Friday, January 28, 2011

Catdaddy Cocktails

Grassroots Spirits

By Doc Lawrence

“East-bound and down, loaded up and trucking. We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done!”
From “Smokey and the Bandit,” by Jerry Reed

NORTH WILKESBORO, NC--The fascination with alcoholic beverages is a Southern phenomenon with profound Florida connections, the stuff of songs, movies, NASCAR and some of the most colorful characters to grace the folklore landscape. It’s a gallery that includes actors Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason and Robert Mitchum along with racers Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts and the unbelievably colorful Junior Johnson. A proud one-time moonshine runner, NASCAR champion, Daytona racing legend and peerless raconteur, Johnson now has his own moonshine.

Except this batch is legal and doesn’t require delivery into states like Florida with a souped-up vehicle powered to run at near supersonic speed.

Piedmont Distillers, Inc is a small distillery in Madison, North Carolina at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It produces handcrafted spirits in a small-batch copper pot still, the only "legal" distillery in the state and operates out of a century-old old train station.

Piedmont Distiller's first spirit is called Catdaddy which. according to the owners, “stir[s] your imagination [to] deliver the most unique and satisfying experience.” It draws on a private- batch recipe that contains ingredients not used in any other product. True to the history of moonshine, each batch is from an authentic copper pot still.


During last year’s edition of Tales of the Cocktail, I had Catdaddy served over ice and pronounced it as excellent. This is where cocktail enthusiasts from the world over met Junior. Johnson, who could teach the business world loads about entrepreneurship, sells country hams in his home in Wilkes County, North Carolina and has a big role in legal Carolina whiskey. Now a part owner of Piedmont Distillers, Johnson launched his moonshine called Midnight Moon currently distributed in 19 states.

Likewise, Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine is a unique spirits from Piedmont. Every batch is born in a copper still and is handcrafted in very small batches. Catdaddy is made from American corn and triple distilled. Joe Michalek, founder of Piedmont Distillers, won’t tell you what’s in it, but he will tell you the taste is a little sweet, with a hint of spice. “It’s fun to watch someone,” Michalek says, “try Catdaddy for the first time. The taste is familiar, but people can’t put their finger on it. All they know is that they like it.”

Junior Johnson developed his incredible driving skills and car building ingenuity while bootlegging his family’s moonshine and staying two steps ahead of the revenuers. Now 78, Johnson embodies the old and new moonshine culture. In the 1950’s he served 11 months in a federal penitentiary and was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan who had a soft heart for American heroes. Later, he became one of the most successful drivers and team owners in racing history making him an easy choice as an inaugural inductee into NASCAR's Hall of Fame.

Junior Johnson prepares a solid southern breakfast for his family and anyone else who happens by every morning at his shop in North Wilkesboro. Sometimes you see the local sheriff, an old buddy from the racing days or a new friend who stopped by on their way through town. Not surprisingly, the Bloody Mary is Johnson’s favorite cocktail. The smoothness of his Midnight Moon, according to his legion of friends, makes it the perfect spirit for this classic cocktail.

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