Moonshine Makes a Comeback
The Prohibition-era hooch is seeing a resurgence thanks to brewers like Colin Fultz of Kentucky Mist Distillery
Colin Fultz has made an honest living out of a tradition that once landed his grandfather in prison. Fultz is the owner and founder of Kentucky Mist Distillery, a Whitesburg, Kentucky, original that recently expanded to a new location at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama. Fultz began his foray into moonshine-making after becoming fascinated by the story of his grandfather, Henry Holbrook, who was a prominent bootlegger during the Prohibition era.
Holbrook, having gained the nickname “The Bootlegger” for making illegal hooch in his region of Appalachia, spent 18 years behind bars during Prohibition, even earning himself a stay in an Atlanta prison at the same time as the notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone, with whom Holbrook is said to have had some interaction. While Holbrook mainly worked on the selling end of the bootlegging business, utilizing a storefront to run an illegal honky-tonk, his father and brothers were the main producers of the bootlegged corn liquor that made him so infamous. Whatever his involvement, it was Holbrook’s story that first pulled Fultz into the world of moonshine distillation.
“The older I got, the more I wanted to know about him and his time bootlegging,” says Fultz of his growing interest in his grandfather and the processes that were involved in the making of moonshine. “I started pulling old newspapers, gathering records. Anything I could find about him, really,” he says. “After that, I started learning how to make it myself.”
Fultz’s first steps into the world of moonshine weren’t exactly on the up-and-up. Letcher County, where Whitesburg is located, is a dry county, which means there’s a ban on the sale of alcohol. So at the urging of his wife, Fultz reached out to an attorney friend to see about making his newfound hobby a legitimate business.
“The day after I asked, he came to me saying that I could set up shop in Whitesburg itself,” says Fultz. The surrounding county was still under a liquor-selling ban, but the city itself was classified as wet. “The city was even interested in helping me set up the initial business, hoping to pull more tourists and travelers to town with a new permanent attraction,” explains Fultz.
Fultz set up his distillery with the help of a 25-year, $100-a-month lease through the city, and, in the following years, expanded his business with locations at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach. During that time, he worked setting up a reliable logistics base to transport his products and, in 2020, brought his moonshine business to the Gulf Coast, setting up shop at The Wharf in Orange Beach.
To make their patented blends, Kentucky Mist distillers usually begin with a 240-gallon tank of mash (a mixture of cane and grain), distilling them in 100-gallon runs to make each batch more unique. “We usually go for around 15 gallons of finished product each day,” says Fultz.
Though access to better ingredients and equipment has streamlined the distilling process since the days of Prohibition, much of Fultz’s work has remained firmly rooted in the techniques utilized by his grandfather nearly a century ago. “They didn’t have access to the ‘good stuff’ back then,” says Fultz of the near impossibility of obtaining true sugar back then. Instead, his grandfather’s work relied heavily on corn, something that was much easier to find in the agrarian South of those days. Today, Kentucky Mist products are made with cane sugar and a pound of fruit for each jar of the 80 proof mixture the brand is most known for, which is soaked for at least six weeks to truly take in the flavor of the fruit before the liquid is pumped back out.
“Back in the day, they used fruit to cover the harshness of the liquor,” says Fultz. “It was always local and made with easily available things like blackberries and peaches. At Kentucky Mist, we’re always looking for more fruits to infuse, but only if they stay true to the heart of the old methods.” (Fultz has an aversion to using anything “too crazy.”)
“We’re not in the business of adding just any fruit,” says Fultz. “It has to mean something in the scope of the history behind the product, like strawberries and apples.” Fultz also says that it’s important to him to support his local community, utilizing locally sourced fruit from eastern Kentucky, and using his successes—including a story in The New York Times and a few television appearances about the distillery—to put a spotlight on the area he grew up in.
Outside of moonshine, Kentucky Mist Distillery also produces three vodkas and a whiskey dubbed Ole Henry in honor of his grandfather. And the company is always looking for new and exciting things to try in the world of alcohol creation. The vodkas, called KVOK, for Kentucky vodka, go through the same creative processes that have made Kentucky Mist’s moonshine products such a success, not to mention a great source of pride for Fultz and his team. “One of our vodkas is aged in a used bourbon barrel, and we have a brand new blueberry variant in the works,” says Fultz.
Whether it’s translating a century-old practice like the making of moonshine into 21st-century terms or developing its own signature spirits, Colin Fultz’s homage to his grandfather’s legacy has begun making a true name for itself in the world of craft alcohols, garnering two 50 Best gold medals for its moonshine, and Sip Awards for its KVOK Whitesburg 1902 and cranberry vodkas. “With a lot of people making inferior moonshine products, either by taking shortcuts or taking already existing products and merely adding flavors, moonshine sometimes gets a bad rap,” says the distillery owner. “We do a lot to elevate our brand and show what good moonshine is made of.”
With new products on the horizon and a new pairing with a prominent Texas-based distributor, there should be no doubt that the Kentucky Mist brand is doing a lot to promote moonshine as a viable and respected commodity. “We do other liquors to diversify and open doors,” says Fultz, “but moonshine is who we are.”
Kentucky Mist Distillery
23101 Canal Rd.
Orange Beach, AL 36561