Even though Johnson family hooch isn’t made in copper stills out in the woods any more, the recipe lives on in the (now legally distributed) Midnight Moon. The family took a huge risk bootlegging corn alcohol before, during, and after prohibition, and the decades of hard work and fast driving paid off in the form of one of the most recognizable moonshine brands in the country.
Junior Johnson’s legacy extends far beyond crafting some of the finest corn whiskey around, though. A big part of distilling moonshine is transporting and selling it, or bootlegging, a role that Junior took over for his family when he was 14. Junior was never caught while driving, and only spent 11 months of a two-year sentence in prison when he was caught lighting a still the police had staked out in May of 1956.
Bootleg drivers in the ’40s became the pioneers of professional racing, and Junior Johnson was well known in the early NASCAR movement. A creative and daring racer, Junior is also credited with creating the bootleg turn, a sharp 180-degree turn designed to lose police cars in a chase. Despite his car driving 22 miles per hour slower than the fastest cars in the race, Junior won the 1960 Daytona 500, one of the first documented uses of drafting in racing.
Despite multiple distilleries making offers on the Johnson family recipe, Junior partnered with Piedmont Distillers in 2007 to bring his historic moonshine to life once again — this time legally. Midnight Moon is now distilled in small batches in North Carolina, where Junior Johnson can still get involved from time to time.
Midnight Moon is available in its classic clear form, or in one of six infused flavors: blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, and strawberry, all of which are made with the real fruit included in the jar. The apple pie flavor, for instance, is made with real apple juice and includes a stick of cinnamon inside for an added kick.
The infused flavors are hand-packed with real fruit to impart flavor and color, without making the moonshine overly sweet. The fruit is preserved in the alcohol, making it safe to eat even for years after the jar has been opened, even if Midnight Moon recommends against it. Since the fruit absorbs the alcohol as well as imparting its flavors into the jar, it’s important to remember to “respect the fruit” and think carefully before you start snacking on those blueberries, as tasty as they are.
The strawberry infused Midnight Moon has a quiet sweetness to it, but it doesn’t distract from the huge taste of real fruit. The vibrant red and pink spirit goes down deceptively smooth, considering that the infused varieties are bottled at 100 proof. Serving it chilled brings out the fruit flavors and corn sweetness even more, but it’s great in a glass of lemonade, too.
By the time the jar hits the shelves, the blueberry infused Midnight Moon has turned the clear liquid a deep, opaque purple. The mass of blueberries at the bottom of the jar can only be seen by tilting the glass so their dark lines can be seen moving around. The result is a drink that’s smooth and just a little tart, with the corn alcohol coming a bit more to the front than in the strawberry and apple pie infusions.
The apple pie flavor is a bit different than the other infused flavors. Rather than dropping a pile of fruit into the bottom, the classic Midnight Moon is mixed with real apple juice and cinnamon. The result is a cocktail in a jar, and while Midnight Moon offers up a number of simple recipes to go along with each flavor, the apple pie is sweet, warm, and tastes great on the rocks or with a splash of ginger ale.