Written for Foro, Published October 2016
Whiskey is pretty commonly found and drunk in Melbourne, but have you heard of its bootlegging brother Moonshine? The guys at Melbourne Moonshine talk to us about the spirit, its history, and how they make it.
Foro interviewed the two behind the whiskey and moonshine label, Melbourne Moonshine, but to add to the underground mystique of their operation they’ve requested not to be mentioned by name. For the purpose of quotation, let’s call them Bugs Moran and Al Capone—not due to sinister connotation, but rather iconic association with the prohibition era.
Bugs hails from South Carolina, and has brought the background of moonshine making to the partnership. Bugs tells us in his rich Southern drawl; ‘I learned the process and the history, and I guess the tradition of moonshine when I was eleven,’ although he assures us that as much as he thought he liked the idea, he was not drinking alcohol at that age.
Bugs and Al met in Australia while working as engineers. ‘We were out having drinks after work–as you do,’ Bugs tells us, when Al made the comment; ‘”I really wish I knew how to make whiskey”’. Bugs showed Al photos of his still—and no, that’s not code for something, it’s what you distil alcohol in—and the rest is history (albeit, the two constructed their own, much larger stil in Carlton to later make the Melbourne Moonshine product).
Bugs’ background includes working in distillation at a petrochemical plant in The States, as he jokes; ‘You can’t get a license by telling the ATO; “I did it in my backyard since I was eleven”’. A big challenge the two found was acquiring the distillation license—a process that involved buying a lot of costly equipment prior to being approved. Bugs’ experience in distillation ensured the success of their application, but he tells us he’s still open to new knowledge. ‘I definitely have learned a vast amount of things,’ he says, ‘and not just in distillation. Coming from an industrial, engineering background, I’ve never operated a business—certainly not in hospitality.’
If there was a spirit version of a book nerd, that would be Bugs—and by spirit we don’t mean spirit animal, but rather beverage of choice. ‘If you stop learning, you’re not doing anything,’ says Bugs, a rule he applies not only to the business, but to leisure time too: ‘I love drinking whiskey. It’s always about learning, what people are doing, and why—picture the way Matthew McConaughey would say this word, and suddenly the accent makes it sound much more thought-provoking—why certain things taste the way they do.’
If you’re like Bugs, and you’re a fan of drinking high quality liquor, try a glass of Melbourne Moonshine next time you’re out and about. You can pick some up at Carlton Cellars, City Wine Shop and Prince Wine Store, or sit back for a sip at Black Pearl, The Everleigh, Belleville, Nieuw Amsterdam, Section 8 (where they’ve previously served up our favourite, a Bootlegger Lemonade with yuzu), Whisky and Alement and Belle’s Hot Chicken—which is not as weird as it sounds, given that Belle’s is influenced strongly by The South of the US. ‘We may have traded some chicken’, says Al with a straight face.
‘I love drinking whiskey. It’s always about learning, what people are doing, and why—why certain things taste the way they do.’ – Bugs Moran (pseudonym).
The locations that you can sample the beautiful beverage in Melbourne are currently limited. Al tells us this is based around two facts: ‘One, we wanted the bartenders that are selling the liquor to be educated. So we’ve gone to people that we know, that are well regarded.’ The second issue was that the Moonshine boys didn’t want it to become a dare drink; ‘We wanted people to really understand that it’s a prohibition liquor, there’s nothing cheap or nasty about it,’ says Al. Good news, they plan to expand their distribution more widely in the coming months.
The notes you can expect from the Melbourne Moonshine are quite creamy, with a touch of vanilla, and a bite of bitterness, Bugs tells us. ‘To me, it’s the sweetness of the corn, the corn actually has a very sweet note to it.’ This is the defining grain separating the moonshine creation from that of a whiskey. Bugs tells us it’s traditional to the south east of the US, and the Melbourne Moonshine product is made completely differently from the way they make their whiskey—unlike other moonshine products on the market, which use a similar recipe to that of whiskey, and grains such as barley and rye.
Bugs and Al talk to us about the different flavours one can expect from techniques in the distillation process. The alcohol splits into three sections, the heads first, the hearts central and the tails last, with the hearts being the goal. It’s about ‘getting the cut’, Bugs tells us. So how can you tell if the flavour you favour in your whiskey or moonshine has a little heads or tails? Or is it all hearts? (Adds a whole new meaning to wearing your heart on your sleeve if you can’t hold your drink). Bugs tells us that heads will provide sweet notes, but in a chemical way, reminiscent of nail polish. Hearts evoke vanillas and creamy notes, and tails is the ‘wet dawwwg’, Al laughs. ‘That’s what everybody always says,’ jokes Bugs. ‘Growing up it’s like; “there’s the dawg, it’s the dawg end of it.”’
Two years since the idea was conceived, Melbourne Moonshine has been a successful experiment that’s been all hearts. ‘It’s a tradition that turned into a hobby, then a passion and now a business,’ Bugs tells us. ‘Which is awesome, when I think about it: That I actually get to do something every day that I really love, and hopefully can be successful at it.’ If the quality and the initial response is anything to go by; Melbourne Moonshine will soon be an iconic brand in the city we love to call home. We’re already getting ready to knock off and make ourselves a few lip-smacking Bootlegger Lemonades.