arrived with his two children in tow. He purchased four bottles of moonshine.
“Got a big weekend ahead and didn’t want to get caught short,” he said. “Of course, some of my friends heard I was coming here, so they had me pick some up for them as well.”
Hey, that’s his story, and after tasting the ‘shine, who am I to argue? Vodicka noted that such visits were common and that dedicated local consumers were an important part of Copper Run’s business.
Copper Run’s spirits aren’t merely locally heralded, they’ve been honored nationally. In fact, Copper Run’s Moonshine and Aged Corn Whiskey won the silver medal from the American Distiller’s Institute in 2010.
And Blansit is proud to point out that Copper Run spirits are truly a product of the Ozarks.
“The water here is ideal,” he said. “It doesn’t contain iron and has a perfect mineral balance, which makes is ideal for crafting all our products.” In fact, even the whiskey barrels come from timber that hails from just up the road in Lebanon. Some of the barrels are provided by the local Stone Hill Winery, which offers up its barrels once the winery has produced its fabulous sherry. As Blansit points out, “our products are truly locally sourced.”
The art of moonshine
“We’re a boutique distillery,” Blansit said. “We aren’t interested in diluting the quality of our product to boost production. We are artisans, and we support the arts.”
That’s true. The Copper Run tasting room boasts the work of local artists, photographers and crafts enthusiasts. It also is quickly evolving into a top place for emerging musical talent.
“We started having live music a few years ago, and it caught on,” Blansit said. “Now we have some incredibly talented performers wanting to play here.”
Moonshine and music
Copper Run’s support of the musicians extends even to the tunes played over the sound system during the day, when there is no live music. If you perform at Copper Run and have a CD, your music will be heard throughout the tasting room.
A registry book shows the distillery has entertained and clearly delighted visitors from all around the world.
Copper Run creates products that truly ‘shine
“We live in San Jose, California,” said Tess Rowland, a customer from San Jose, CA, during my visit. “Not much opportunity to try moonshine there. So we heard about this place and while we were in Branson, we thought we’d stop by.”
“Yeah, and that’s a damn good moonshine Bloody Mary they make here,” said her husband, Randy. “I sure hadn’t expected that.”
Thanks to the growing popularity of the realty TV show, Moonshiners, interest in the legendary liquor is on the upswing. Customers are curious, and knowing that a product is legally distilled adds a little spice to life without worrying about the law.
With the rising popularity of Copper Run, Blansit is making plans to expand.
“We’re going to build a wraparound porch to expand the outside area,” he said. “Then we plan to create some hiking trails that lead down to an old cow pond that we plan to develop with a cool water feature. We want this to be more than just a legitimate still. We want people to come here to relax and enjoy all that this area has to offer, and that’s a lot.”
Clearly there are big plans ahead for Copper Run, and if you are contemplating a vacation to the Branson area for all the great activities that happen when the sun shines, you might want to set aside some time to enjoy the moonshine as well.”
article by Bob Vernon of VacationTravelIdeas.net