New Brunswick

Brothers with bootlegging heritage are making moonshine mainstream

Jeremiah and Joshua Clark's grandfather was a bootlegger who smuggled moonshine across the border. Now they're following in his footsteps — legally.

Moonshine Creek Distillery hopes to be New Brunswick's first blended product distillery

Jeremiah Clark said he wants Moonshine Creek to reflect the local culture. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Two brothers are taking moonshine out of the shadows and into the mainstream with a new moonshine distillery.

Jeremiah and Joshua Clark have moonshine in their blood. 

Their grandfather Marlin Henderson was a bootlegger from Debec, near Woodstock.

Henderson ran alcohol over the Maine-New Brunswick border even after being paralyzed from the waist down. He needed to feed his 10 children and somehow figured out how much pressure he had to apply to be able to drive a car.

While the Clark brothers aren't smuggling moonshine, they say their family's humble beginnings are something they don't want their business to stray from.

Jeremiah and Joshua Clark's grandfather, Marlin Henderson, and his wife Adeline. Henderson was a bootlegger in Debec. (Submitted)

"We grew up in our family with stories about his close-call with the law, how he kind of avoided getting caught," Jeremiah said.

The Clark brothers' mother "always remind us when we are too proud, 'You're no better. Your grandfather was a bootlegger!'"

The Clarks, along with family friend Wyatt Morrell, are co-owners and founders of Moonshine Creek Distillery in Waterville, north of Woodstock, where they will make and sell craft alcohol, including whisky, rum and a sipping cocktail called Apple Crumble.

Apple Crumble, a sipping cocktail inspired by the dessert the Clark's grew up eating, will be sold in mason jars to reflect moonshining culture. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"I grew up eating apple crumble and I think a lot of people round here did, so it just seems more natural that I would give it something that resembles our culture," Jeremiah said.

They hope to have their licence by the beginning of July, but he said it's a waiting game.

New market for an old industry

Craft distilleries are relatively new to New Brunswick. Distillerie Fils du Roy, which has won international awards for its variety of spirits and craft beers, was the first in New Brunswick in 2012.

New Brunswick Liquor spokesperson Mike Barbour said there are six licensed distilleries in the province, most of the them fairly new.

Sébastien Roy's Fils du Roy in Petit Paquetville was New Brunswick's first licensed distillery. (CBC)

Other applications are still being decided on, but Barbour said the corporation has never refused a listing to a New Brunswick producer.

The corporation sold about $100 million in spirits last year, and the New Brunswick craft industry as a whole sold about $750,000 at liquor stores stores, or about 0.75 per cent of the spirit category.

Moonshine Creek hopes to tap into some of that market.

Wendy Papadopoulos, the president of the New Brunswick Craft Alcohol Producers Association, said that over the past few years her organization has new distilleries popping up, including Blue Roof Distillers in Malden, Sussex Craft Distillery and Gagetown Distilling and Cidery.

Papadopoulos said craft spirits affect product availability, local employment, agriculture and export capabilities in the province.

"It has a great impact in increasing the GDP by using our raw material and natural resources to be able to create value from the ground right to the glass," she said.

Crop-like potatoes are used by Blue Roof Distillers to make vodka, while New Brunswick-grown barley is used to create single-malt whisky.

"The demand for locally grown, locally produced, locally sourced product is growing," Papadopoulos said.

Local chemistry

Moonshine Creek is already on top of the local-product game. Its mash recipe uses mostly organic rye from the Speerville mill 30 kilometres downriver. Mash is a wet mixture of grains and water used to make alcohol.

Moonshine Creek's mash recipe uses mostly organic rye from the nearby Speerville mill. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

The chemistry behind Moonshine Creek's libations comes from Mike Doucette, chemist at New Brunswick Community College in Grand Falls. He was the one who trained the Clarks and Morrell on their equipment, helped assemble and clean it, and even developed the mash recipe.

Doucette is from Edmundston, a town with a long history of bootlegging, moonshine and rum running.

"In Edmundston they used to just cross the river, and just go sell it to the Americans, during Prohibition," Doucette said.

"So there are still some stills hidden in some basements."

​Albenie Violette was one of the most famous smugglers in New Brunswick during Prohibition. This photo was taken around 1920. (Les Archives des Religieuses Hospitalieres de Saint-Basile)

Doucette said the main danger in home distilling is fire from the high alcohol content and propane burners, but Moonshine Creek uses the safer heating method of steam in a controlled environment.

Moonshine Creek will be the first distillery with a blended product. Trials so far have tasted smooth, he said, and he's excited to see what the Clarks and Morrell do.

Mike Doucette, a chemist from the New Brunswick community college in Grand Falls, helped the Clark brothers develop Moonshine Creek's mash recipe. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"I think it's going be nice and sweet," Doucett said. I'm surprised at how efficient their still is, so I can't wait … when we blend them together to see what kind of flavour we're going to get."

Distilling is tricky, and there are always unforeseen circumstances that affect the final result.

"You only know what you have when you make it," Doucette said.

Mike Doucette said even if he doesn't get anything out of helping distilleries start up, he at least makes new friends. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

He doesn't get anything out of helping Moonshine Creek but said he's proud to have a job in rural New Brunswick helping distilleries start up.

"As long as I do a good job, at least I made some new friends."

Moonshine dreams

While Moonshine Creek is sticking to its small-town roots, the Clarks and Morrell have big dreams for their operation.

They have a 200-gallon (about 757 litres) pot and mash mixers that hold 300 gallons (about 1,135 litres) each.

"We can produce as much as the market demands," Jeremiah Clark said.

Moonshine Creek plans to expand into rum and aged whiskey. Pictured: Wyatt Morrell. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

He said distilling is an artistic process, and he's trying to reflect that in the company's branding and marketing.

He and his brother plan to share recipes for drinks on social media, giving consumers the tools to be creative and create their own unique refreshments.

He's also been collecting bootlegging stories from the area and sharing some on social media. Customers will also see the stories in the retail space.

Jeremiah Clark plans to collect local bootlegging and prohibition stories and display them in the store and share them on social media. (Provincial Archives)

"We are looking for stories of bootlegging, moonshining stories … seems like everybody's got one."

It's tactics like these, and their home-grown appeal that Clark thinks will set Moonshine Creek apart.

"Craft alcohol as a tourism product is becoming very, very popular," he said.

While the stills are ready to go, it's taken almost four years to get to this point.

Moonshine Creek's first products will be White Pup, and un-aged whisky, and Apple Crumble, an apple sipping cocktail. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"It's a fairly new industry to New Brunswick in a way. It being an old industry ... it's been a bit of a hurdle," Clark said.  "There's nobody to really kind of help us get from an idea to here. It was kind of tough. But with the assistance of NBCC Grand Falls, we have ended up here." 

With files from Catherine Harrop