Thursday, March 17, 2016

Popcorn Sutton Releases Limited Edition Barrel Finished Spirit

This is not John Lunn
A year ago, John Lunn was Master Distiller at the George Dickel Distillery. He was responsible for the production side of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville too. At 45, Lunn seemed to have a bright future with the world's largest spirits company.

So it was quite a shock when Popcorn Sutton Distilling named him Master Distiller and gave him control of their shiny new distillery in Cocke County, Tennessee, where Sutton spent much of his later life and, more importantly, close to Gatlinburg, Gateway to the Smoky Mountains and a major tourism destination.

Popcorn Sutton, who died in 2009, is probably America's best-known moonshiner. He was notorious, a true outlaw in a world of poseurs, with few redeeming qualities. But he was a character, one-of-a-kind, with a distinctive look and memorable name.

From that, you can build a brand.

Sutton's widow and one of his buddies started a legit alcohol business in Sutton's name shortly after his death. It was very slapdash and small scale. About three years ago it was acquired by Mark and Megan Kvamme. He's a successful tech investor. She became CEO.

The new distillery in Newport is 50,000 square feet. The solid copper pot stills are true alembics (no rectification section), built by Vendome. The two beer stills are 2,500 gallons each. The spirit still is 1,500 gallons. That's big, about the same size as the stills at Woodford Reserve. They only use about 20 percent of their capacity now, so there is plenty of room to grow.

Or do contract distilling if you have something you would like to make in those big copper pot stills.

The first new product introduced under Lunn's guidance is Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished. Barrel finished what, you ask? Technically, it is a 'distilled spirit specialty,' but Popcorn's recipe is a bourbon mash (corn, rye, malt) augmented with sugar.

Meet the new boss, nothing like the old boss.
Although Lunn won't reveal the exact distillation proof he says it is not neutral (>95% ABV) but is higher than a bourbon, which must leave the still at less than 80% ABV. The un-aged distillate is Popcorn Sutton Original. The new product is that same distillate aged for three years in new, charred barrels.

The word 'moonshine' is nowhere to be seen.

How is it? The flavor is original, which is as it should be. The somewhat rough qualities of the still-young spirit are well tempered by the wood. Think smoked caramel and graham crackers. Although it won't take your head off it does have an edge. Lunn knows what he is doing. He has tamed the beast, but not too much.

Popcorn Sutton products are available in about 20 states. Suggested retail on the Barrel Finished is $49.99.

They call it a 'limited edition,' but Lunn says it is not a one-off. They expect it to remain in their portfolio, probably with an annual release.

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