The revenuers are not coming to bust up Amy St. Clair and Doug Nutter’s still for making moonshine in the village of New Straitsville, Ohio. In fact, the couple makes legal moonshine and sells it in their store called “Straitsville Special Moonshine.”
New Straitsville is also the home of the annual Moonshine Festival held each Memorial Day weekend as well as the site of the nearby notorious burning mines set alight by striking coal miners which are still smouldering today.
Moonshine was traditionally made in secret by the light of the moon and figures heavily in the American history of the Appalachian region of the United States. Nutter grew up in the New Straitsville area and wondered how they could hold a Moonshine Festival, yet not be able to make and buy it openly.
In 2012, the law was changed, and he and St. Clair founded the company. It became one of two legal distilleries in Ohio that makes legal ‘shine. The other company is in Utica, Ohio, which makes a Greek recipe. The Straitsville Special Moonshine is an “old school,” 100-year-old recipe of corn, yeast, water, and sugar fermented for 14 days. This recipe is somewhat of a family tradition but, of course, nobody ever talked about that much.
How do you make moonshine? The mash of the fermented brew is heated, allowing steam to rise up through a coil called the “worm.” When the steam is cooled at the point where the worm is submerged in water, it comes out at the bottom as moonshine. The speed of how fast the steam goes through the process can be controlled, and the slower the better through the worm will produce better tasting moonshine. Alcohol content can be between 70-85%. The setup includes a bottling machine which can process up to 600 bottles per hour with a hand labeler.
The still is set up in the back room of an old mercantile building at 105 W. Main St. in downtown New Straitsville. Nutter purchased this building in 2013. The previous owner, Johnny Rischert, whose father Richard came over from Germany, established the mercantile store there. Fire had wiped out the building in 1921 and Rischert rebuilt it in 1923. He died suddenly in 1968 three days after becoming sick.
Nutter wrestled with trying to open the locked safe in the back room of the building for three months. Each day, he would try a different set of numbers to happen upon the right combination. He knew he had to be careful as some safes were rigged to explode if the door was forced open, and it was not clear whether this particular safe had that safety mechanism. After having no luck in opening it, he finally brought in the professionals. Inside, he discovered a virtual time capsule that had remained untouched since the death of Johnny Rischert. Silver certificates, blasting caps, a silver Masonic ring, gold coins, and old newspapers were among the collection.
These days, the townspeople bring in historical items to display on the shelves of the store which are still numbered as Johnny Rischert left them. People come with their stories as well, many of which are about moonshine and the culture that grew up around it.
Their sales market is 14 state stores within the State of Ohio as well as a growing amount of bars which sell it. They are allowed to sell two bottles a day directly to customers inside the store and small shots to try before buying. Within three months of opening, 2,000 bottles of moonshine were sold. But if you want to taste it, you have to come to Ohio as they are not allowed to sell outside of the state nor online.
You can find the New Straitsville Special Moonshine on Facebook.
This article was written with the intention of providing information about the historical significance of the topic and location. You are encouraged to drink responsibly and consider the health risks and safety of yourself and others. Do NOT drink and drive, always use a designated driver, and know your limits.