Don’t know Popcorn Sutton? Pshaw! The man wrote the book — literally, and he self-published it — on how to make moonshine. Sutton passed away in 2009, but you can still get a copy of Me and My Likker for, oh, $500.
If you’ve never seen a picture of Sutton, stop and click this link. The better to understand the kind of man we’re talking about, and the kind of product we’re dealing with. By all accounts, Sutton was a fanatic — about one thing: Making moonshine. Out in the hills of Tennessee, he’d work grain and sugar into sparkling sugar shine and, again by all accounts, that was it. The man had no use for the trappings of modern society (though he did manage to get married). He kept his future casket in his living room and the footstone of his own design, reading “Popcorn Said Fuck You,” be placed on his grave when he died. The family ignored the request — Sutton committed suicide to avoid going to prison for, of course, making moonshine.
And so we get to his namesake, Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine. With Sutton dead and buried, enterprising types have taken to commercializing his work. In 2010, Hank Williams Jr. and Sutton’s widow Pam joined forces to produce a commercial moonshine called Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The product was a big hit, but after a suit with Jack Daniel’s (since settled), namely over the bottle design, the spirit was relaunched as Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe in late 2015. (The production and spirit inside have not changed, however, and it is still reportedly made according to his recipe, just a few miles from Sutton’s old home.)
Things are moving for the brand. Last year, George Dickel master distiller John Lunn took over as Popcorn Sutton’s head distiller. If you’ve ever met or seen Lunn, you know he’s about as far from Sutton as you can get, but one has to assume he’s keeping the fires lit the way Popcorn wanted them.
So, on to the tasting…
The heavy grain and milder petrol notes on the nose of Popcorn Sutton are indistinct and could be tasting notes for just about any white whiskey. While the aroma is nothing special, the body is about as good as white lightning gets. Initially quite sweet — Sutton likely uses a lot of sugar in the recipe — it ping-pongs from notes of popcorn and rolled oats to fresh simple syrup. A touch grassy, it finishes on a note of bitter tree bark, which I can only imagine Sutton chawing on while he stokes the fires of his stills. Otherwise it leaves things fairly fresh and clean, which may come as a surprise to drinkers expecting a firebomb on their tongue. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘shine. Guess the man knew what he was doing.