MARION, Va. - If you're from this region you don't need to be told that the best moonshine whiskey comes from the mountains that surround us, But now there's more proof.
A Marion, Virginia distillery won two gold medals from the Great American Distillers competition in Oregon. There's no secret recipe, it's just made the old-fashioned way.
From the still to the bottle, Virginia Sweetwater Moonshine and War Horn Whiskey are gold medal winners. Both are made up in the hollow in Smyth County, just like it's been done for generations.
"I have no secrets, there's no secret family recipe. I take what a moonshiner would have done 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 30 years ago, and I'm just duplicating it. That's what I've got," says Scott Shumaker of Appalachian Mountain Spirits.
What he's got is two gold medals from the American Distillers Festival. One for the best unaged whiskey, which is moonshine, and the best single-barrel whiskey.
But he didn't start out to make whiskey -- he wanted a fuel to help him go off the grid to power without electricity. "Part of the process, I use solar and wind, and I thought that I would try to make alcohol as a fuel to power a generator," he said.
He did such a good job, those in the business told him that he should try his hand at being a distiller and Appalachian Mountain Spirits was born.
Entering a contest was just a whim. "I shipped the bottles out. They went into the competition and I forgot all about it, and I got an email that says, 'You should have gotten your medals, and if you didn't, contact me,'" Shumaker said.
That made the company proud considering he uses all-local corn to make his mash, which is distilled into spirits even though it costs more.
He named the other winner, his War Horn Whiskey, after his late brother's military outfit. "He came home and we talked on the phone, looked forward to getting together here in the mountains, but he died. So I wanted to do something in his honor," he said.
Even though the gold medals don't compare with his brother's two Bronze Stars and the Audey Murphy award, Shumaker thinks he would still be proud.
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