Moonshine goes mainstream: Q&A with founder of Gig Harbor distillery

I knew apple pie moonshine had gone mainstream when I heard a friend was using a Crock-Pot to make hers. The recipe sounded pretty simple. Apple cider and cinnamon steeped together in a slow cooker all day, then that mixture was steeped with moonshine before serving.

OK, I’ll take a glass of that.

Don’t let the word “moonshine” throw you. You won’t have to rig up a basement bootleg operation to make the moonshine (home distilling is still very illegal, by the way). Steeping any commercially produced spirit with your favorite combination of apples and spices can produce a tasty apple pie moonshine that can be used as a cocktail ingredient, a flavoring agent for dessert or simply enjoyed straight out of the freezer.

I’m aware not everyone wants to flavor their own booze, so here’s where local distillers come in.

One local version of apple pie moonshine catching buzz and gaining popularity with local barkeeps is made by Heritage Distilling Co. in Gig Harbor. Their apple pie moonshine, called “Fall Classic,” is a corn whiskey flavored with apples and cinnamon.

Heritage founder Justin Stiefel, who operates the Gig Harbor distillery and tasting room with wife Jennifer, explained via email how the distillery makes its apple pie.

Q: Your new spirit Heritage Fall Classic sounds interesting, can you tell readers what’s in it and how you make it?

A: Our “Fall Classic” apple cider flavored whiskey is a Pacific Northwest take on Southern moonshine apple pie. We use 100 percent Washington-grown corn to make corn whiskey. Then we proof it down with local apple cider instead of water. It is packaged in a moonshine jug with a cinnamon stick in the bottom. The cinnamon stick helps to add flavor without overpowering it. Everything in the bottle is 100 percent natural – from the corn to the apple cider to the cinnamon stick. No artificial flavors are added, and you can taste the difference.

Q: Can you tell readers a bit more about the lure of apple pie moonshine and what it was about the flavor profile that made you want to take a stab at your own version?

A:The TV show “Moonshiners” helped to spread the apple pie recipe nationwide, but every recipe we tried on the market was too sweet, had too much “alcohol” taste to it or it tasted as though it had artificial sweeteners.

We live in Washington, the apple capital of the world, so we thought we should have our locally made version of apple pie with all natural, local ingredients. What really moved the idea into reality was a meeting with the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team. They wanted something to feature at Cheney Stadium, and we thought, “what’s more American than baseball and apple pie?” Thus was born our “Fall Classic” Apple Cider Flavored Whiskey.

We did extensive tasting with the team execs (all in the name of official research, mind you) until we jointly picked the flavor profile. Over the course of the summer we have refined the recipe and it is now dialed in. People really like what’s in the bottle and it makes some great cocktails, especially this time of year.

Q: Do you get the sense that Northwest spirits fans have ever heard of apple pie?

A: We are getting more people telling us they make their own version of apple pie at home using Everclear and apple juice. But when they taste our “Fall Classic” they see the difference in ours, largely based on how we make the corn whiskey and the apple cider we use.

We find using cider helps add more texture and flavor than just apple juice, but it is important to get the right cider that is also clear so that the product in the bottle doesn’t get cloudy.

Q: What does Fall Classic taste like?

A: Fall Classic has a cascade of flavors that develop across your palate, and it really depends on how you drink it. Chilling it in the freezer makes it nice and thick. Served at room temperature gives hints of a Calvados. You can spike hot drinks with it – hot chocolate, hot toddies, hot buttered rum, hot cider, coffee, etc. You can also substitute it into traditional whiskey cocktails, such as Sidecars, Manhattans, Old Fashions, etc. It makes a great Washington Apple Shot instead of Crown Royal.

Our fastest and easiest cocktail is half pineapple juice and half Fall Classic shaken hard over ice and strained into a martini glass. It works in any season.

Q: If you made an adult-flavored float out of Fall Classic, what kind of ice cream and soda would you use?

A: Now you are thinking! For ice cream we always first point people to our friend Matt Carter of Carter’s Chocolates in Port Orchard. He makes the most amazing “Whiskey Caramel” ice cream using our HDC aged whiskeys.

We age whiskey and he buys it for his custom whiskey caramel sauce, which we can’t keep on our shelves (it sells out every week!). For the float instead of soda I would put in pineapple juice. Or for a “real adult” float try one of the great beers from Harmon Brewing Company added to the mix instead of soda.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270