Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, rye and other straight American whiskies are growing, but moonshine is on a tear lately. A quintessential American spirit born of Prohibition, moonshine is accelerating at an unprecedented rate: total corn whiskey volume rose 160% in 2012, then 107% in 2013 to approach 600,000 9-liter cases; continued growth is the story again in 2014, although at a slower pace, according to Technomic’s SpiritsTAB report and DRINK database. With unique backstories, high-octane ABVs and down-home appeal, several brands of unaged whiskey are attracting young Millennials in particular; the advent of flavored and some aged expressions are broadening the appeal.
In fact, moonshine is going mainstream. The spirit’s penetration of leading and emerging chain restaurant menus rose 250% in the second quarter of 2014 as compared with the same period the prior year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor. Numerous casual-dining chains are tapping into moonshine as an ingredient in cocktails, often highlighting the spirit in restaurant originals that also feature the sweeter side of the flavor spectrum. Lemon is a popular flavor for cocktails involving moonshine, and blackberry and peach are trending as well. Presentations range from cocktails delivered in Mason jars to “sidekick” cups of moonshine attached to cocktail glasses. Beyond restaurant originals, moonshine is standing in for traditional spirits in Margaritas and Long Island Iced teas, enabling operators to present a new take on favorite drinks.