By Sharon Purvis, produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
If you ask ten people to name ten things that they associate with the Southern Appalachians, it’s a pretty safe bet that most of them will include moonshine on their list. And with craft breweries and distilleries on the rise, it was only a matter of time before legal hooch made an appearance-but it’s not the stuff your granddaddy may (or may not) have enjoyed on the sly.
Here in Spartanburg County, there are a couple of places you can get your shine on—Motte & Sons Bootlegging Company on Daniel Morgan Avenue in Spartanburg, and Sugar Tit Moonshine on Main Street in Reidville. I went to both places and found that each business reflects not only its location but the woman in charge.
Both are family-run businesses, but in both cases, the face of the business is the woman of the family. Interestingly, neither family is from the South—Bob and Kat Jordan of Sugar Tit are originally from New Jersey, and the Mottes hail from Southern California. Both, incidentally, have dogs named Whiskey who come to work and help run their respective stores. And both arrived at making corn liquor somewhat serendipitously.
Eugenia Motte says the idea for a distillery business came from her sons—she was looking for something to do since her boys were grown and her husband’s job is out of town. “The boys brought up the idea of making liquor,” she says. “They told me, ‘Mom, you like to cook, and this is just cooking grain.’” She says this with a little smile and a shrug after giving me the tour of the distillery and showing me the rather complicated process of “cooking the grain.”
The Jordans actually came up with (and trademarked) the name of their business because Bob Jordan liked the sound of it. Sugar Tit is an unincorporated area near Reidville, and in conversation about the town name, the subject of moonshine came up—and the idea was born. They made t-shirts and hats to sell, emblazoned with “Sugar Tit Moonshine,” and people started asking where they could buy the moonshine. “So we bought a still and we started making moonshine,” Kat says. Sugar Tit’s store is run by Kat while her husband Bob tends to his day job as a designer for GE in Greenville—but, she says, “It’s true moonshine since he’s making it when he’s off at night.”
At Motte & Sons two of Eugenia Motte’s four sons are involved with the liquor making: Johnny, the oldest, is the moonshine and whiskey specialist, and second son Matthew, who is currently interning at a distillery in Colorado Springs, focuses on the rum. When the Motte family decided to embrace making liquor, they didn’t focus on just one type—they have a full suite of liquor offerings, including moonshine, whiskey, aged and clear rum, gin, brandy, and vodka.
Their store, which was formerly a paint store, has a sparse, boutique feel to it, with neat displays of sleek bottles and sideline merchandise—local food items from Those Pickle Ladies, Blue Moon seasonings, and Amy Lynne’s flavored nuts; Mission Pens made by Keith Hanson; and custom flasks and glassware. In a nod to their address, the Motte & Sons whiskey is named “The General,” named for Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan, with a bit of history on the label; the gin is called “Kate’s Courage,” for Catherine Moore Barry of Walnut Grove Plantation. But if Motte & Sons gives a nod to history, Sugar Tit is positively drenched in it, housed in a building that has stood in Reidville since at least 1857—the date on the earliest survey that’s been found for it.
The renovations made use of the original floor boards and joists, and excavations revealed horseshoes, marbles, needles, and other artifacts that gave clues to the building’s past lives as an apothecary, a general store, a tailor shop, a barber shop, and the first telegraph office in the area. The Jordans’ store reminds you of an old country store, with the moonshine in jugs and Mason jars in an old wooden cupboard, a rocking chair next to the door, and other items for sale in an antique curio cabinet.
So how does the moonshine taste, you wonder? I can only give you my impression as a complete novice. Motte’s is a powerful, 130-proof corn liquor that does feel a bit like a bolt of lightning going down—but it had a lot more flavor than I was expecting it to have, and it was a nice flavor, at that. (I followed that up with a shot of their whiskey, which was a very smooth, drinkable whiskey—one I would definitely buy.)
Sugar Tit’s is less of a shock to the system, at 100 proof, so it goes down pretty smoothly. In addition to the “Simply Naked,” unadorned moonshine, there are two flavored varieties—apple pie and pineapple, with real fruit in the jar—that were recently introduced. Both are tasty, but I liked the spicy warmth of the apple pie flavor.
Sharon Purvis, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who has made her way to South Carolina by way of Indiana, Colorado, Peru, North Carolina, and New York. Although she currently works from home, she’s found that writing about the Upstate is a great way to get to know the area—and there’s a lot to know.