Traditional Craft of the Copper Still Found at Dixie Queen Stills
The mystique of moonshine is alive and well in East Tennessee.
Central to the region’s historical character, interest in moonshine has been reawakened by the Discovery Channel’s show “Moonshiners” and the growth of commercial distillers across the state, including Ole Smoky Distillery, which opened in Gatlinburg in 2010.
Just up the road from Chattanooga, the former rough-and-tumble town of Etowah is transforming its bristly moonshine past into a cultural heritage draw. (Rumor has it that numerous old still sites can be found on Starr Mountain near this historical railroad town.)
“Etowah was a big hub for moonshine bootlegging,” said Dixie Queen Stills owner Sandi LeQuire, who sells handmade copper pots and home distilling supplies from her storefront along Tennessee Avenue.
Lustrous reddish-orange copper pots gleam through the windows of Dixie Queen Stills, modern versions of a traditional craft that LeQuire hopes to keep alive.
Featured artists include local coppersmith Ricky Harden, who uses a 150-year-old anvil to hand roll the beaks of his pots. LeQuire also proudly offers a few handmade stills made by North Carolina native Roy Grooms, one of the stars of “Moonshiners.”
“I am the only store that has Roy Grooms’ signed stills for sale,” she said.
Though it is legal to own a copper still, federal law prohibits distilling moonshine at home for personal consumption. Aside from legal issues, dangers can include poisoning, fire and explosions.
“In Tennessee, you cannot legally sell a fully functioning moonshine still,” LeQuire said. Federal and state permits are required for small-batch distillery of moonshine.
Copper stills can, however, be used to make distilled water and essential oils, as well as ethanol (also with permits). The traditional copper pots have also become decorating novelties.
“These pots are made in the traditional style of copper pots made here in the southern Smoky Mountains,” LeQuire said. “I have people stop by who want to purchase one simply for decoration.”
LeQuire opened the Dixie Queen Stills storefront in April. Interest in her project has grown quickly. In fact, she was shocked that 70 people showed up for the store’s first still building demonstration event earlier this month.
“We thought maybe 15 to 20 people would show up to see how a still is made—not 70 people,” she said. “We are planning to do more demonstrations in the future. In fact, we are planning to do a lot with this in Etowah.”
Dixie Queen Stills is located at 822 Tennessee Ave. in Etowah. The store is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, call 423-263-7668 or visit http://shop.dixiequeenstills.net.