By GARY PHILLIPS
C-I (Camden, S.C.) staff reporter
Moonshine. The very word conjures up images of copper stills hidden deep in the woods, shrouded by hazy smoke and heavily guarded by their owners. Those in the illegal liquor trade used to soup up their cars in order to outrun the law when they hauled a load of their products to the customers waiting to make a deal. That’s how the idea of stock car racing began. But moonshine has now gone legit and is being made and sold right here in downtown Camden.
Dark Water Distillery at 932 S. Broad Street is a new venture by owners Carl and Shannon Monday. Carl said he was born and raised in eastern Kentucky and is from a long line of moonshiners who taught him the craft. The military brought the Monday’s to the South Carolina midlands and they now call Elgin home. Dark Water Distillery will have a ribbon cutting Friday, April 25 and grand opening the next day.
Monday explained moonshine is made by fermenting and distilling corn, then putting it in jars or bottles without any aging. He said most traditional bourbons and whiskeys are aged in wooden barrels, giving the liquor a brown color, while moonshine is clear. The corn is soaked in water for 48 hours, then is ground up, mixed with water and sits for several days in large plastic barrels as a product called "mash.". The starch in the corn turns to sugar in the process, then the mash is distilled to extract the alcohol. Monday said it takes 100 pounds of corn to make 10 jars of moonshine.
"We’re not allowed to use sugar, so when we make the moonshine all the sugar that ferments with the yeast all comes from the grain (corn)," he said. "You have to have at least 80 percent corn and the other 20 percent you can use barley, rye, malt, things of that nature."
Monday said moonshine making is not as easy as many people think.
"It’s really more of an art and a craft than I initially thought. These guys did it out underneath trees by a creek out in the middle of nowhere. They had no electricity and were bound by the natural hours of light and no processes of sterilization," he said. "Then you get to this setting and you’re obviously thankful because you have electricity and water and a roof over your head. You don’t have to worry about the police knocking your door down, but there’s still a lot of work involved in making a quality product."
Monday said the business makes only pure moonshine at this time, but future plans include adding flavors like cherry, apple pie, blueberry, blackberry, muscadine and more, and they eventually will expand to making tequila, gin and vodka. He said Dark Water Distillery is not licensed to serve liquor by the drink, but they offer samples, with restrictions.
"We’re not a bar. The tasting is to get a preview of what you’d like to purchase," he said. "We’re allowed to provide up to an ounce-and-a-half per person, so if you wanted to sample three different things they could only be a half-ounce each and that’s it, and of course only to a legal adult over 21."
Monday said he feels the business will draw from the local area and attract tourists as well.
"Moonshine is fairly well rooted in this area. If you talk to anyone from age 15 up to 100, they’ve all heard of moonshine. This street has a lot of potential growth for tourism and I think we’re going to be a staple of that," he said. "This store will bring the people in. The few days we’ve been open we’ve had a lot of people stop in from Oklahoma, Arizona, California. We’ve had people here visiting family and they have come in and bought a bottle."
Monday said the moonshine industry is growing.
"Right now there are 14 distilleries in South Carolina and a trend that’s slowly developing is people are appreciating the uniqueness and craft of each individual distillery. Each one of us has our own way of doing things," he said. "People are coming by and it’s almost like collecting. We’ve done the same thing, driven around and purchased a bottle from each distillery."
Monday said the local government and community have been cooperative and helpful with launching the new business.
"Camden has been so wonderful to us coming in. We couldn’t ask for a better town, as far as the city. They really rolled out the red carpet. I didn’t have any issues coming in. They were looking for something to help promote the tourism of the city and they felt this was good to do that with," he said. "I really expected trouble. Even though we’re running a legal business, we’ve got the word moonshine tied into it and at the end of our application process there were no complaints that came in, so the community has been really receptive."
The current hours for Dark Water Distillery are noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays. Monday said he expects the weekday hours to expand in the coming weeks.