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Moonshine Brands Keep Up The Momentum

February 19, 2014

The explosion of legal moonshine has been among the more surprising developments in the drinks industry in recent years, and while it’s unclear how far the category ultimately can go, two of its biggest players—Piedmont Distillers and Ole Smoky—accelerated their progress in 2013. Both Piedmont’s Midnight Moon label and Ole Smoky’s namesake brand nearly tripled in size last year, according to Impact Databank.

Piedmont, one of the segment’s pioneers, saw its 80-proof Midnight Moon brand hit 320,000 cases in 2013. Piedmont’s distillery in Madison, North Carolina produces seven flavors ($20-$25), including its best sellers Apple Pie, Strawberry and Blueberry, and recently introduced a 100-proof version of the Original and 375-mls of those three flavors.

Eager to seize on that momentum, Piedmont last year launched its first-ever national ad campaign for Midnight Moon. The print effort, dubbed “Presidential Pardon,” features NASCAR Hall of Famer and Piedmont partner Junior Johnson, whose family moonshining recipe is the basis for Midnight Moon. Johnson was convicted of moonshining in 1956 and pardoned by President Reagan in 1986. The “Presidential Pardon” ads feature various executions—including one with a 1956 prison mug shot of Johnson and the tag-line “Any more authentic, and it would be illegal.” A 30-second TV spot followed, also featuring Johnson.

Midnight Moon continues to find success across the country, with the largest states by population—California, New York, Florida and Texas—contributing the most to sales. “This is definitely not just a ‘Southern thing,’” the company tells SND.

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine (around $24.95 a 750-ml.), has also found success with new flavor additions, along with its Original Moonshine (made from 80% corn and 20% a secret). This month, the Gatlinburg, Tennessee distillery launched Pineapple Moonshine in California and Hawaii with expectations for an eventual national rollout. Ole Smoky plans to continue exploring new flavor extensions with launches anticipated throughout the year. Lemon Drop Moonshine and Strawberry Moonshine were introduced last fall and have boosted the overall profile of the brand along with other signature flavors such as Moonshine Cherries, Peach and White Lightnin’, a 100% grain option billed as an alternative to vodka, gin or Tequila and distilled six times.

In 2013, Ole Smoky quadrupled its bottling capacity by adding a new 20,000-square-foot facility and took on a new investor, private investment firm Centerview Capital. The company also named John Cochran—a veteran of Fiji Water and Pabst Brewing—as CEO in mid-2013.

Ole Smoky says it’s focusing most heavily on the 25-35-year-old demographic. A strong social media presence has been key in reaching consumers among country/bluegrass fans, NASCAR and grassroots racing enthusiasts and craft spirits and cocktail aficionados. But as interest in craft spirits continues to grow across all demographics, Ole Smoky sees moonshine’s appeal spreading. Along with the surge in interest in handcrafted offerings, “Consumers are excited to have access to a product that was formerly illegal,” the company tells SND.

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