OWLTOWN, Ga. — Lightning never strikes the same place twice. But white lightning? Well, that’s a whole different story, and it’s one that begins in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains where Jack “Mimm” McClure plied a trade that got him through the years of the Great Depression, making some of the best hooch in the mountains.
Now, his grandson, Tommy Townsend, a musician of note, has picked up the family moonshine mantle and, once again, McClure’s famous ‘shine is back on the market, albeit this time legally. You can visit and taste for yourself at the distillery just a stone’s throw outside downtown Blairsville in the small community of Owltown at 161 Pappy’s Plaza.
McClure died in 1969, and best as anyone knew, his recipe was lost to the ages. But Townsend was urged by his longtime friend, Jack Keeter, to see if he could find the recipe. So, Townsend contacted his uncle, George McClure, who, he discovered, remembered the secret to the ‘shine. And though bootlegging is, for the most part, far in the past, Townsend and Keeter turned the spirited, age-old tradition into 100-proof liquid gold.
In the summer of 2016, Grandaddy Mimm’s Moonshine Distillery and Museum opened along a stretch of Highway 19, eight miles outside Blairsville in the small community of Owltown, Georgia.
The first moonshine to come out was McClure’s original brew, a 100-proof moonshine. In the true spirit of firewater, there’s also a 140-proof version of the flagship ‘shine, but drinkers new to the line may opt for a gentler sip of one of the 40-proof fruit-based moonshines. There are several from which to pick, such as Blueberry Cobbler, Apple Brown Betty and Wild Cherry Cobbler with flavors that taste just like they came out of grandma’s kitchen — only with a kick.
Townsend’s favorite? The 96-proof peach. All told, there are nine moonshines made here, bottled and sold in Mason jars, just as they would have been back in the day.
“Our master distiller, Dillard Canup, has been making liquor for the past 43 years,” Townsend notes. “He’s one of the best in the business.”
All of his liquor is made using pure spring water that flows from deep in the mountains on his family farm in North Georgia.
Guests can take a short tour of the distillery, learn about the history of moonshine and the company, and then enjoy a tasting. If you want to forgo the tour, you can still taste up to five of the company’s products. The tour and the tasting are $5 each per person.
When not making moonshine, Townsend tours as a guitarist with the band Waymore’s Outlaws, formed by five members of Waylon Jennings’ band, The Waylors, after Jennings’ death in 2002. The band’s new tour is Runnin’ With Ol’ Waylon.
Townsend, who, early in his career was mentored by Jennings, describes the narrated concert as “a live documentary thing.” Townsend has also released his first solo album, “Turn Back the Clock,” produced by Jennings’ son, Shooter Jennings, available on vinyl at Black Country Rock (bcrmedia.com) and also in record stores and all digital and streaming outlets. Touring also gives Townsend the opportunity to promote his moonshine. “Country music and moonshine? It’s a natural marriage,” he says.
Townsend realizes that he has stiff competition in the moonshine market. Grandaddy Mimm’s Moonshine is currently distributed in Georgia, Middle Tennessee and Arizona, with Florida coming on board by fall.
As for Chattanooga, it’s on their wish list, says distillery general manager Megan Townsend Kimsey. “Chattanooga is something we definitely want to look into. Our current distributor is working to reach farther out than just Middle Tennessee, so hopefully Chattanooga is a spot for our product soon.”
“For a while, there were a lot of liquor companies that put out moonshine,” Townsend says. “It was hot, a trend. Then a lot of them fell off. But just like anything, the good ones stayed. So we’re still in business and growing every day, you know?