Tim Smith is still adjusting to the pressures of being a celebrity following his rise to fame as part of the television show “Moonshiners,” while traveling around and promoting his first legal liquor.
“You can’t go incognito anymore, can you?” asked a fan who approached Smith while he was sitting in his truck in the parking lot at the CVS store in Kenova after signing autographs and selling bottles of his Climax Moonshine Friday, with his wife, Shelby, and dog, Camo, at his side. The appreciative fan took her autograph and shared a story about her dad’s days as a moonshine driver before telling Smith how much she enjoys watching him on television.
Taking it all in stride as he tried to take care of a few details before grabbing lunch, Smith simply shrugged and said everyone seems to have their own perception about who he is and what he is about.
“They call me a renegade. Virginia calls me an outlaw. Everybody else seems to love me,” said Smith, explaining the Commonwealth of Virginia has refused to consider allowing him to sell the white liquor he now makes legally at Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Ky.
The transition from outlaw moonshining to law-abiding liquor production has been tricky, Smith said, although he is especially pleased with the finished product.
Being private and going commercial is a different thing,” he said, explaining the manufacturing process directly affects the end result. “I took my recipe to a big distillery and asked them if they could do it. Guess what? They couldn’t do it. None of them even wanted to do it at first, until the show got so big. Now they all have a white whiskey. Every one of them — Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, all the big ones. They are all on the white whiskey bandwagon.”
Commercial alcohol production requires large quantities in a short time, Smith said.
“They have the heads and hearts and tails all in the same batch,” he said, explaining moonshiners have always made “‘shine you sell and shine you keep,” before stating. “I’m selling the keeper.”
The legal operation has advantages, he said with a grin, allowing consistent production without the worries of moving an outdoor operation in hopes of staying a step ahead of law enforcement officers. Indoors or out, he said there is great effort involved in making good moonshine.
“Before I went legal, we had to sell our product. We couldn’t sell the flashy bottle. Our stuff was in plastic milk jugs. My dad always told me that if you put a good product in that jug, then you don’t have to put your name on it,” he said.
With demand for his Climax Moonshine outpacing production, Smith said his recipe is now available in Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, Washington D.C. and Maryland.
“Kentucky is just timing,” he added, predicting the legal moonshine may be available in the bluegrass state “probably the first of the year.”
“We wanted to sell it in Virginia and they wanted to arrest me for it. I got too much business anyway so it don’t bother me,” he added.
Smith said there is one message he’s trying to spread.
“I live in Climax, Va., and I’m still the chief of the volunteer fire department there,” he said, explaining the name of his commercial moonshine.
A loyal NASCAR fan, Smith said he also tries to let people know he is a proud veteran of the United States Army and continues to wear the military-issued boonie hat he had during Desert Storm, adorned with a POW/MIA pin.
An all-new season of Moonshiners begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.